Lord Owen Speaks Out on Brexit Negotiations at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Former Foreign Secretary David Owen believes the UK is “making a complete ass” of itself over Brexit negotiations, and that Article 50 should never have been used as it is “weighted against” Britain. And Lord Owen, who described himself as “a Brexiteer” and “a lifelong European”, said the British negotiating team should come out of the process “with as many compromises that are necessary”.

“We’ve got to heal these wounds and we’ve got to do it very fast,” the former SDP leader told a sell-out event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. “We’re making a complete ass of ourselves with Europe, negotiating within the Cabinet while we’re negotiating with 27 other countries. The Cabinet have got to make up their mind what they want and they’ve got do it fast.

“I would never have used Article 50, it is deliberately weighted against us by clever craftsmen, one of whom is one of our senior diplomats in this country – a Scot – Lord Kerr, [but] we’re saddled with this by [David] Cameron. The referendum has happened, we’re going to come out, let us come out with a maximum a degree of agreement [and] with as many compromises that are necessary.”

Lord Owen was taking questions after discussing his new book, Cabinet’s Finest Hour, which analyses the top-secret discussions about whether to sue for peace with Hitler in May 1940.

As one of the “Gang of Four” who split from the Labour Party to form the Social Democrats in 1981, he also reflected on the challenge of forming a new party. “It’s very, very, difficult to break through as a third force in British politics,” he said, “you have to get 31 per cent [of the vote], then the seats fall to you very quickly, but anything less than 30 is pretty tough – that’s the reality of a first-past-the-post political system.”

Asked about Theresa May’s political prospects following June’s general election, Owen said “chances are she will live through the Brexit decision”. “I think she might hang on to March 2019 when I think we will leave the European Union,” he added, “but we’ll still be negotiating in an implementation period, and during that period she would be perfectly wise to widen the Cabinet, give them a broader choice [of candidates], and when she thinks [it’s] the right moment, to step down.”

Owen, who now sits as an Independent Social Democratic member of the House of Lords, also joked about his reputation as a single-minded politician: “I’ve got what some of my close friends said I always wanted – a party of one.”



DAVID TORRANCE


 

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