Tuesday, 17 January 2017
Mrs May's fumble in the dark
What I saw today was a prime minister with only a very flimsy grasp of what lies ahead of us. Tucked inside her speech was a number of calculated insults from the Tory right specifically to close down certain options. There was a certain gloating delight in knowing they have got it all their own way.
What you heard was the culmination of a long war between more reasoned voices and Tory ideologues. The zealots have won. These are men who are determinedly ignorant about what the EU is and singularly unconcerned about the consequences of their actions.
You have often heard me say that in this age of information ignorance is a choice. That goes double for the Tory Brexiteers. Ignorance is a necessary cornerstone of their "free trade" religion.
Their victory is something of an achievement though. For the prime minister to have maintained her ignorance it would have taken a gargantuan effort to control the flow of information to her and to isolate her from sources with more realistic ideas. This is a victory for the hive mind. What we can take from this is that Mrs May is surrounded by idiots, zealots and yes men.
What we discover is that the system is incapable of taking on new information and in most respects the level of debate within the bubble has regressed.
What it tells you is that the people around Mrs May have studiously connived to keep articles of faith alive and to exclude voices to the contrary. The disconnect between the public and their rulers is not accidental. It is systematically enforced.
Certainly the remain side have not helped the situation by raising suspicions and acting in bad faith. Against a backdrop of open defiance against the referendum, politically there was little else May could do - and since there is no informed opposition there is very little to stop her. MPs to this day are still struggling to grasp the basic terminology.
Mrs May has set upon a course of action that is quite simply undeliverable. You may call it ambitious. I call it deranged. The belief that an agreement of this nature can be concluded in just two years is outrageous hubris. So too is the notion that we can make ultimatums when we will need a great deal of technical assistance from the EU. May's confrontational tone has been noted on the continent and that will now shape the process.
It is now ironic that our fate now lies in the hands of the EU which is more than likely going to strike out most of her demands and dictate the terms. We should hope that this causes Mrs May to go back to the drawing board. That though will waste considerable time and the clock will be ticking.
If May really is so deluded as to believe that we should be prepared to walk away from the table then she will be hitting the factory reset button on every single facet of EU relations and all the agreements therein. Effectively the entire system is driven into chaos.
If this is meant as some kind of threat to force the EU to concede then it is a mighty gamble because even if the EU were to concede there simply isn't any possibility of concluding a comprehensive deal without effectively copying and pasting facets of the Swiss agreement without even discussing the contents therein. Far from getting a new negotiated settlement we will rush to accept what we can get in order to stay on track. This is why the EEA was necessary so that we could avoid rushed and contentious negotiations.
There is now no possibility that the UK walks away with an amicable and workable agreement. What we will get if we get anything at all will be a bodge that will take decades to repair, pretty much destroying UK EU relations in the process. May could not have taken a more hostile and self defeating approach.
As to the nature of any transition, it will have to be in stages. We do not yet know how that would work but May will discover after the fact that the transition is equally important to the settlement. What she will find is that, having negotiated a settlement rather than a framework, she has no room for renegotiation and will be forced to implement a bad deal whether she likes it or not. Whatever concessions we get now, we will pay through the nose for them.
I am now of the view that this is almost certain to collapse and May will be humiliated. She will go down as one of the most incompetent prime ministers of all time. She will be ignominiously dispatched and the following prime minister, probably from the remain side, will seek an emergency association agreement - but not before we pay a heavy price and lose a substantial chunk of our trade. The only comfort I take from this is that it's about to become abundantly clear that the Westminster system of governance is no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps these events may be just enough for us to finally do something about it. One can certainly hope because there are no other positives to be had from this.