Saturday, 11 February 2017

The foolishness of Theresa May

The above cartoon surfaced in 2015. It is as relevant now as ever it was. Leave Alliance bloggers promoting Flexcit made a continual case that ultimately it would be the Brexiteers most likely to thwart Brexit through their insistence on demanding the impossible. Now it looks like the Brexit zealots will deliver one of two unhappy destinations.

Having completely disregarded the advice of the best research in the field, the government, guided by the Tory lunatic fringe, has set about Brexit with the thinnest grasp of the issues imaginable. When in the near future this is exposed to the cold light of reality the government faces a massive climbdown and a total revision in its position. If not, what we are left with is a trainwreck Brexit.

In the event of a trainwreck Brexit Britain will have to go grovelling to the EU for restoration of certain privileges and given the damage done the EU most certainly will exact a price. It may lead to the cannibalisation of some major national assets.

But then there is also the possibility that Theresa May will see the error of her ways and we see a more rational approach to negotiations. This though is only of small comfort. She has already blown it.

By insisting on an FTA, she is committed to a long and blistering negotiation and the implementation of any such agreement cannot go ahead until it is concluded. That will see us remaining under ECJ jurisdiction for some years top come. Before we can resume domestic competence we first have to build up our administrative capability and design institutions capable of doing the work. We have to completely re-write the statute book and put in transitional measures of our own.

In all likelihood, by way of complications in delivering such a transition there will be a number of delays leading to only a partial exit which will no doubt be bogged down in Parliament by bitter disputes. By this time I can imagine moves to oust Theresa May. By this time the credibility of the Brexiteers will be in tatters and the remain inclined Tories will retake the party. More than likely they will want to put the brakes on the process and will seek to convert the transition into an association agreement which pretty much leaves us taking all the rules but having no say.

It is ironic that both sides should have spurned the EEA as an option as that would have given us a trade agreement and full exit all at once while obliging the EU to negotiate with us in terms of rules by way of the co-determination process. The pig headed determination to have our cake and eat it will probably result in a far worse deal than the EEA with no safeguard measures and no means of renegotiation. Worse still we really will be half in and half out - possibly permanently.

Sadly, the EEA option is now closed to us. The Tories are determined not to see the merits of it and have neglected to do any preparatory work even as a fallback position. Consequently we could find ourselves in a rotten limbo whereby the EU leverages further concessions and sucks us back under ECJ control. Basically EU membership with none of the rights or access to the pseudo-democratic mechanisms of the EU.

In this we must point the finger at the likes of the liar Gisela Stuart who maintained throughout that "if you stay in the single market you have not left the EU". From all of the leading Brexiteers we have seen a continued opposition to any kind of pragmatism or realism and they have, through either ignorance or malice, continued to misrepresent the EEA agreement.

Even if the Brexiteers manage to fend off any attempt to stall the transition, in all likelihood we will end up with a grossly asymmetric agreement, where ultimately we are forced to reinstate freedom of movement in order to restore market participation. They will take us all round the houses to achieve nothing at great expense.

For the moment, all we have seen from the government is whimsical and misguided aspirations and there is nothing to suggest they have a grasp of the scale and complexity. They are working from some deeply flawed assumptions with no reference to what the EU may seek to achieve. It's a delusion the likes of which I have never seen before.

With such secrecy though, there is still room for a surprise. It could be that in the coming weeks May realises a shadow EEA agreement is her only safe bet and, like her predecessor, she will have to spin hard to pretend she is not making a u-turn. That, however, would require courage, humility, knowledge and competence. On that, I would not bet the farm.

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