Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The long shadow of Brexit

From the moment Article 50 was invoked there were only two options for Theresa May. Either to make an unpopular choice in the national interest or kick the can down the road until circumstances dictated the path. Having chosen the latter over the EEA, Mrs May has put the Brexit process on autopilot. One gets a sense that this government is no longer even trying to negotiate and will simply roll over at every turn.

The consequence of this now looks like a hybrid of both hard Brexit and Brexit In Name Only whereby we remain ensnared by all of the regulation, no say in its formulation, but with substantially less market participation. We are being steamrollered by the EU into a situation where the EU can cannibalise UK industries but leaving the UK on a tight leash.

This, of course, is a consequence of not having a plan - making no preparations and failing to understand the inherent dilemmas of the Brexit process. This will not be the Brexit that anybody wanted and will deliver nothing that was promised. But then this is also a consequence of Brexit having been managed as an administrative chore - one which easily bores our media, is not wanted by the government and is understood by neither. 

Hitherto now it had been assumed that the Tory right would put up a bit more of a fight, but then we must recall that we are dealing with Tories who, when cornered, will never attack their own. Take that bus for example. It was a decoy. The strategy to win hands down was to attack David Cameron for his outright lie that he had reformed the EU and demonstrate that not only can we not reform the EU, our establishment would never even ask for it. 

To take that line, however, would have meant the Tory Vote Leave operation attacking their own party. Something they would never do. The bus was their plan B - and party unity mattered more than winning. Now that Mrs May has squandered her majority where there is a danger of a Corbyn government by way of an accident of numbers, the Tories cannot afford a civil war which is why neither the hardliners or the Tory moderates (for want of a better word) have been especially vocal except for Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke.

Consequently, the job of the Tory party now is to simply hold the fort and hail every climbdown as progress - just long enough for Labour to implode. Though we have made clucking noises about the EU's proposal on Northern Ireland, we can expect the government to concede to roughly what has already been outlined, shunting the issue into the post-Brexit negotiations.

The sad truth of it is that our political establishment was never capable of making good of Brexit. This blogger assumed that Mrs May would eventually find herself boxed in by reality, and against a backdrop of urgent warnings she would have to cave in to the EEA-Efta option. That, though, seems increasingly remote. 

Partly this is down to a bored media, one which has already squandered its credibility with a constant wail of hyperbole meaning the public are no longer receptive to the warnings and have little appetite for the tiresome minutia that Brexit entails. Throw them a distraction like the sugar tax and Brexit falls off the agenda completely. The chatterati reverts to type - and the media is not so much the dog that didn't bark as the neighbour's yapping pomeranian one tries to tune out.

We are now at a point where the government can do as it pleases largely because the media caravan has moved on, the momentum from the referendum has dissipated and the only fighters still on the field are dies hard remainers and the leavers who can still be bothered to argue with them. That debate occupies a small corner of Twitter while political debate of any kind has vanished from Facebook. 

The danger now is that Brexit day will come and go while subsequent trade talks become a niche interest in a field dominated by self-referential remainers who have no interest in exploiting Brexit opportunities - and wouldn't admit they exist. We then find as Brexit takes effect we must adapt to an unfolding omnishambles lacking the political or intellectual equipment to handle any of it. 

For all that we might well have killed of the WTO option - to the point where even the Tory right have gone quiet about it, the failure has been the overall inability to communicate that as far as export in goods (and regulated markets) go, a non-EEA Brexit is only marginally less devastating and all that changes is the speed of implosion for key industries

While the Pestons and Marrs will churn over Brexit and its respective causes for many years to come, we are unlikely to see any inquiry as to how we sleepwalked into such a dismal cul-de-sac. Brexiters will take no responsibility for their failure to plan, remainers will take no responsibility for misrepresenting the EEA option, and similarly, the media will not recognise its own role by fixating on trivia and failing to understand the issues. 

What happens in the next three years will set the tone for British politics for the next twenty years and battle lines will still be drawn on the matter of our relationship with the EU. Little will have been resolved. Only then does the real battle of Brexit begin. Events of 2016 will cast a long shadow. 

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