Saturday, 21 July 2018

Britain is about to get a kick in the complacency


Attempting to raise the alarm over no deal Brexit with a view to preventing it is pointless. One quote on Facebook this evening is pretty typical of the attitude I frequently encounter. "Most Brexit issues is something that could be resolved in a day with a bottle of tippex, a biro and a photocopier". Similarly we see warnings described as akin with millennium bug hysteria. The Tory spin machine is in full effect and is gambling on everything being alright on the night.

For an ordinary voter it's easy to see why there might be such disbelief. That which is governed by the EU pertains mainly to invisible government. Those systems and functions you would never know are there until they go wrong. Our inter-dependency with EU systems is something which has been engineered over decades behind the scenes with no real media attention.

When it comes down to it, this stuff is not all that interesting. The public don't really expect to play a part in such things and is only really interesting from a professional perspective. Nobody really cares how power stations work or who owns them just so long as the lights stay on. Few know about gas pipelines and sub-sea cabling and interconnectors and virtually nobody is interested in aviation treaties and airspace management.

Moreover, single market systems have been established for so long that few ever remember things being all that different. For as long as I've been alive we've had all mod cons and fully stocked supermarkets. Nobody ever really stops to ask why or how. Similarly medicines and pharmaceuticals approvals are seldom ever in the news unless there is a major breakdown or a corruption scandal.

Should we drop out of the EU without a deal, becoming a third country overnight, a lot of this will simply stop working - or continue working but only half as well. There is actually a bizarre irony here. We eurosceptics have been warning for decades that we risk becoming so far enmeshed with the EU that we have no control - yet they seem to think we can unplug overnight and everything will be fine. Then there's the hypocrisy of the remainers who have claimed in all this time that we never lost our sovereignty but they are the ones now warning of the dangers should we leave without a deal.

As much as the public is about to get a shock, the apparatus of industry and government is likely to be surprised too. We've heard various testimonies from industry bosses, many believing things will be manageable. Even civil servants have expressed undue confidence.

As to exactly what will happen, nobody is quite sure. Senior voices within the EU have doubled down on their commitment to having no border in Northern Ireland which means there will have to be unilateral waivers - but legally this is not sustainable and any measures will be temporary.

We may see a patchwork of agreements standing readily if only to minimise the impact on the EU and to avoid civil emergencies. The stoppages may won't happen overnight as many expect. It will take some time for direction to filter down to front line services and customs offices. That's when the fun starts as we find we have neither the systems nor the software to manage - leaving exporters with invalid paperwork and customs officials unable to issue new documentation.

If there has been any kind of contingency planning then it is possible that we won't see tailbacks on the motorways which Brexiters will claim as a victory, but this will be a result of lorries not even setting off from warehouses. Whether or not the airports are hit by Brexit overnight remains to be seen. It can't not have an impact.

Whatever turmoil there is will be as much to do with not knowing what the new legal circumstances are. This is something very easy to get wrong and the flow of information from the government is not likely to improve. All we have to go on is the EU's own notices to stakeholders. We are looking at a mass failure of government communication - not least because they have no idea.

It really goes one of two ways. Either it's an overnight calamity which gets progressively worse or it's a slow motion implosion over many weeks and months. Job losses will be the trailing indicator so it will be a while before we start seeing the fullest of the fallout.

How long it takes to salvage anything of it really depends on what happens politically. The EU will not be forthcoming with any rescue deal until the matter of payments, citizens rights and Northern Ireland are resolved. Things may be so dire that whichever administration is in power will immediately sign up to the presently rejected backstop for Northern Ireland. The rest is anyone's guess.

Here we may see attempts to leverage the NI backstop as a whole UK solution, this time with pressure from EU member states, but again much will depend on the politics of the situation and how the EU leverages our predicament. It will not be generous and France will likely be happy to stick the knife in and twist it if it means cannibalising UK market share.

Much is going to depend on who is in power after we crash out. If May is still Prime Minister on exit day she will have no choice but to resign. We are then in uncharted waters as the Tories fight like rats in a sack. Whoever wins will inherit a poisoned chalice and will be faced with continued post-exit talks with the EU from a much weaker position. We can expect an early general election.

From there politics takes over. Rune-reading is largely futile when so much is in flux but I think it is safe to say that we approaching the death of the Conservative Party and there will be a bloodbath. Those Tories who joined Labour for £3 just to vote for Corbyn will get their comeuppance. For the first time in a long time Tories will be punished for their supreme arrogance.

But then everyone is going to get something of what they deserve. The Remainers who lied through their teeth about the Norway option will live to regret their lies. The Tories who were too meek to speak up and went along with the ERG herd will have to account for themselves. So too will media personalities on the right who blithely told us none of this could happen. Moreover this will be punishment for those individuals who side with their own tribes come what may.

There is now a crushing sense of inevitability to all this. It will open the door to years of political turbulence that will trash politics as we know it. And that is no bad thing. Politically Britain is fragmented several ways and nothing on the ballot paper is deserving of a vote. We need a clear out. We won't see economic revival until we see a return to political coherence.

This, I believe is the primary purpose of Brexit. I do not share in the Brexiter sunlit uplands narrative nor do I believe Brexit holds "exciting opportunities" for the economy. Far from it. More than likely it will be an accelerant to may of the underlying trends we've been seeing for the last few years - pruning many of the zombie industries.

We've seen a hollowing out of the high street with cherished and prestigious brands going under, all the while we see our towns dying, libraries, police stations, pubs, shops, bingo halls and banks vanishing. We see half-baked state funded initiatives to revive the high street but there is something more fundamental going on that our existing politics cannot fix. Our current political settlement is concerned only with propping up a decaying status quo - delaying the inevitable and storing up problems for later.

We are approaching a new age and a new industrial revolution with the traditional models of work collapsing, along with modes of saving like private pensions. Automation and internet have opened up a new world that we don't quite know how to live in or finance. All our politics ever could do is hold the line and prop up the old order.

It's easy to see why people don't care much about the prospect of losing crown jewels like Airbus when increasingly they are multinational companies with no loyalty to their host nation and no longer hiring locally. Many such companies are sustained with subsidy and government contracts as part of a vast job creation scheme to keep the middle classes sufficiently mollified. That model is already living on borrowed time as European industries are now facing real competition - not least from China.

For those nostalgic for years gone by, Brexit is unlikely to be a corrective. The working class culture many pine for is probably gone for good along with the jobs that sustained it. The days of mass employers are coming to an end and somehow we have to make the new paradigm work. This is why we are seeing socialist ideas returning to the fore along with universal basic income. This is all to be decided in the coming months and years. These are questions even the EU will have to grapple with.

Cuts to public service in recent years have proven unpopular, and ordinary people lament the loss of their communities, and the remainers answer has always been to try to stop Brexit and instead invest in the regions. The problem being that as much as the trends are irreversible, the current settlement is primarily the cause of it. While there is no turning back the clock, we cannot go on like this.

Over the course of the last two years I have explored on this blog a number of social factors contributing to Brexit, and my observation informed by growing up in the north of England, supplemented by commentary from Paul Embrey there is something to be said for the human need for community, identity, tradition and family, all of which are attacked by the transience of modernity and the turnover of people - which explain the demands for controlled immigration. This, though, is another global trend.

Governments all over the world are trying to reconcile the demands placed upon government, not least health and social care, and immigration has been their sticking plaster. That too must come to an end. Much of the burden we place on the state is because of a middle class reluctance to spend their own money (tied up in assets) on their own care. The NHS is a vast middle class subsidy locking in high property prices and gradually freezing the young out of ownership.

This is where Brexit, of any flavour, is going to force unpopular decisions in respect of care costs and the NHS as a whole. Mrs May might well have lost her majority over the so-called dementia tax, but it's coming all the same along with a raft of other measures that will enrage the middle classes and the left (which is increasingly the same thing).

The remainers have tapped into the notion that the ultras mainly want Brexit so they can demolish the NHS - which might well be true - and another reason why the left have attempted to turn the NHS into a national religion. It is key to holding the status quo together. On that score, I'm very much ambivalent. I'm not exactly thrilled at the idea of it falling into the hands of Rees-Mogg's vulture capitalists but all the same the NHS gravy train has to end.

The fact is that our government will do all it can to avoid the difficult questions. Just look how the Tories caved in on the Dementia tax and have recently pledged to firehose yet more cash at the NHS. They are held hostage to a vocal opposition to any kind of NHS reform which doesn't actually represent majority sentiment.

We are, therefore, never going to restore any kind of social and economic justice unless we take a wrecking ball to our politics and rebuild it. If they can't make the tough choices then we have to force the issue - and this time they can't borrow and spend their way through it.

Earlier in the week I detailed a broader dysfunction at the heart of politics and it was unrealistic of me to every expect our politicians to be competent enough to manage a thing like Brexit. We have lost touch with the art of governance and statecraft and that skillset has been absent for a very long time. One might ask how things function as well as they do in its absence but it only takes a thing like Grenfell to demonstrate the systemic failures not only of regulation but the response to the disaster - which was open season for fraudsters who shouldn't even be in the country.

It would seem that for the last decade at least, probably longer, the EU has been propping up a system decaying from the inside out. Brexit has finally exposed it. Without that crutch we find our politics is no longer fit for purpose and is likely to bring us to a disastrous withdrawal made a magnitude worse by a failure to understand they systems and processes and a total failure to plan. The rot is far worse than I ever imagined.

For that reason, knowing what I know now, it wouldn't change my vote at all. Britain has a long road to travel and things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get any better. But with things being as they are, a collapse of governance was a future certainty. If it wasn't Brexit it would be something else. It may be that we are past the point of no return and that what's broken is not fixable. I don't know. What I do know is that without a kick in the complacency, re-engaging the public in the politics they have neglected, the destination is the same anyway.

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