Sunday, 14 April 2019

Bigger than Brexit

As EUreferendum notes, the real business Brexit has been abandoned, now serving only as a backdrop to our domestic politics. "Even the European elections, if they happen, will be seen more as an opinion poll on the state of the parties, rather than any expression of choice as to who we want to represent us in Brussels".

To a large extent the whole process is a soft re-run of the referendum where remainers will be keen to show that they have the numbers, so we could very well see a far higher turnout than usual. Or not. Either way it doesn't matter. There is still that 2016 referendum result and it isn't going away. The Tories will surely take a pasting but unless there is new leadership, I cannot see how the result can influence the direction. There is still only one game in town and that is the withdrawal agreement until such a time where it is formally rejected again.

Between now and then we can expect to see an orgy of populism. The Brexit blob have a new heroine in JRM 2.0 and as ever it won't take long for them to be worshiping at the feet of their new messiah. We're in for weeks of the same old tedious mantras while the movement converges on no deal as the only outcome they will accept. This then becomes an existential matter for the Tories which means at the very least, any consensus reached with Corbyn in respect of a customs union will see them collapsing in the polls.

This all begs the question of how the Tory party gets rid of Theresa May and who she is replaced with, but with the withdrawal agreement being non-amendable, as stated countless times by Brussels, a change of leader with a new fantasy solution for the backstop is not going to get anywhere. Being that revoking Article 50 is only a remote possibility, no deal does seem like an inevitability. In the end it will be down to the political incoherence of Westminster rather than a deliberate act. Remainer MPs ought to realise the only sure fire way to avoid no deal is to ratify the deal but they won't, so that is that.  

For such pivotal and historic times, politics ought to be more interesting than it is but the political machinery has turned away from dealing with the grown up issues and instead defaults to ideological trench warfare with the only objective of making sure the opposite extreme loses. From an anthropological perspective one supposes it has some intrigue but it offers us nothing we have not seen in abundance for the last three years.

As far as Joe Public is concerned, and as far as the know-nothing leaders of the Brexit insurgency are concerned, business can simply muddle on through without formal trade and regulatory frameworks and there is simply no teaching the unteachable. This is now a battle of political wills and the livelihoods of ordinary people are just a casualty of war. The Brexit Party clan and their sympathetic pundits are isolated from the consequences of their ignorance so it is unlikely they will ever take any interest in the grubby details. 

If then we take it as read that we are crashing out without a deal the the intellectual effort needs to go into how we rebuild our European relations. The EU has said it will do all it can to ensure there is no border in Ireland but will have to bend and break a number of its own rules to do it and will need a series of WTO waivers. It won't like having a gaping hole in its legal order and its customs frontier and its first priority when the UK asks the EU back to the table will be to address that concern. 

Then, of course, we are looking at something akin with the backstop, and then in respect of our mainland trade with the EU, issues such as VAT, tariffs, SPS controls and customs don't go away. All of this will need formal interim arrangements and will need to be firmed up over the years. Somehow we need a new template for cooperation on everything from fishing to transboundary pollution and space policy - the minutia that Brexiters refuse to trouble themselves with.

The prevailing attitude seems to be that we will sort something out - and though the optimism is commendable, nothing in international trade negotiations happens quickly except for failure. We are looking at three to four years just to rebuild the basics. Considerably more to get back to anything we might describe as normality. 

Were we negotiating inside the framework set out by the withdrawal agreement we would be doing so from a position of relative economic health, but with the UK excluded from a number of lucrative markets, not least in services due to work visa restrictions and certification problems, our need will be more urgent whereby we end up making concessions on everything up to and including fishing. There will be plenty of bitter pills for Brexiters to swallow as a consequence of their wilful ignorance.

Were it that we had politicians capable of learning and understanding these issues, there perhaps might be time to bring the debate back to sanity, but there is no hope of that when there are votes to be gained by playing to the gallery. Constructive engagement is wasted breath. The force of raw politics is just too strong. It is now a revolutionary force and we are all going to have to pick up the pieces when the damage is done. 

In respect of that I can well understand how this became a revolutionary process. The remainers have become ever more authoritarian and nasty and the mask of progressivism and tolerance is slipping further by the day. As objectionable as I find the Brexiters, if I have to pick a side then I'm still for Brexit all the way. It was perhaps too much to ask that we approach regime change in an orderly fashion. British politics has long been too degraded to handle something like Brexit and politicians on the Brexit side of the debate are far from immune to its effects. This is no longer just about leaving the EU. 

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