Friday, 26 April 2019

March of the noisemakers


I don't have much to say about the euro-elections. I don't see it as terribly important. If we are leaving the EU then it's just a proxy opinion poll and if not then we have a pack of grunting Faragists with their nose in the trough as usual, producing nothing and wasting everyone's time.

Of the remain efforts that I can see, it's split between Lib Dems, the Change UK group and the Greens, and they can't seem to organise a coherent platform. They're pretty much self-ridiculing archetypal remainers and I can't see them making any difference at all. The whole thing is a sideshow. The central issue is how and when we leave the EU and that decision is ultimately a Westminster concern.

Here we have to zoom out and remind ourselves of the facts. There is a deal on the table and parliament doesn't want it. Brussels says the deal is non-amendable and there is every reason to believe them. They don't want to risk unravelling the whole thing and certainly wouldn't consider renegotiation without a coherent plan from the UK with the full backing of parliament. Such a proposal would have to respect the EU's territorial integrity so the options are limited. It is unlikely that any renegotiation would produce different results given the nature of the technical concerns. In other words, parliament can either like it or lump it.

If parliament persists in rejecting the deal then it comes down to one of two options. Revoke or leave without a deal. Parliament has thus far sought to rule out no deal but no deal remains the legal default. If it then comes to crunch point, with little possibility of extending, a decision has to be made.

This prompts questions as to whether parliament could exert its own authority to revoke Article 50. Generally it is assumed that it lacks that power, but these are strange times indeed and with the government enjoying a wafer thin majority anything could happen.

Leaving aside the fallout of such a decision, I'm now somewhat ambivalent. If Article 50 is revoked it will be as an emergency measure to avoid no deal and MPs taking the view that it cannot be allowed is a respectable position. Leave won by a narrow margin with a false prospectus and no plan, Brexiters don't want the treaty that formally takes us out of the EU and at no time during the proceedings have the ever ventured constructive alternatives that take reality into account.

We now know a good deal about the effects of no deal and even long before the referendum The Leave Alliance said that no responsible government should allow it. It's too damaging. Brexiters have hypnotised themselves in to a state of complacency using the EU's stated unilateral contingency measures as evidence that trade will function as normal. We should not humour them.

If you have grasped anything at all about the functioning of EU trade then it should be that there is considerably more to it than tariffs and regulatory harmonisation. There is a universe of peripheral instruments that facilitate commerce and trade, and contingency measures don't come anywhere close to resolving the multiplicity of problems. Brexiters have dismissed these issues as "project fear" quite successfully by ridiculing media reports which have either trivialised or misrepresented the issues or simply not understood them.

We are then left to triangulate with our best guesses. It won't be the day one armageddon as predicted by many but it would leave us with a decades worth of legacy problems which may never be fully resolved. The question, therefore, is whether our own contingency actions are sufficient. Which they aren't. The rollover of existing trade deals is a long and complex process and without any transition and with massively inferior trade relations with the single market, we are looking at full renegotiation of third party deals rather than technical rollovers.

Brexiters are generally cavalier about this. What they all share in common is a deeply flawed understanding of international trade and rely on a narrow set of agenda driven prestige sources who are manipulating the debate for their own ends. Realists, however, see this as a serious concern which will have unknowable secondary effects rippling out in ways that are impossible to anticipate. It then relies on the public and the private sector to adapt, but with only limited information from the government and no real idea when we expect to see anything like normality.

Being that the Brexiteers repeatedly assert that devices such as WTO Article 24 can act as a substitute for a formal trade agreement and that unilateral regulatory alignment can mitigate some of the issues, we can say in all fairness that the Brexiters pushing for no deal simply do not have the first concept of what they are talking about.

Were it that no deal were the central proposition during the referendum - which it demonstrably wasn't, we could fairly say that MPs were being obstructive simply because they do not like the result. But that is not the case. The Brexiteers have shifted the goalposts and manipulated the narrative so that it has (only in recent times) evolved to become The One True Brexit. This is the power of propaganda.

So here Brexiters are demanding of MPs that they simply roll over and suspend all of their concerns to clear the way for a Tory right inspired economic experiment that no serious trade professional thinks is viable - a theory which frequently asserts things that are counter to every known and commonly understood trade reality.

If I were a Brexit agnostic or a remainer, I certainly wouldn't roll over because what they want does not translate into trade gains and in fact exacerbates many of the complaints oft recited by lexiters. Why the left wing Brexiters have subscribed int totality to Tory free trade dogma escapes me completely. Probably, again, successful propaganda at work.

As a backup tactic, now that most of the crackpot trade theories and central claims made by Vote Leave are exposed, the Brexiters can fall back on the "betrayal" narrative, making this a more fundamental constitutional issue rather than the mundane act of extricating ourselves from the EU. It's powerful and persuasive rhetoric. Or at least it would be were they not accusing anyone of constructively engaging in the process of being a saboteur.

But then the Brexiter are right here. Stopping no deal and thereby stopping Brexit does deliver a constitutional crisis. Remaining in the EU certainly isn't the end of it. But then one can just as easily argue that if MPs have successfully thwarted a plot by the economic far right to take control of trade policy without it ever appearing in a manifesto while masquerading as democrats, then arguably they have done what is necessary in defence of the nation.

If that happens then Brexiters will indeed feel cheated but the ones most responsible are the ERG types who hijacked the Brexit mandate to chase "fwee twade" rainbows - and though my preference is to leave the EU I shall have very little sympathy. The bloviating Brexit blob now forming the new Brexit party appear to be media bubble pundits and activists like Claire Fox, none of whom have livelihoods depending on EU regulatory mechanisms. They are quite nicely insulated from that which they advocate.

Were we to revoke Article 50 then we would essentially have rewound the clock to 2014 when Ukip swept the boards at the Euro elections and was able to put existential pressure on the Tories. The Brexit movement would then spend some time in opposition to either become the replacement Tory party of external pressure to the point of them becoming a Brexit party. That is largely dependent on them securing the trust of leave voters after the fact which doesn't seem likely.

One way or another, we'd be back where we started either looking to elect a Brexit party with leave as a manifesto commitment or facing a referendum to end the uncertainty. If then the UK is still on an exit trajectory then we will go through this all over again. If not, the issue goes into dormancy until the next EU treaty process.

If Brexit is somehow defeated and then put to bed by a referendum that leavers lose, it won't be Brexit per se that will have been defeated, rather it will be the establishment putting down a revolutionary coup with pseudo democratic methods. It would still leave the "left behind" largely without a vice and with nothing politically resolved while the establishment gets worse. One can almost respect the no deal point of view that simply says we need to get it over and done with.

But with bilateral relations being a continuum, a no deal Brexit is far from the end of it. It won't be too long before we are grovelling to Brussels in need of a deal - and then we go through the mill once more where the condustions will be much the same as they are now, ie the Withdrawal Agreement.

If politics were functioning as it should this would now be fully understood and the futility of either extreme of the debate would become apparent. Being that politics has failed us, not least due to the failure of the media, one side has to win out and we must pick up the pieces when their certainties fall apart. Being though, that revoking Article 50 gives the economy a stay of execution, and with the arguments of Brexiters being so threadbare, you cannot be at all surprised if the leavers lose their prize. It will be a failure of their own making.

Now that Article 50 has been extended we are once again kicking the can down the road where if you ignore the soap opera and the noise created by the euro elections, we are still in the same old limbo. There is talk of reaching a new consensus on a way forward but to a large extend it is no longer within the gift of parliament. Like most things in life, if you do not make a choice then the choice will be made for you by circumstance. We have squandered every window to shape the process and now we are left with an unpalatable deal or a decade of political turmoil either way. MPs may not like the choice they have in front of them, but it looks like May's deal is the only to escape this toxic feedback loop. They have until October to realise this. Until then, the turf belongs to the noisemakers.

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