Monday, 29 April 2019

Pissing into the wind


I'm not the first or last to say it, but the betrayal narrative is a useful political tool to the likes of Farage and his new personality cult. It's like catnip to his supporters who would rather rage over Brexit than actually commit to doing something as radical as leaving the EU. This is where I start to lose patience.

Few want to leave the EU more than I do. I'm intellectually and emotionally invested in it. But I am also acutely aware of the enormous risks in doing so and especially if we leave without a deal. As much as the economic impact concerns me, I am more concerned that in the longer term, as we seek to rebuild formal relations with the EU, we will end up with a "vassal state" arrangement concocted by the Labour party who have no ideological attachment to Brexit and no real interest in governing the UK as an independent state.

The Labour party isn't actually interested in governing. It sees the arms of the state as a tool of redistribution and keeping things running is a secondary consideration. So long as it can tax and spend and maintain its clientbase, they are none too bothered who is doing the work on technical governance. They have no interest in it nor the intellectual curiosity. To date they still don't know what a customs union accomplishes but they will ask for one anyway.

Today on Twitter I have warned that if we leave without a deal there is a strong probability that we could end up with a deal worse than the one presently on the table. Naturally the Faragistas tell me that the deal couldn't possibly be worse but I'm quite certain it could and if anyone can make it worse and it's Jeremy Corbyn and his no-talent entourage.

This then leaves us with the uncomfortable truth that, give or take a few tweaks to the political declaration, the deal on offer is as good as it is ever going to get. This is a reality that the Brexiters don't wish to confront and will instead stamp their feet and demand we drop the backstop - which is not going to happen.

The chief complaint is that the deal locks us into a customs union with no exit mechanism and it's a near certainty that the backstop will be activated to become the basis of the whole future relationship. There' a few things to unpack here. Firstly it isn't a customs union. It goes a long way to having a similar effect where we will still have to coordinate our trade activities with Brussels but that really is the price of frictionless trade. As the junior in an asymmetric relationship, Brussels holds most of the cards and this is just a fact of life.

Secondly, the lack of an exit mechanism overlooks the political declaration. We have to look at the package as a whole and take into account the stated ambitions of both sides. The political declaration seeks to replace the backstop and since all bilateral relationships evolve over time, employing new methodologie and technologies as they emerge, if we hold the EU to their word then eventually we can bash it into shape. Short of an outbreak of hostilities, it is difficult to see why we would wish to unilaterally end that process.

But this betrays the fundamental misapprehension in Brexiter thinking in that they view Brexit as an event concluding in a static deal that dictates the terms of trade for eternity thereafter. That's not how bilateral relationships work. Moreover, Brexit is a process, not an event, and the withdrawal agreement is really only the first step in what is to be at least a twenty year long process of refinement. We can, therefore, afford to let a few things slide. We don't need an optimal Brexit. We just need to get the ball rolling.

This, though, is all a bit too much for Brexiters to take on board. Grunting populist slogans is much more lucrative than applying yourself to the issues and whipping up the rabble will always attract more media attention. There is next to no mileage in constructively engaging as this blogger continually laments. If leavers actually agree to a withdrawal agreement and move past the better adversarial referendum era politics the demagogues lose their reservoir of outrage.

This, dear reader, is where I have to get off the bus. The Brexit blob, ie the ERG, the Faragistas and leaver radio pundits, have shifted the goalposts and changed the original proposition. They have taken ownership of the narrative and turned the process into a revolutionary crusade. They will tell you they would rather have a deal but will only agree to a deal without a backstop, knowing this is not going to happen thus are not at all honest about it. That makes the proposition one of leaving without a deal.

Now they would have it that this is what we all voted for in 2016, presuming to speak on my behalf a a leave voter. We have gone from a relatively mundane proposal to a full blown economic experiment that never appeared on any manifesto based on the flimsiest of suppositions and rejecting all known norms of international trade. A suicide cult.

What one immediately notices is that all those pundits and self-promoting activists pushing this proposition are nicely ensconced in the politico-media bubble and largely insulated from the consequences of such an enterprise. Some will have EU parliamentary pensions to fall back on. the rest of us, though, still have to find ways to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. People need a degree of certainty in order to plan their lives.

Ah but!, they say, none of the predictions from before the referendum came true so why should we believe them this time? Well, as it happens, it's actually quite difficult to tell what is happening in that a lot of money is being moved around in anticipation of Brexit which goes toward GDP. Many multinationals are positioning themselves for bargain acquisitions. But then we should also note that if we do leave without a deal then we face the full array of third country controls and restrictions on goods and services while losing most of our FTAs with other countries. We can argue the toss as to how severe the impact of that may be, but it's safe to say the consequences will be seismic.

Being that the process could very well drift to October without resolution, unless there is a change of leadership, we could be looking at a further extension. I would imagine the only grounds for a further extension would be if there were to be a second referendum, which I would no longer oppose. Parliament has had a year in which to get its act together and yet still cannot reach a consensus. There is an exit path available to the Brexiteers but they decline to take it. I cannot, therefore, see any alternative to another referendum.

This in my view would have to be a binary referendum separating the question of how from the whether. We have already had an in/out referendum, so the purpose of any public consultation should be between the withdrawal agreement and the actual Brexiter proposal, which is now essentially the WTO option - something I do not wish to see and (probably) wouldn't have voted for in 2016. We are no longer just talking about leaving the EU. We are now talking about a full blown termination of comprehensive EU relations and something of that magnitude must have a clear mandate.

This, though, may already been a forlorn hope. With what looks to be a local election wipeout for the Tories and with hammering defeat on the cards in any euro-elections, Theresa May's position looks increasingly untenable. It could go either way though. She could be gone in days or she could linger on until October. If she is replaced by a Brexiter then no deal is a near certainty. The EU's patience will be at an end as will that of the UK electorate.

If that is how it is to be then that is ultimately part and parcel of the risks I took into account when I voted to leave. That, though, will not be the end of it. The Brexiters are deeply mistaken if they think no deal Brexit is the conclusion. Very rapidly their suppositions will hit the rocks of reality and then we need further consultations on how to proceed. The one small mercy is that the Brexit zealots will have been taken seriously for the very last time. If the consolation prize is the death of the Conservative Party as we know it, it won't all have been for naught.

No comments:

Post a comment