Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The no-deal grand delusion

There was a time when I would entertain a no deal Brexit as a last resort. Just recently though, I have taken the view that every effort must be made to avoid it even if that means further delay or even a confirmatory vote.

The arguments for trading on WTO terms have never been convincing. The Tory right and the Brexit blob have popularised some very deliberate distortions to cloud the debate and now the generally understood scenario is a work of political fiction.

We can debate til the cows come home what the initial impacts would be and while there have been wild exaggerations, the longer term damage in terms of trade and our political standing is a price too rich for my blood.

To go ahead with such an enterprise you would need a ruthlessly competent government with a plan and an exact idea of the policies it would execute on day one. The ERG likely believes they could sweep into power and do that job. They've been plotting for a while.

This has not gone unnoticed by the international community. The process of rolling over deals we have via the EU is stalling because some are wondering what levels of unilateral action the UK will take on tariffs. They're not about to offer us trade preferences if there's a chance they can get what they want for free.

As to contingency plan execution, you're dealing with people who deny the problems even exist even when they are clearly outlined in the EU's own Notices to Stakeholders. Pretty soon the government will be slapped with an avalanche of policy emergencies beyond the absorptive capacity of the cabinet meaning everyday governance is handed entirely to the civil service with virtually no political oversight.

Pretty soon you have a government mired in an omnishambles with zero political authority and wildly hated in the country. The next administration is then formed of either a LabLib or ConLib coalition after a hung parliament. Before we know it we're grovelling back to Brussels whereupon they demand pretty much everything now demanded in the current withdrawal agreement and quite a bit more... because they can.

There is no combination of new FTAs that can possibly offset the loss of the single market and the only thing halfway close is a US deal that requires massive asymmetric concessions. It's a net loss to trade and a substantial loss of face. It's also highly risky in that any deal has to get past a Democrat congress. Good luck with that.

I have previously argued that there can be no economic revival until there is a political realignment but from the looks of the habitual cycles our politics is falling into, this state of dysfunction could well become the new norm as it did for Italy and we never manage to recover politically or economically. Britain will become a further deluded basketcase with a legacy sense of self-importance that's even worse than it is now. A no deal Brexit as a tool of political reboot may very well have the opposite effect and further entrench all of our worst habits.

Put simply, pulling off something like a no deal Brexit requires a level of political talent that we just don't have. It would lack a majority government and a public mandate and in no time at all the only coherent movement in politics would be a coalition to rejoin the EU on worse terms than now. Taking back control? Methinks not.

Ultimately there is a deal on the table to get us out of the EU but if Brexiters MPs won't vote for it and campaign for it then they are passing up the opportunity to leave in an orderly amicable way in such a way that we maintain our international standing. If they prefer to chase "fwee twade" rainbows they are going to face a wall of opposition and ultimately lose the prize.  I'm not lifting a finger to dig them out of that hole. If they balls it up now it's entirely on them. Why should any of us have our lives tipped upside down for such a very obviously poor decision?

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