Monday, 24 June 2019

A fundamental lack of democracy


It was back in 2017 when Mrs May went to Florence to deliver a speech that it became obvious that something was very wrong at the heart of government. May was very much in a world of her own. The sequence of exit process had already been defined. We would negotiate a withdrawal agreement and then negotiate the future relationship in the so-called transition period, which May, for her own reasons insisted on calling it the implementation period even though there would be nothing then to implement.

The speech was an attempt to circumvent the sequencing to skip straight to negotiating a bespoke partnership agreement. She failed to understand that firstly, the sequencing was not a matter of negotiation, and secondly, that there were practical and legal reasons for the EU to do it this way.

More than a year of negotiating time was wasted while May laboured under these misapprehensions while MPs on all side of the house similarly struggled with the basic terminology. The basic problem was that our political apparatus was not even listening to Barnier, let alone understanding what was said.

I can't remember exactly when the government resigned itself to the reality, but then we moved on to a new set of misapprehensions such as a common rule book (aka Chequers) and no matter how many times Brussels said no, for good reason, the message simply didn't sink in. We then experienced the exact same dynamic with MaxFac for Northern Ireland. All of these nostrums fell flat simply because any solution had to take into account the existing EU system and the inherent limitations on the EU. It could not make exceptions to the rules for a non member and certainly it could not weaken its own customs frontiers for the sole benefit of the UK. That's just not how the system works.

Two years on and we are no further forward. Theresa May eventually admitted defeat on all counts and came back with her withdrawal agreement (pretty much the only viable solution) only to be met with outrage from her party. This cost her the premiership. That's what happens when you open the curtains to the light of day. May might well have caved into reality but the ERG did not.

Enter Johnson. Being a man who does not do detail and a man who has paid no attention to anything over the last two years (except for job openings in Number Ten), it's like the last two years never happened. With May out of the way he can resurrect all of the non-solutions favoured by the ERG and tell everyone he'll get the deal Mrs May could not. This is in defiance of all the diplomatic signals from Brussels, whose diplomatic signals have consistently said that the deal is not open to negotiation and that MaxFac, if ever it is to work, is not going to happen without a withdrawal agreement and a backstop.

Essentially the Brexiters have chosen the man who makes the noises they like to hear and Johnson knows it. He will make those same noises for as long as it takes to collect the keys to the Downing Street residence he covets. It'll work too. His only opponent doesn't seem to be in the running and the leadership contest is a weak charade to give the appearance that this is not yet another coronation.

The question is what happens then. Patience in Brussels has expired. They've been through this mill before, waiting for the UK government to come up with realistic proposals and getting nowhere. They will not be minded to entertain fanciful notions from Johnson, especially when he has no actual grasp of what he's even asking for. To that extent he is a puppet of the ERG machinery.

Johnson is labouring under the misapprehension that the relative pittance of £39bn is in some way leverage and the threat of walking away will see them coming back to the table and agreeing to scrap the backstop. Categorically the £39bn is not leverage, not least since it is not paid as a lump sum and does not leave a substantial hole in their budget. Nor is the EU going to scrap a backstop it is politically invested in which actually works in favour of IEA unicornery.

And this is the essential problem with British politics. It lives in a world of its own. We have long spoken about the disconnect between the bubble and the rest of the country, and that has had its own corrosive effect which in many ways played midwife to Brexit. Our political apparatus is only dimly aware that anything outside Westminster exists and hears no voice but its own. Of itself that was problematic but when you introduce a seismic enterprise like Brexit, this self-absorption has become dangerous.

But then Brexit is not the only example of this in play. Yesterday MPs waved through a change to the Climate Change Act without a substantive debate committing us to a new zero carbon target likely to place hundreds of billions worth of obligations on the taxpayer. With virtue signalling aplenty and with no apparent opposition, MPs have written a blank cheque for herds of white elephants and subsidy driven boondoggles. Very possibly even more insane than a no deal Brexit.

Yet again parliament has proven that it has learned nothing. It has once again railroaded a piece of legislation through under the radar (while the media is distracted with something else), while the public remain unaware of the consequences for them having never consented to it. This is why Brexit is not enough in that so much as the EU is not a democracy and capable of imposing similar legislation by the back door, our own establishment needs no help and there are no real checks and balances against a political apparatus that is completely out of control. The public can no more stop them from doing this as they can stop Boris Johnson taking us out of the EU without a deal.

In both instances, those driving the agenda have relied on a devious campaign of outlandish propaganda, manipulating their supporters in the exact same way. Put simply, the UK can't survive much longer as functioning nation with a governing entity that simply does not reside on the same planet as the rest of us. They say democracy is not a spectator sport, something I have always believed, but we have all been reduced to the status of spectator, powerless and voiceless as our ruling class are in the grip of insanity. Democracy this is not. Our establishment carries on regardless working to its own agenda without a care in the world and certainly not caring what the public might actually think.

Rank and file Brexiters are sorely mistaken if they believe Brexit will solve anything. It has certainly shone a torch on the inadequacy of our politics, but EU membership is only really a symptom of a far deeper malaise rooted in an obsolete dysfunctional model of politics. It's going to take a lot more than Brexit to dislodge it, and if yesterday's shameful behaviour in parliament is anything to go by, not even Brexit has given them pause for thought. They continue to push their narcissistic authoritarian agendas on us as though nothing happened in 2016.

At one time I argued that a no deal Brexit might well be the shock to the system we need, one that will kick them in the complacency. But that, I fear, will still not temper them. All we'll have done is torched our exports and sent our politics into freefall while good governance disintegrates and we fall prey to the demagogues and charlatans. I once thought Brexit would go some way toward arresting the decline. If we leave without a deal then it's a good chance Brexit will serve as an accelerant. If there is a way out of this mess, it's going to take something far bigger than Brexit.

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