Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Fantasy and falsehood: the new political norm?

It's sort of obligatory to blog an Ivan Rogers speech. This one, as ever, is a glorious bucket of cold water over the delusions of the no deal Brexiters. It is, of course, nothing new to this blogger, or indeed readers of this blog, but we shall give it an outing all the same. Were I you I'd skip this post and read the whole thing. Of particular relevance though are two passages. Firstly this one.
There is one final final fantasy in the “clean break” cupboard. Namely that a Canada style FTA was always on offer from Presidents Tusk and Juncker. And was somehow wilfully spurned by the previous Prime Minister and her dastardly fifth column entourage as they sought ways to enmesh the UK for evermore in the nets of the EU. But this too is just the purest nonsense.
It is the view of Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson that all we need do is scrap the withdrawal agreement and go for the deal that was on offer in the beginning. This is a particular fiction that has haunted the debate for months. The only way to an FTA is through a withdrawal agreement and that was agreed in the sequencing very early on. But such a deal, says Rogers, is not the walk in the park the ERG imagine it is.
Of course the EU would negotiate a Canada Dry deal (that joke was running in Brussels well before I left in January 2017) with Great Britain. Why would it not? It would be hugely asymmetrically in the EU’s interests. Sorting all the key issues in goods, in which they have a massive trade surplus with us, and screwing us on market access in services, in which we have a major surplus with them.
What is not to like from their viewpoint? As they actually negotiated the Canada deal, unlike U.K. politicians, they know what is in it. And they know the UK will, when it comes to it, want very appreciably more, because it does huge multiples of the trade Canada does with the EU, and is a huge services economy. So they know that when it comes to it, London will in practice have to offer a great number of concessions to get the sort of deal it will want. Because although the Institute of Economic Affairs text which may well be the next PM’s wish list was badged as Canada +, it is in practice an incoherent mishmash of virtually unchanged Single Market access where we most want it –which we shall not get –and a juridical relationship which meets European Research Group fantasies, which we shall not get either.

The likely next Prime Minister’s people now go round the City excoriating the absence of any seriousness from Prime Minister May on services. I completely agree with them, as it happens. But unless the new Prime Minister is prepared to reverse his predecessor’s stance on free movement of people, and risk pushing his new found friends back into the Brexit Party, this is just whistling in the wind. We are going to get standard third country equivalence treatment and learn to live with it, unless the free movement issue is reopened. No senior politician on either side here dares say that in the City or elsewhere of course.
This is why we needed to stay in the single market and deal with the matter of immigration separately through a new process. By seeking a bespoke agreement, even in the best of circumstances, the UK will be up against far bigger guns than anticipated. The UK will be forced to make a number of unhappy compromises. Any future trade deal will need to be ratified by EU member states and it won't go anywhere near ratification unless their red lines are addressed.

Here we will see Spanish demands for fishing rights as a starter for ten. With the UK in no position to set terms we will likely become a quasi-member of the Common Fisheries Policy with no say in the rules, thus slaughtering a Brexiter sacred cow in the process.

But as Rogers remarks, no deal will stick the UK in a legal limbo which is asymmetrically in the 27’s favour, and it will sooner or later sober up and conclude this is politically and economically unviable, and be in such a rush to get out of it, that the EU can dictate terms.

The theme of Rogers' speech is pretty much the same as usual. There is a complete refusal to confront the realities of our predicament while politicians continue to pretend to their followers that up is down and black is white. This is especially the case in terms of the Tory leadership contest.
With a “new deal” impossible by October 31 -and all know full well it is, whatever they profess to believe -we shall seemingly eitherhavea Prime Minister fully aware that “no deal” can be the only outcome on that date, hoping that the 27 deliver it for him, and genuinely not intending to seek an extension.

Or we have a PM who fully intends to seek an extension, calculating –wrongly, I fear-that, unlike his predecessor, he can deliver a Withdrawal Agreement with alternative arrangements to a backstop embedded in it, or guaranteed to come into force before it was ever triggered.

Or we have a PM who privately knows that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened, but thinks he can sell it unchanged, accompanied by a changed destination in the Political Declaration, with some brio, charisma and bluster, to a Commons some of whom are desperate now to get anything over the line.

Or we have a PM who intends to make what he knows to be unnegotiable demands in order to have the pretext to go for an election which enables him, once the demands are rebuffed, to go to “no deal”if he can change the composition of the Commons to back it. If it is the last, once you go to “no deal”, everything I have outlined earlier applies and we discover, painfully, that it is not sustainable and that the only route to a loose preferential trade deal lies by agreeing precisely what we are rejecting now. But with a lot more money.

As we now, for the second time in 3 years, see a new Prime Minister elected by a small group who think it falls to them to determine what the “will of the people” is - a peculiar view of liberal democracy in my view- perhaps we can dispense with the fantasies and falsehoods, and learn which of these 4 propositions we are facing this autumn. 
But of course, we shall not dispense with the fantasies and flashoods. Rogers asks "Why does this generation of UK politicians seemingly find it so difficult to think its way into the shoes of key opposite numbers, and work through how exactly you would play this if you were them?" Quite simply because they'd have to acknowledge anything outside the Westminster bubble exists.

We are now in a state where any political debate, on virtually any subject, is incapable of looking outwards. British politics has never been more self-absorbed and insular and never more short termist. No politicians is looking further than the next general election and the only goal is to cling to power for its own sake for as long as possible. All that matters is tomorrows headlines and whether the party faithful sing along to your tune. 

Rogers now believes no deal is the most probable outcome largely because it's the path of least resistance. I am of a similar mind. As I wrote earlier it may act as the much needed humbling Britain needs and deserves and serve as an urgent wake up call for our political class, but now there is that most frightening question. What if it doesn't? If fantasy and falsehood remains the norm for British politics then we have seen the last of good governance in the UK where sub-mediocre politicians are as good as it gets and Britain enters a new political dark age.

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