Monday, 5 August 2019

The Johnson deception

The following extract from The Guardian pretty much says it all.
Boris Johnson has no intention of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement and a no-deal Brexit is his “central scenario”, European diplomats have been told, amid hardening evidence in Westminster that the government is expecting to crash out of the EU.
Brussels diplomats briefed after a meeting between the prime minister’s chief envoy and senior EU figures in Brussels said that Britain’s refusal to compromise was understood to have been clear to those attending.
Instead David Frost, the government’s new chief Europe adviser, is said to have sought discussions on how negotiations could be reset after the UK crashes out on 31 October. “It was clear UK does not have another plan,” a senior EU diplomat said of the meetings with Frost. “No intention to negotiate, which would require a plan. A no deal now appears to be the UK government’s central scenario.”
The disclosure came as No 10 insisted the government was “ready to negotiate in good faith” but made clear that Johnson would only agree to a deal without what he refers to as the “undemocratic backstop” – the mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland that could keep the UK in a customs union. The EU has repeatedly said the backstop is not up for negotiation. 
The UK’s failure to provide any proposals on how to deal with the controversial Irish backstop was felt to be significant by EU officials who spoke to the Guardian. Frost was said to have told the officials that a technological solution to the Irish border was the UK’s preferred option before admitting that “it would not be ready now for Brexit”. “Even if EU gave up the backstop there is no alternative,” a diplomat concluded of the discussion.
Despite what Johnson has said, there never has been a sincere intention to secure a deal. This whole charade is an attempt to paint the EU as intransigent. This puts an end to any speculation that Johnson might well fudge a compromise and pull off a deal at the last minute. No deal is on and even if there were a sincere effort to secure a deal the cupboard is bare when it comes to alternatives to the backstop.

What this smells like to me is a Dominic Cummings plan in motion - believing that the way around the withdrawal agreement is to crash out then attempt to manoeuvre the EU into trade talks under the assumption that they want a deal and the contingency measures will be extended. I reckon they hope to pad that out into "mini deals" to get the show back on the road.

I am aware that Cummings is not a wholly stupid man but he is supremely arrogant and lacks any real technical knowledge of the EU - and the product of this is much the same as outright stupidity. It just seems that nobody close to Number Ten really gets the EU, believing that it could bend the rules if it wanted to and negotiate afresh.

What they don't seem to appreciate is that the EU is a system of rules inside the broader system of international and WTO rules. Then as much as it can't break the rules, it doesn't want to. There's nothing in it for them. Any break from the regime it has set out for Brexit would be a massive win for the Brexiter Tories and not in a billion years will the EU ever give them the satisfaction or the propaganda victory.

At every turn, even under Theresa May the UK has sought to go around the sequencing and the frameworks set out by the EU, failing to appreciate that not only does the EU have the lion's share of leverage, there is a particular logic to their approach, bound by the treaties, and they see no reason whatsoever to deviate from it.

Nobody in the British government seems to understand that we are not haggling for a car. This is perhaps the product of the language we have meandered into using. All this talk of "deals" suggests that this is a negotiation rather than the ultimatum it has always been, where the EU has done what it can to accommodate the UK as far as it can without compromising its own sovereignty and system integrity. 

This really doesn't come as any surprise. The consensus in Vote Leave initially was that Article 50 was a trap and insofar as they'd done any thinking about how we leave the EU, they thought simply repealing the European Communities Act was sufficient. If memory serves, even Cummings was saying this. Being that any functioning adult with a working knowledge of the EU is now long gone, it is likely that their collective understanding has not advanced much further.

But then there is also the institutional deafness of the British government. Theresa May on a number of occasions failed to listen to what she was actually told, repeatedly ignoring the messages and signals from Brussels then being surprised when she was immediately rebuffed. This administration is no different. All the recent signals from Brussels indicate that the price of reopening talks after a crash out will be the £39bn, a settlement on citizens rights and a backstop style mechanism for Northern Ireland. A no deal Brexit leaves a gaping, untidy legal hole in the EU's frontier and its first priority will be to close it.

That much should have factored into Tory thinking, but as EUreferendum notes, Johnson's Brexit strategy is less to do with Brexit outcomes as it is to do with the reelection of the Tories, securing Johnson another term in office.

More than anything this points to the total self-absorption of the Westminster bubble. The think tank wonks and SpAds are similarly in the dark and as the politicos gradually replaced the senior civil service, the whole machine is flying blind, oblivious to anything happening outside of its own circle. It's true of Brexit and it's true of everything else. The media is not far behind either. This is why no deal Brexit fallout will come as a bigger shock to them because nobody close to power is anticipating the sort of full spectrum disaster it's likely to be. 

This dynamic is essentially why our establishment so badly underperforms and why good governance in the UK is dying. It is more than likely the single most important factor influencing the decision to leave the EU in the first place even if the dynamic has not been identified or acknowledged by the political class. Our politics is a circus freak show operating in its own private universe that shares little commonality with our own. They create alternative narratives to reality to advance their own agendas but end up going native. Consequently our politics has no real idea as to what is actually happening either in the country, or out of it for that matter. There was never any possibility of them getting it right. 

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