Friday, 4 October 2019

Another day of Brexit soap opera

There was a time where you didn't have to dig very deep to get an idea of what is going on. Even a glance at the headlines would have given you some idea but now that the anonymous "EU diplomat" has become a viable source upon which to speculate, the newspapers can now pretty much invent their own version of events. This is especially true of the Express and Daily Telegraph and each day it becomes harder not to get tricked into thinking something has happened when in fact it's a figment of the media's imagination.

Today, though, you can be entirely forgiven for not knowing what's going on. All the signals are contradictory. On the one hand we have court papers suggesting Johnson will seek to comply with the Benn Act and ask for an extension and then we have Johnson himself tweeting that we are still on course to leave on Halloween. The government is sticking to its line of take it or leave it and seems to be pinning its hopes on Hungary vetoing any extension.

Meanwhile it is reported that EU member states have agreed that the Government’s new Brexit proposals "do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement" according to "a European Commission spokesman". Asked whether Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay was right to say that the ball was "in the EU's court", a spokesperson for the Commission said the EU would not be left "holding the bag" and that it was the UK that needed to act. "There are, as we have said, problematic points in the United Kingdom's proposal and further work is needed – but that work needs to be done by the United Kingdom and not the other way around".

The general consensus is now that the UK is not sincere in its efforts to secure a deal and Barclay's remarks would seem to suggest a cynical game is in play. They have knowingly submitted something the EU cannot agree to and now seeking to pin the blame on the EU for the failure to reach a deal. Course you and I are not buying any of this baloney and nor is the EU, but the Tory sect will buy into the intransigence narrative and the Telegraph and Spectator will do all it can to reinforce that belief among the Tory tribe.

But then supposing the Johnson proposal was a viable basis for a backstop (which it isn't), there can't be any negotiations on the detail until 31 Oct as per the terms of extension. Barnier needs a new mandate. If Johnson is sincere about this deal then he has to extend. But then this proposal isn't remotely serious so there is no credible basis for seeking a new mandate or for opening up WA talks again. The basis for an extension, therefore, is just more time for the British to flail around nursing various misapprehensions.

To put it bluntly, the UK is playing silly buggers. It's clearer than ever that Johnson is not interested in a deal and is doing all he can to put the EU off the idea of extending in that it would likely accomplish nothing. Still, though, I expect the EU will extend if only to show sincerity and patience on their part - however futile it may be.

The belief on Brexiter street is that the EU is working in collusion with remain forces in the UK where the Benn Act "authorises" the EU to turn down Johnson's offer. In the meantime remainer MPs are expected to make their move. That means we could be in for a few more weeks of useless posturing and parlour games that accomplish nothing while doing all they can to stave off a general election. That raises the question of what parliament could usefully do under the Kinnock amendment, but it's so vague the government can easily evade it even it if it means filibustering and further prorogations. 

All the while we will see all manner of attempts to bring Johnson down by way of unearthing the skeletons in his closet. If they can knock out Johnson they can seriously damage the Tories' shot at re-election. It's a long shot in that the public have to be sufficiently scandalised but it would much of it will struggle to stick when leave voters just don't care so long as Brexit is delivered. On a long enough timeline Johnson's skeletons might just catch up with him, but time is finite here. If there is an extension it is sure to be short and sure to be the last.

Between now and the council meeting later this month we can only speculate but we can safely assume there will be no agreement and nothing to be put before parliament. It's no longer a matter of process. What happens on the UK side now is all politics. 

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