Monday, 21 October 2019

Brexiters still need to be patient


For someone who shows so little patience with people I sometimes surprise myself with how patient I can be with the Brexit process. I'm not one for screaming betrayal every five minutes and though parliament is doing its best to frustrate the process, if we're being generous, there is some just cause for doing so. There is no basis for MPs to trust Johnson and this close to the cliff edge he could always pull a nasty surprise out of the bag.

On that score I'm happy to concede the point that the Brexit process needs more time. Johnson was cutting it fine where if there were any complications ratifying on the EU side (enormous hubris to assume it would be smooth sailing) we could end up with an accidental no deal Brexit. The Letwin amendment is an annoyance but I will also concede that the WAB needs a debate not least so the public can properly digest it. If we are going to the trouble of a managed departure then rushing through complex legislation is no way to go about it.

At this point it should be noted that after all the effort to take no deal off the table, the rebels have played their last card. No deal is now very much back on the table. If the deal wasn't open for renegotiation before then it certainly isn't now. Without a change of government and without a coherent reason for requesting a delay then this time around I strongly suspect the EU will pull the plug. It will become abundantly clear that a deal cannot make it through parliament.

Between now and the next cliff edge we are likely to see the usual wreckers playing their usual sordid little games but it smells like they don't have the numbers for a second referendum (and this parliament certainly does not have the legitimacy to do so) and further wrecking measures such as a tacked on customs union is likely to stall the ratification process. In all likelihood we will waste yet another extension and coast toward the next cliff edge.

What's interesting is that parliament has twigged that even if a deal is passed then there is still a second cliff edge should we fail to conclude a treaty defining the future relationship. They seem to be distracted by that, oblivious to the new cliff edge they themselves have created. 

For now it would seem that the wreckers are winning the battles but losing the war. They can frustrate government business but all the while the chicanery has not gone unnoticed and the chances of a Johnson landslide keep growing. If parliament won't consent to a general election and won't ratify a deal then it's difficult to see how this doesn't end in tears. Not forgetting that Johnson has problems of his own making in throwing the DUP under the bus. Johnson may well find that he has no more success in passing a deal than his predecessor. It could be that the only way to pass any deal in this parliament would be to revert to Theresa May's deal. Such a scenario is so pregnant with irony that we cannot discount it.

This, of course, is all on the assumption that we get an extension this time around, where the EU will be paying close attention to see if there is any point. If an extension means three more months of witless fumbling only to end up right back here, you certainly couldn't blame them for writing it off as a bad jobs and leave us to get to with it.

This is a distinct possibility, though The Telegraph reports that Johnson may "scrap his Brexit deal". This seriously complicates matters. That means the European Council will let its extension decision run to the wire and could make it conditional either on a referendum or a general election. That would then require the government to put the decision to the Westminster parliament to decide, but if there was then a general election, it might not be until next year.

This, though, is where I have to suspend the speculation being that the situation is fluid and changing by the hour. It could all look different by morning and change again by the end of the week. This is why, as some have noted, my predictions often turn out to be crap. I should know better by now. 

On a final note, I will be giving a talk at Kings College in London this Wednesday on a loose theme of Efta and missed opportunities. There will be a Q&A session and will hopefully make it to a pub afterwards. Hope to see some of you there.

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