Sunday, 13 October 2019

Falling for decoys.


I always feel like I need an excuse for not blogging for a few days but this time I make no apology for it. I was gifted a ticket to see Alice Cooper. That information is not pertinent to this post save to gloat. But then it's just as well since I absolutely refuse to waste a nanosecond on the Brexit soap opera which is almost entirely based on speculation from half -informed court scribes. Buggering off to Birmingham seemed like a far more sensible idea.

Front the beginning of this particular chapter I have not been at all convinced that any sincere attempt to secure a deal is underway. In the unlikely event that Johnson's customs proposal was remotely credible and satisfying the EU's legal requirements, this administration would find something else to pick holes in - shifting the goalposts as they go. That seems to be the case as of now with calls to dump the "level playing field" provisions.

Quite obviously the furore over the backstop is little more than a decoy. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement is simply the mechanism that gets us through into a transitional period, where we continue to act as if we are in the EU, buying time for the future relationship talks. In theory, we agree a new relationship (yet to be defined) at the same time we drop out of the transitional period. That second agreement is the one that is supposed to guarantee frictionless trade between NI and the Republic - augmented by the Strasbourg supplement to the Political Declaration. Most of the provisions in the WA will never see the light of day.

In those pages, Johnson has everything he could possibly want.
The Union and the United Kingdom have the shared ambition to have the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period." ... "Given the Union’s and the United Kingdom’s firm commitment to work at speed on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements such that the backstop solution in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will not need to be applied, a specific negotiating track will be established at the outset and as part of the negotiations to lead the analysis and development of these alternative arrangements. This dedicated track will consider the use of all existing and emerging facilitative arrangements and technologies, with a view to assessing their potential to replace, in whole or in part, the backstop solution in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
You really couldn't really ask for more. The backstop is a exactly that... a backstop in case of a total collapse of talks in the transition period, which just doesn't seem at all likely. There just doesn't seem to be a rational reason for all this fannying around over what will end up a redundant mechanism.

But, of course, a lot of what's driving this is paranoia and suspicion. Brexiteers are convinced the WA is a device to keep us trapped in a permanent BRINO limbo from which we cannot escape without EU approval. There may be good reason not to trust the EU in some regards but in this matter, that level of suspicion is bordering on the delusional - largely from those who pay more attention to the ranting of Guy Verhofstadt than Michel Barnier. If the Council had any sense they'd tell the former to put a sock in it.

But then Barnier hasn't done himself any favours either, not least having posed this week with a trio of Lib Dem deadbeats hell bent on scuppering Brexit. It may have been in the spirit of inclusive cooperation but I'm guessing they didn't think very hard about the optics. To your average Brexit grunter it looks like collusion.

If there were a sincere effort to secure a deal it would have to start with the recognition that there must be a backstop. Being that there isn't much wiggle room the only real scope is to dial it back to what it was before Theresa May expanded the scope of it to become an all UK customs arrangement which is widely believed to be a customs union. Though Johnson would have to throw the DUP under the bus for that. He'd need to win support on the opposite benches.

Initially it certainly smelled like that was the game in play - where Johnson would eventually offer up a rehash of May's deal and the Tory tribe would fall into line to save face. The Brexit party certainly think that's the game in play having always suspected Johnson as a sell out. That, though, is probably not going to happen. The demands to drop the "level playing field" provisions create yet another artificial obstacle and one more reason for opposition MPs to oppose the deal. Hilary Benn tweeted something to that effect earlier today - fearing a "Singapore on Thames".

In any case, for there to be formal negotiations to hammer out the details of whatever could (but won't) be agreed, there would more than likely have to be a technical extension so we are back to the same old speculation (Though there is talk now of an extra "special" European Council later in the month, with talks being allowed to continue for a few more days). If there is to be a deal, though, it's going to take a general election because it doesn't look at all likely that parliament will ratify any deal at this point so it all seems somewhat redundant. If parliament then refuses a general election ensuring a squatter parliament then we'll be right back where we are, careering towards no deal and with no chance of a further extension.

The media began the weekend on a high note with cautious optimism that a deal was in sight. I don't think any realist thought so and such optimism wasn't likely to last the weekend. The signals today suggest there is still no coherent proposal from the UK and Monday will revert to the war of words we have seen for some weeks now. At least, though, there will be something new to speculate over. The end of the line is in sight.

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