Monday, 27 January 2020

Sleepwalking into chaos

Leavers are having a whole lot of gloaty fun at the expense of some of the more unhinged remainers, some of whom have gone totally off the deep end. It's difficult to resist and I've had a pop myself. But what irks me about it is that gloating and "owning the remoaners" seems to be all Brexiteers are interested in. Leave.EU tweets "Imagine the BBC's horror at having to play Dominic Frisby's '17 Million Fuck-Offs' as the UK's official Number 1 on the day we leave the European Union".

It's not exactly news that Leave.EU is crass and boorish but while Brexiteers are having it large at the remainers expense, the lack of vigilance is self-defeating. It would seem that neither Leave.EU nor Vote Leave has any interest at all in Brexit, rather they existed just to win a referendum. That leaves just us in this largely ignored corner of the internet to point out that things are not going so well.

Instead of facing up to the realities of our predicament, the Guidophiles will construct an alternate reality of their own where we hold all the cards and the EU is dreading its imminent demise (and of course though the EU is talking tough, they will fold at the last minute, like they supposedly did last time). But then the EU did no such thing. It set out to defend its essential principles and never waivered. The integrity of the single market and customs union is defended by the Northern Ireland protocol.

This time around the EU is being equally explicit. Barnier has warned again that the bloc would “never, never, never” compromise the integrity of its single market. Some suggest Brussels might be flexible on its rules in order to protect trade, but Barnier insisted the single market was the bloc’s "most valuable asset" and would not be compromised. There is no reason not to take him at his word.

In respect of that, the EU is going to hold firm that there most certainly will be a role for the ECJ. This is breathlessly reported as news by The Times, but it was always the case that the ECJ would be the ultimate arbiter in the interpretation of rules and the Commission will make the decisions on matters of adequacy. The UK will not be allowed to unilaterally lower the bar of entry for goods or compete in the single market without matching flanking regulation.

Meanwhile the media, particularly Guardian/FT types, seem to be linking fishing to financial services. The EU will treat fishing as a separate domain by way of its own rules, but also to prevent the UK using whatever leverage it thinks it has. They've seen us coming a mile off and if we want to land or sell fish in the EU there will have to be a formal agreement in place. Brexiteers are still banking on the trade deficit to rescue them.

So in terms of "taking back control" from the dreaded ECJ and "taking back our fish", if there is to be a deal, we're going to have to cave into this and much else since the EU will insist on the level playing field provisions. It was always going to be the case that if we set out a limited timeframe and rigid red lines on divergence, we would only ever get a shallow deal and entirely on the EU's terms. 

This time around, though there is nothing at all to stop Johnson running down the clock and walking away with no deal, and given the concessions he will otherwise have to make, it seems there is little else he can do politically, lest he be known as the "betrayer of Brexit". 

Sadly though, Brexiteers will be all too happy with this arrangement. They don't care about outcomes and won't especially care about the activation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Besides which they have much more pressing concerns to think about. Spiked online writes "Remoaners accuse Leave voters of being simple-minded and a bit unhinged. Meanwhile, they have spent the weekend raging against a 50p coin, even calling for boycotts. The #FBPE crew is far more mental than the Brexiteers they loathe". As ever Spiked and their fellow travellers won't engage with the grown up stuff. Nor will their readers. It's all just a big game.

But then it's not just the Brexit grunters who are utterly negligent. David Allen Green of FT fame tweets "perhaps once Friday is out of the way, an open debate can at last begin for a long-term sustainable relationship between UK and EU... perhaps". Except, of course, there was one already, over three years ago which he elected to ignore along with Ian Dunt, because they preferred making self-serving sanctimonious quips to their fawning audiences. Between them they had the exposure to expand and enhance the debate. Instead they expanded their egos.

Brexit has has been a useful vehicle for parasites of all kinds from Brexit Party MEPs who've contributed nothing to the debate, through to remainer hacks, academics and think tanks wonks who've gone out of their way to either distort or stifle debate entirely. Having successfully trashed the Norway option between them, we are left with only two possibilities; vassalage or a ruinous crash out with the added ignominy of building customs posts within our own territory. So as much as this is a failure of politics, it is also a failure of media and journalism. Trivia and superficiality rules the day.

There is one other terrifying possibility though. When Johnson says there will not be checks in the Irish Sea, perhaps for one time in his life he's telling the truth. In the time available it seems impossible that the UK could develop a customs system in time and certainly not one compatible with the Union Customs Code. 

It may well be the intent to walk away without a deal and not eforce the NI protocol on our end, in which case we are entering a full blown trade war with the EU. After all the Brexiteers don't just want to leave the EU. They want to destroy it and genuinely think we have that kind of leverage. As ever we are left to speculate on the basis of zero formal information from our own government which of itself is an outrage, while the media does little to plug the information gap.

The problem here is far more serious than I ever thought. We have a dire government with even worse opposition which is never good but we have an incompetent incurious media. That, though, is only half the problem. The media has abandoned its obligation to inform largely because the public have given up on being informed. Editors decide what their readers want to hear, calculate the style of language, then go shopping for any crank willing to put their name to it. If writers deviate from the script then it doesn't get published. The Express, Mail and Telegraph will supply endless narrative reinforcement to the last.

Though the Brexiteers are going to gloat all week and for the foreseeable future, the joke will eventually be on them. Having failed to plan and having snubbed the only viable solution to this otherwise unsquarable circle, they're walking into all the ambushes The Leave Alliance anticipated  four years ago. If we don't end up caving into a suboptimal deal now, then we face a decade or more in the wilderness as we rebuild our relationship with the EU on much more hostile terms, turning friends into cold rivals.

But then I am known for doom and gloom. This may yet have a more risible conclusion. It could well be that Boris Johnson does cave into the EU entirely and the right wing press will circle the wagons to perpetuate the fiction that the deal is a good deal, as indeed they did last time. We'll become the vassal state the Brexiteers feared only they'll be too engrossed in trivia to ever notice. Far from being masters of our own destiny, we instead become a nation of witless chatterers not even aware we are a trade colony of a bloc we thought we'd left. So long as Kate Hoey gets to fly her union jacks, who is going to complain? Well, me obviously, but then I don't exist and never did, so there's that. As you were. 

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