Sunday, 8 March 2020

All bets are off

Coronavirus seems to be pissing on a lot of chips. It looks a bit more serious than the usual freak virus but it's not the the stuff of 28 Days Later. They reckon it will peak by May and by then it will be old news nobody will bother to report. Momentarily, though, it has been an interesting lesson in how futile our attempts to control things are.

The standout point for me, though, is how fragile our supply chains really are. This is why this blog especially warned against a no deal Brexit in that it takes so very little (no tangible changes) to trigger shortages. But at this point, no deal Brexit might be the very least of our worries. It looks like it's all going to hell in a handcart anyway. Stock markets are plunging as we teeter on the brink of a global recession. Though Coronavirus is sure to be the aggravating factor, the signals have been apparent for some time. The auto industry has been digging its own grave for years.

But then we have been here before. The newspapers do like their predictions of doom, yet somehow life just keeps on keeping on. Were you blind and deaf to news you might never even know there was a major financial crisis in 2008 for all the material impact it had. Nobody could say what was going to happen back then just as nobody can say what's going to happen now. It defies rational analysis so we have to stick to what we know... which is not very much.

The most relevant question for this blog is whether current events will influence the decision to extend Brexit negotiations. Coronavirus could be a game changer - but then it could also be a useful decoy. The government seems determined not to give a running commentary and to keep it out of the media. What few morsels we get are unreliable and barely enough to sustain a public debate - especially when the public are bored of the same bitter disputes. As ever, we are left to speculate with little credible information. As to the mechanics of trade, most people couldn't be less interested.

That said, Coronavirus could rewrite the rules of trade as we know it. Certainly people are questioning the wisdom of free movement and relaxed customs controls and there are more and more people questioning the wisdom of "free trade" when the underpinning assumptions of free trade liberals are collapsing. We already knew we were entering a new era of history, but it might just be that events are pushing on the accelerator. There's the obvious and then there are underlying geopolitical stresses on Europe's eastern border that could bring everything into question.

All the while the UK is not returning to business as usual. The Tories can bury Brexit and perhaps even bury the consequences in all the noise, but I get a sense there is something dark building. The Tories are behaving as though we were returning to business as usual, indicating either a worrying complacency founded in ignorance, or they're concealing an agenda. With the collapse of meaningful opposition and a distracted media, they are free to do as they please.

Frankly, I don't like what I'm seeing. This bunch of Tories are wrong 'uns. Tories are usually pretty bad for hubris, cronyism and recklessness, but Johnson is looking like a Trojan horse. This isn't the dark populism the left thinks it is. Priti "hang em 'n' flog em" Patel is just a front. I don't think these people care what happens to Britain. There is no public service ethos with these people. That died with Theresa May. This is an ideological wrecking spree and an opportunity for self enrichment. Brexit doesn't even come into it. They're playing a different game - and it's going to get ugly.

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