Sunday, 26 April 2020

A milestone on the long road of British political decline


Now that Brexit is over the line I'm considerably less emotionally invested in defending it which gives me a certain clarity I didn't have before. Or rather I don't feel the same obligation to defend it. There was a battle for ownership of Brexit and the hardliners won. I think probably that battle was lost early on, and though there were opportunities to reclaim it from the headbangers, Theresa May wasn't up to the job.

Being that in the eyes of Brexiteers I am not even worthy of the name leaver, despite having stood for UKIP in the early days (and having campaigned full time to leave, being a co-founder of an independent leave group, I am happy to concede the ground to them. I had long argued that Brexit wasn't a populist coup, wasn't isolationist, wasn't "europhobic" or "right wing". Or at least there's no reason why it should be, but ultimately that message couldn't cut through the noise of Johnny-come-lately leavers who saw Brexit as a vehicle for a wider culture war.

Since they have now cemented their victory not only over remain, but also any moderate voices, it is now theirs to defend. I am now at liberty to ask all the questions that demand answers. I keep asking and will ask again; with only a rushed threadbare EU FTA or no deal at all, and UK-US talks postponed indefinitely, what genius moves does this government have in mind to get us out of the Corona slump, bearing in mind the public wants shorter supply chains?

I know how I would go about it being that I have taken the time to explore trade and trade treaties in depth, but these questions are not for me to answer. I can't speak for Brexiteers because they would vehemently disagree with anything I proposed. They need to answer these questions and be judged on their answers (or the absence thereof). 

Very occasionally a Brexiteer, usually with a poorly photoshopped campaign avatar, will take a stab at it, but it only goes to demonstrate that the average Brexit grunter doesn't have the first concept of what a modern FTA is, is not interested in finding out, and prefers the alternate reality constructed by the Daily Telegraph/Express to the one we live in.

At no point are we going to get coherent answers. It might be good to know from Richard Tice how we are to become "self-sufficient" in agriculture while unilaterally trashing our trade defences. How does the "buy British" shtick live side by side with being a "global free trade champion"? If we are abandoning EU state aid rules, what about those WTO state aid rules? And on that subject, how do they square calling for the abolition of the World Health Organisation when it is integral to the functioning of the four main WTO agreements?

Course we know the answer to all this. There is no consistency or coherence to be gleaned from their issue illiterate ranting, and the way in which they have so effortlessly turned from no-dealers to Coronavirus "it's just the flu" truthers tells you all you need to know. This is pure populism at work that pays no regard to facts. It's a malcontent movement of wreckers all too happy to destroy but offer nothing n terms of vision or what comes after.

The great pity of all this is that Brexit could have been a pivot point for British politics; an opportunity to convert the Brexit momentum into real and lasting democratic change. But in the end, they weren't interested in that. They are entirely happy with the elected dictatorship system just so long as it's their dictator and Boris Johnson is enough to placate them. That's the height of their limited ambition. They don't care what this government actually does just so long as it keeps grunting the right noises. The only outcome it will be measured by is if Brexit is Brexity enough for them. And, of course, no Brexit short of no deal will ever be enough.

There's no getting round it. Brexiteers are pretty shitty people and the leaders they have chosen to speak for them are thick as they come. They not even aware of their own inconsistencies let alone capable of intellectually addressing them. They've turned it into a giant popularity contest (something they can win with ease) and by way of having influence over the agenda, but no actual power, they never have to take responsibility for what happens, so they feel no real obligation to supply credible answers. Ultimately the Tories will have to carry the can.

But with Brexit now eclipsed by Corona, there is no day of vindication for anyone, least of all me. Any layoffs at Airbus or Rolls Royce will be put squarely at the feet of Corona. The industry will gradually rebuild but not with the UK in the picture. Brits will become poorer than before without ever realising what was done to them.

Brexiteers will argue that Corona has weakened the EU's trade clout, which to a point is true. The same cohesive bloc will not reassert itself for some time, if ever, but for as long as the EU does exist (and in my view it will survive) it calls the shots for the continent and is a power with which we must contend. Looking at it in the wider context, we are sure to see a pivot away from China, accelerating the near-shoring trend, meaning that our regional markets become all the more important.

But then, as this blog has long argued, it won't be the Tories who define the longer term relationship with the EU. Any FTA is just an empty bucket to be filled at a later date. With Tories may get their empty bucket but it is for others to fill it, and fill it they will full of obligations and commitments. This government will be judged on its performance during the Corona crisis (and public opinion gradually is turning against them), and it will be for others to decide how we climb out of the Corona slump and the shape of our relationship with the EU. The grunters will have had their day and squandered their opportunities.

With the Tories presiding over a Corona shambles, having infected care homes directly from hospitals, and with questions still to answer over their inaction in the early days, if the opposition gets their act together, there is no end of material to smack the government with at a time when events have surpassed the minuscule abilities of the prime minister. Add to that a bungled Brexit that sees us cut off from our most important export market, and a serious talent drought at the top of government, Johnson will fall in disgrace.

For all that, I still see nothing in the EU that persuades me we should wish to be members, Its lacklustre response to Corona reveals it to be the creaking and dysfunctional mess we always said it was, but Brexit is no longer a turning point. It's just another milestone on the long road of British political decline. Statecraft is dead - and having squandered the opportunities Brexit afforded us, we are likely looking at a slow plod toward associate membership with little opposition in the country thanks to the populists. They are not as popular as they think.

Much in the future now depends on the grim daily increment of Corona fatalities. There is an emerging public mood that we have seen the end of the beginning and can look forward to resuming a mode of normality in the not too distant future. With the official body count having surpassed the 20k benchmark of a "good outcome" with possibly as many more outside the hospital system and more to come, with another possible surge should there be an easement of restrictions, by the time we are done we could be looking at unthinkable numbers. At that point, the "it's just the flu" Brexit brigade will have to account for themselves. They can perhaps hide from the trade impacts but the body count is one statistic they can't walk away from. 

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