Sunday, 4 September 2016

A Brexit groundhog day

President Obama has said that the USA will prioritise EU and Pacific trade over any agreement with the UK. This would be one of those rare instances where a US president was telling the truth. Or at least it would be were he not a lame duck outgoing president who has precisely zero influence on future trade relations. This fact seems to have escaped the attention of the media. So too has the fact that the components for a future relationship with the USA are already in place.

The effect of this statement seems to be to scare the UK into staying inside the single market. Were Mr Obama still a relevant politician it would have some considerable effect. Whether or not the US would be so churlish if we did leave the single market is unknown, but we can say it is not without consequence as Japan has highlighted.

The general message from Japan is also that Britain should stay in the single market and that there would be serious consequences for leaving it. In effect we are about to see a re-run of the referendum debate whereby we have exactly the same arguments with exactly the same threats over a different issue. The EEA. This time though, the same old threats will actually carry some weight and we cannot casually brush them off. There is every reason to believe that Japan is quite serious in raising the possibility of relocations and suspension of investment.

The problem is that the media (and those still looking to remain in the EU) will take these warnings and hyperventilate over them to the point where those people who should heed the warnings most definitely won't. They have yet to understand why they lost the referendum. All they will succeed in doing is galvanising resistance to the EEA which puts us in a bit of a pickle.

The case made by this blog is that close cooperation does not require a supreme government for Europe and that Britain should not be a subordinate of it. The EEA is a means by which the UK takes back control of key policy areas and reasserts its independence as a trading nation. In the first instance it deals with half the reason for leaving. It is not the calamitous outcome leavers believe it is and it's better for Britain than EU membership. That's what we have to sell. The government, though, seems to think this will not satisfy the mantra of "Brexit means Brexit" because of the many untruths surrounding it.

This is where we will need some backbone from Mrs May. Sooner or later it will sink in that a "Canada style arrangement" covers only the trade aspect and that trade is only a fraction of the problem. It's the arrangements for uncoupling the rest that make this a headache. When that much dawns on them we will start to see more sensible signals.

A friend on Facebook today points out that the majority of the 33 millionish who voted in the referendum will not make much noise (unless the decision is overturned, which is unlikely). May must realise this and should reckon on the 2020 election is in the bag, unless she makes "the most almighty fuck up" in a very unforeseeable way. 

That will guide her decision-making more than the shrieking on either side, especially if she can stay out of it and let them shriek at each other, which she seemed to do most adeptly during the pre-referendum furore. She'll feel she has the running all to herself and after such a massive exercise in public consultation. In short, as long as she invokes article 50 at some point, she can do what she wants. As a remainer doing the work for the leavers, she is the middle ground.

Since a second referendum is out of the question and it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that parliament will favour a soft Brexit, it seems Mrs May will have all the mandate she needs to stand up to the loonie leavers and the hardcore remainers. 

It will come down to deeply unpopular choice for somebody and I suspect the hard Brexiteers will be the disappointed ones. Eventually the reality of our predicament will sink in. If there is then a case for further divergence from the EU then it's really up to the Brexiteers to set out a credible alternative. That should give us a decade or two to work with. 

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