Saturday, 10 December 2016

Brexit: the end of the beginning

This blog, before the referendum and until just recently spoke as if the EEA, or a variant of it, were a near certainty for the UK. My thinking was that once the government made a serious effort to get to grips with the issues, the EEA would emerge as the only sensible option. This was perhaps a little optimistic in that the ideological firewall around the government is too strong. It still seems like David Davis is on a different planet.

I always suspected that might be the case but as a campaigning blog you have to attempt to engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is not to say that we shall have a hard Brexit, more that we will have a needlessly untidy Brexit that will take far longer to negotiate.

That said, there is only so much you can read into any single news item and we must also be mindful that the government is also sending signals and testing the water, as is the EU. The only thing concrete we have to go on is the cut and paste of WTO schedules and the Great Repeal Act which combined means that we are looking for continuity in the immediate aftermath. That's about the only good news.

What it looks like to me is that the government will follow a hopelessly unrealistic agenda right up to the wire. Since there is not yet a fully staffed Brexit taskforce the feedback system simply isn't there and probably won't be until Mrs May invokes Article 50. This is seriously dangerous territory where quite early on we will have to go back to the drawing board for an emergency rethink. Plan B had better be seriously good. What that could mean is that we will seek an extension to negotiations as a favour to offset our own incompetence - which then transfers a good deal of leverage into the hands of member states.

It is clear that David Davis still thinks there is a cut and run option - and though he at least knows it must be something more sophisticated than the WTO option, he is still working on the basis that a free trade deal is central to Brexit rather than a comprehensive corporate de-merger encompassing thousands of distinct issues.

If our media were up to the job and the House of Commons in any way fit for purpose, there would be considerable uproar about this with intense pressure on May to sack David Davis. To have a Brexit minister who is clearly away with the fairies should be intolerable. Instead the media has squandered its potency by indulging in ridiculous shrieking over issues it knows little about while our gormless MPs have simply been too lazy to engage.

This should be a major opportunity for the opposition but Labour, having little idea of what is at stake, having never really cared about the issue, is largely grasping at straws to find a tone that won't see them utterly wiped out at the next election. They are making vague and unconvincing noises about immigration, fearful that they have no other options. Were they at all familiar with the territory they could put an EEA based plan on the table which includes a way out on immigration - which would be superior to that of the governments. That would buy them at least some credit for competence. That, though, seems even less likely than the government having a clue.

Ultimately this is a product of Labour not really knowing who it serves or even what it is for. Keir Starmer is muddled on the issues and his preferred strategy is one that sees us more or less remaining in the EU. Consequently he carries the trust of nobody. We are really be deep in the meekrob if Nick Clegg is the closest the House of Commons has to informed.

Having said that, this turbulent year is drawing to a close. There has been a pre-Christmas spike in interest in the subject which is reflected in blog hits, but very soon, interest will collapse entirely and it will take on no real urgency until Christmas is out of the way. If by then the government is still not making reassuring noises, Mrs May will start to see her popularity slide as it becomes clear she is a lightweight and we have a drunk at the wheel. We must hope that she intends to hit the books over the festive season. To quote another prime minister in another phoney war, now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

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