Saturday, 28 January 2017

Article 50 must not be a suicide pact

Most of my best guesses have been wrong on this blog. Sometimes your hopes become projections and at other times you just overestimate the competence of politicians. As far as that goes my new year's resolution was to stop betting against stupid. Plan for stupid and give them room to make it worse.

But then when you write a blog almost every day you assessment is very much governed by mood and the political backdrop of the day. Every day brings a little more information that forces a minor course correction. Sometimes I am given over to optimism, but on other days I can't see Mrs May making anything other than a pig's ear of Brexit.

What troubles me is that there are no indications that the government has a handle on it. David Davis does not inspire me with confidence, Mrs May is woefully under-informed, the spads are political appointees from the Toryboy chumocracy and the think tanks are producing total garbage. Meanwhile select committees are not getting good information, there is no hint of a plan and the few drops of insider gossip I get are not encouraging.

Worse still the internet debate is incredibly shallow. There are a few remainers dedicated to Brexit watching but they're getting hung up about WTO schedules, rules of origin and any future deal with the USA. While these are not insignificant, it's bicycle shed syndrome and they keep going over old ground because that is what they are comfortable with. It's a nice little routine to dine out on.

Meanwhile, the leavers have become ever more polarised willing to retweet anything from The Daily Express to Brexit Central - pretty much anything which reinforces the same old dogma. Very few are getting stuck into the detail or providing any substantive material that stands on merit. Even former Flexcit advocates are drifting back into the bog standard Brexiteer mold.

What further troubles me is that major voices who should be speaking up are only making a very superficial contribution. Airbus has in passing mentioned the need for customs cooperation and the need to avoid tariffs but they have potentially far bigger problems and I don't get the feeling that the technical issues are being taken as seriously as they should be.

As we note, there are significant problems with transposing law in the Great Repeal Bill, and MPs are too distracted with the sideshow of the Article 50 vote. There are few green or white papers on the issues, and if there is any serious effort going into interim and replacement policy then the government is being extremely tight lipped about it. I am not personally assured that any real work is in the offing because at that level the system does leak and we would by now be getting some idea of what the plan is.

All we have is a list of demands and aspirations form May and Davis, accompanied by the buffoonery of Johnson. It looks like we are surrendering major ground without even putting up a fight while having no contingency measures in place. Letting go of the EMA is a very serious business and I think the government is seriously underestimating the scope of how much influence EU agencies have.

People tell me I am being overly negative or exaggerating, and maybe I am, but I do have a degree of subject knowledge, albeit jumbled at times, and I am not seeing any indication that the government has much of a clue. No doubt we have some very bright people working in the Brexit department but without a plan and direction, they are just as in the dark as anyone else. Assets are only as good as your deployment strategy.

My working assumption was that as we got closer to the date of invoking Article 50 the Sir Humphreys would be whispering in ministerial ears and telling them the score but it increasingly appears that our "Rolls Royce civil service" is something of a myth. It would appear that dissenting voices have been shut out and expertise is thin on the ground.

Now you could read this as me having a galactic ego thinking I am superior to everyone else, and that once more I'm going to be proved wrong, and I sincerely hope I am, but even being as fair as I possibly can be, I don't get the feeling that the fullest extent of Brexit is being explored either in the public debate or the one behind closed doors. There are some good people making some worthwhile contributions here and there but mainly on the well travelled paths.

In that regard, when it comes to the Article 50 vote, MPs really need to step up to the plate. They must forget the politics of it for a moment. Yes there has been a decision to leave, and yes that must at some point be upheld, but MPs are the ones closest to government. They must use their sources to discern if the government has a handle on this.

Unless they can truthfully say Theresa May has a convincing grasp of the substantive issues, they must, as a matter of public duty, vote against Article 50. I want to leave the EU as much as any Brexiteer - but this is too important to casually wave through out of resignation. They warned us all that Brexit would be a leap in the dark yet now they are about to rubber stamp it. Given the grave consequences of failure, is that not a dereliction of their obligations?

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