Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Brexit is now Project May-hem

Nobody serious, including the former head of the WTO, thinks Mrs May can get a deal in two years. Nobody. Attempting a bespoke deal from scratch is a passport to nowhere. Anyone who has given the matter any serious consideration recognises this. The only people incapable of comprehending this are Tory Brexiteers. Why? Because their not-so-hidden motive is that they don't even want a deal. They want WTO Brexit and hang the consequences. Pure unhinged lunacy.

Not so long ago I imagined a scenario where we could get a deal in two years if it was meticulously planned, based on existing frameworks and soundings had been taken well in advance of Article 50. That though would still depend on nobody rocking the boat and that seems unlikely. If that wasn't going to work then Mrs May's notion of renegotiating everything all at once in order to walk out with a finished product really is for the birds. This has yet to filter through into the public domain.

According to The Times a YouGov poll found "voters to be highly positive about the ideas in the prime minister’s speech on Tuesday, endorsing her plan for Britain by a margin of more than two to one. Some 55 per cent said it would be good for Britain, 19 per cent said it would not while 26 per cent did not know".

"Voters backed Mrs May’s threat to walk away from the negotiating table if the UK did not get the kind of deal it was seeking, paving the way for a disorderly and potentially costly Brexit. Some 48 per cent agreed that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, while 17 per cent thought she should be prepared to sign a deal even if it fell short of hopes".

This though is in the immediate aftermath of the May speech. Those numbers may look considerably different give it a week or so - and as it becomes clear that Mrs May is out of her depth attitudes could very will turn against her. That though is no certainty as the conduct of the EU has yet to be taken into account which may prompt considerable jingoistic support for May regardless of how crass her plan is.

With that kind of backing with no functioning feedback mechanisms and surrounded by zealots and yes men there is now a very real possibility that Brexit talks will stall and we stand on the edge of a precipice. The big question for Brexit thinkers is what happens then? As much as we need to know more about her plan we need to know that she has a plan B. The bet is that they do not have one and don't see the need for one.

A friend of mine remarks that "There seems to be this weird tinge of late Victorian empire nostalgia about them. Threatening to begin a tax cut war on all of their geographical neighbours, ably egged on by a press that says they will 'crush' an economy ten times their size. I've come to think a lot of these people are a bit unwell. It's one thing to be an imperialist. It's quite another to believe your middle ranking largish European economy is on its own a global superpower".

This is typically English arrogance blended with a hyper-neoliberalism that believes any and all strategic protectionism is fundamentally evil. There is no point trying to raise the alarm with these people as to the negative consequences because they do not see them as negative. They have no problem at all with wiping out UK agriculture and manufacturing regardless of its intrinsic and external value. It is a belief system and there is no reasoning with it. They will invent ever more elaborate justifications for the patently absurd.

This should worry sensible leavers and remainers alike. With fools like Johnson and Fox in key positions keen to secure any old deal just to keep the headlines rolling Brexit could very well become a vehicle for all the very worst ideas of the Tory right without any kind of restraint. There was a time ten years ago when I might have salivated at this prospect having been a fundamentalist libertarian but at some point between then and now I grew up and started taking an interest in grown up affairs.

In fact, this is what makes me uniquely qualified to comment in that I know exactly what they think and why, and the herd mentality behind it. If you're not worried, you should be. But then, as some will be keen to point out, this was always a very real danger of voting for Brexit. We now have a free for all with each major party going all out for their most extreme ideas. The Tory right risks everything on a clueless gamble which could very well see a hard left government eventually kicking them out. Brexit most certainly will be a renaissance of politics. Even the hardest of heads may come to miss the crushing tedium of consensus politics. 

Effectively Brexit has not so much uncorked a genie, rather it has released the pressure value on two decades of repressed politics - and will see unwelcome spikes in the extremes for some years to come. We are looking at a decade or more of political instability and economic uncertainty. In a lot of ways this is exactly what many very much did vote for. The chance to decide our own destiny. In that I have no regrets. It is rather a pity though that Mrs Mayhem is about to flush the baby away with the bathwater. 

I would sign off with the sentiment that I have faith that good sense may yet prevail, but on the back of what we have seen this week no rational mind could expect anything but a disorderly Brexit even if May, by some miracle, concludes a deal. We could avoid a punitive deal and ensure that the bare minimum is covered but I'm not alone in thinking it will be absolutely rubbish. Political competence is in short supply these days.

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