Sunday, 30 April 2017

Trump's damp squib revolution tells us a lot about Brexit

The Trump administration has been in some ways a foretelling of how Brexit goes. As ever, when there is a US election the republican candidate is always "worse than Hitler" and it seems electorates lose their institutional memory that not a single republican president has ever been even close. Trump is no different.

For all the rallying cries of being a radical reformer we see that most of his sweeping gestures have hit legal and bureaucratic roadblocks already. This is what the system is for and this is why the USA has separation of powers. It is the best defence mechanism against a dictator. If the people can't stop a president then the system will.

I am not the first to observe that Trump has rowed back on a number of initiatives and the Breitbart republic didn't last more than a month or so. Now he is outed as an amateur playing a game he doesn't understand and much of his agenda will fall flat. In some ways that's a shame and in others a relief.

The lesson we take from this is that the systems always wins. This is why this government is going to have problems making good on its Brexit agenda. The EU above all is a system and it has systems within systems all bound up by treaties and international conventions. Then when all is done we find that sovereignty does not promise all that it should. Notionally you are at liberty to shoot yourself in the face but wider experience shows us that this doesn't end well.

In that regard, bar accident or wilful stupidity Brexit will fail to deliver on many of the promises made by prominent leavers. We face a number of difficult and unpalatable choices, some made worse by decisions we have already taken. These would be the many trade-offs between "taking back control" and not knackering many export sectors.

In the end it is likely the UK will be forced to cave into the EU. Our red lines are unrealisable, some completely non-sensible and others just batshit crazy. We have seen how this goes with Trump. One day he's tweeting how he's going to dump trade deals in entirely, the next he's making noises about renegotiation and then a few weeks later we find the best his trade team can offer are a few face-saving tokenistic gestures.

Already Trump's "one in, two out" deregulation policy is hitting the reality wall and it won't take very long for the agenda to be quietly dropped. Once Mr Trump finally gets fed up of officials telling him what can't be done he will simply do what all presidents do and take to the golf courses for the purposes of self-enrichment.

How it goes for the UK I cannot yet say as these talks are considerably more precarious. America has the superpower advantage whereas we are the weaker player here. There is also no going back on Article 50. Assuming all of the boobytraps are avoided and we do manage to navigate as far as a trade deal we will find that marrying reality with the Brexit rhetoric is not so easily done. That is when confidence in the Tories will begin to slide.

What I rather suspect is that the UK's final deal will be a number of convoluted treaty constructs that merely bureaucratise further the status quo with the ECJ having the ultimate authority even though on paper the powers reside with some or other anonymous and toothless joint committee. The Brexiteers will complain bitterly but then it was always going to under-deliver when so many bogus promises were made. This is what happens when you campaign for an objective without a plan and no vision as to what happens next. They cannot say they were not told.

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