Sunday, 3 September 2017

Davis: Penny wise and pound foolish

They say history is written by the victors. This makes me wonder how the history of Brexit will be written when there are no clear winners. The finger-pointing and blame games will become a part of the story.

One tries not to be too pessimistic but one is not given over to the self-delusion of Brexiteers. There can be no ducking the reality that this is not going at all well. At the centre of this unfolding mess is David Davis, who ultimately does not comprehend the gravity of these talks or indeed the price of failure. Anyone with a realistic grasp of our position would be taking a far more measured approach with the necessary humility.

The underlying problem is one of mentality, where Davis is treating this as a legalistic undertaking rather than a political one. While nobody is keen on paying more than we have to, the debate over our exit settlement has lost sight of the fact that we are seeking to safeguard a £240bn a year trade relationship.

As puts it, going over it line by line to check the totals is penny wise and pound foolish. This is less to do with what we want to pay for as it is to do with what we have already agreed to pay. If we end up paying for a bear breeding scheme in the Pyrenees then that is a question for those who rubber-stamped it to begin with. If such lurid stories are indeed true, that is.

In that respect the media is helping to reinforce the notion that these discussions are a matter of accountancy - when in actuality this is a question of leaving our relationship in good order so that we can move on to the next and more pressing issues.

This prompts cries of "blackmail" from the baying Brexit mob, when in fact, keeping these issues contained in an exit settlement, as Mike Galsworthy observes, is to avoid a situation where either side can employ these issues as devices of blackmail. In future trade talks the last thing we want to be doing is dragging settlement issues back on to the table, potentially derailing the whole process.

Sadly though, this whole process has been misconceptualised by both the government and the media as though is were an adversarial showdown - trying to sex up what should be a fairly straightforward, amicable and tedious affair.

Looking at the bigger picture, the very last thing we wanted to do was get bogged down in the details of the financial settlement. For the most part these are concerns we would be paying for anyway - and anything over an above that is inconsequential next to the value of our European trade.

Choosing to make issue of this eats away at valuable time we will need to resolve the thornier issue of Northern Ireland - when already we have wasted months. You can be forgiven for thinking this is a deliberate ploy to give the EU the run-around, with Davis having no intention of seeking a deal of any kind.

In effect, Davis is the one blackmailing the EU, knowing that a sudden death Brexit could inflict serious damage on the EU. There can be no doubt that it would seriously interrupt the EU, but not irrecoverably - and the UK would be the biggest loser. Davis is playing a weak hand badly. A zero sum game.

As this farce evolves we can already see the moves to blame the EU for its "inflexibility" and it really is working a treat. The Brexit zombies are falling into line and this is becoming the narrative among the party faithful. In that respect the Tories are seeking to hoodwink the British public into a no-deal Brexit.

One suspects that this narrative will hold out just long enough for Davis to pull a fast one - but that is not how history will be written. History will record that the British people were led over the cliff by ideological zealots who never had any intention of a negotiated exit. Davis will go down in history as the man who trashed British exports and demolished our international credibility. It will not speak kindly of those Tories who allowed it.

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