Sunday, 1 October 2017

Brexit: marching over the cliff

One of the most irritating facets of the remain campaign during the referendum was to make a headline of the worst case scenario in every Brexit analysis. That was, in fact, one of their major mistakes as it made them look shrill and unhinged.

More reasoned voices on both sides pointed out that the absolute worst case scenario was a remote possibility because no government in its right mind would walk out without a deal and parliament at some point would have to step in to stop them. It looks like that was overly optimistic.

That I know of, nobody predicted the way in which events have gone off the rails. Many will claim they did in the same way a seventeen year old Wehrmacht flak gunner would boast about his aim after downing a Lancaster bomber. When you've filled the sky with shrapnel, you cannot pick out the shell that delivered the killer blow.

My own estimations concluded that a heavily remain inclined parliament would assert itself. It was reasonable to assume the government would not have a free hand. That, though, has not happened. The dog did not bark. When the dust settles, that will be the greatest mystery of all. How could we have coasted over the cliff with no interventions?

Certainly we are not seeing any substantive protest from the public. A pro-remain rabble at the party conferences barely registers. I suspect the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, people tend to trust in government and though they know there will be consequences for Brexit, they carry on as normal in the expectation that somebody somewhere will have handle on how to manage it.

The second factor is the media. Yesterday we had conformation that May really has grasped the wrong end of the stick. May is talking about an "implementation phase" beginning immediately after Article 50 talks, blissfully unaware that Article 50 does not cover a future trade deal. She is speaking of implementation without having anything to implement. That tells us how deeply wrong they are getting it.

Of course it is not out of the ordinary for this or any government to have completely misunderstood an issue but it is not usual for them to be this out of touch with reality on an issue of such magnitude. You might, therefore, expect the media to be sounding the alarm and asking some very difficult and embarrassing questions. Instead the media sits on its hands and slow bowls easy questions to the PM, lacking any sense of peril or urgency.

So in effect our early warning system has completely failed and all the usual means of interception are caught in political paralysis of their own making. Like a deer in headlights the whole system is stood motionless in the face of an oncoming juggernaut.

I am now near certain that Article 50 talks will collapse. There doesn't seem to be a way out. If the Prime Minister, on top of the heap, has completely lost it, who else is there to pull everything together and make things work? May is going to drop us out of the EU without a deal for not other reason that she hasn't the faintest idea what is going on, and the "colleagues" give up in despair trying to get through to her.

It would take a damascene conversion to reality for this government to change tack and that simply isn't going to happen. There is too much signal noise for reality to permeate. With all the most influential voices close to the government holding a similarly distorted view, there are too many gatekeepers for reasoned and informed voices to be heard.

Ultimately this is a consequence of the entire political apparatus being cordoned off in the Westminster bubble living by its own rules and scriptures. There really isn't anything the rest of us can do except watch and wait.

As to when the walkout happens, only time will tell. This government believes that trading on WTO terms is possible - and if it thinks that a new relationship could be negotiated inside the scope of Article 50 they have completely failed to grasp even the basics. It has just proven too difficult for them. You can then see why they would view the EU's position as intransigence, and if that really were the case then, rationally, walking out would seem like an option.

Meanwhile, since a large sector of the public also believes this, along with at least half of the Conservative Party, it would appear that the nation is to fall victim to its own misapprehensions. Incompetence has become institutionalised and structural. It was only a matter of time before we paid a heavy price for allowing politics and media to become what it is. Some might say we are getting what we deserve.

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