Monday, 12 November 2018

All over bar the shouting

I do not think there is going to be a deal. Hopes have not been high for a while but somewhere along the line I think I gave up any hope of a negotiated outcome. I think the exact moment came when Erna Solberg shot down the EEA as a temporary option. She left the door open for the EEA as a longer term solution but with MPs Freeman, Boles and Morgan persisting with "Norway for now", totally ignoring what Solberg said, they are digging the grave deeper for the EEA.

Typically they came late to the party (it was already too late), knowing nothing about the EEA or how the system works, ignoring all external inputs and criticisms, and in a single stroke destroyed much of the options credibility. As bad as that was, Boles now claims to have evolved the plan, but is essentially persisting with the idea that the EEA is plug and play and that it can serve as a short to mid term solution. Nothing anyone says will deter them.

The essential problem is that the EEA does not cover a number of competences which cannot be left without the cover of a formal agreement , not least customs, agriculture and fish. This all needs to be negotiated inside the framework of the EEA agreement and there is a lot of work in shifting the legal and diplomatic focus to the EEA construct. Boles seems to think that it can all be resolved with a few splashes of Tippex and without full cooperation from the EU.

It wouldn't be so bad if Boles had at least "evolved" his position to at least take into account what Solberg has said, but a bubble dweller does what a bubble dweller does. He still thinks it can be used as a bridge to nowhere believing the essential functions of the EEA can be replicated in a future agreement - which they cannot for all the same reasons that a Canada deal is not viable.

The short of it is that the EEA can only work if the UK is a full and committed member securing the confidence of all other stakeholders. The belief that UK will be allowed to monopolise the EEA institutions and facilities for its own temporary convenience is an arrogance worthy of a Tory Brexiter.

But then we know all this. We have been here before. We've been over this ground countless times and the only constant is that nobody is listening. Even those critics who are unduly polite are wasting their time. What's more is that this avenue needed far broader support and much earlier on. MPs should have got to grips with the issues long before Article 50 was triggered and EEA needed to have overwhelming support around the time of the Lancaster House speech. Time is a factor here and the windows were squandered.

Being that we are now held hostage to Mrs May's red lines and boxed in by an unpalatable ultimatum over Northern Ireland, there is nowhere this can go. Any deal has to be mutually agreeable and has to win the assent of parliament which looks highly improbable. Tory hardliners might well turn on a sixpence in the final hour but there is now a strong chance it won't even get as far as a "meaningful vote".

Between ow and there there is to be a verdict on whether Article 50 can be revoked unilaterally. I doubt it can but my opinion is nether here nor there. The decision will fall one way or another and that will be that. If it be the case that it can be revoked then we face an almighty row and calls for another referendum will grow ever more shrill and tedious. It's going to get seriously boring.

Whether there will be moves to extend talks is anyone's guess. This all now falls to politics which is highly unpredictable. We are all now passengers of events and the lack of coherence we have seen will likely persist until the clock runs out.

The tedium, though, creates its own dynamic. Brexit stories are getting further and further down the book, as well as shorter. The media has doubtless sussed that people are switching off. Just about everybody wants it to be over including me. I no longer care how we leave just so long as we do. We have run out of road for a smooth departure and there isn't enough institutional knowledge to bring any clarity to it. Without political coherence it was always going to come down to the binary extremes; Remain or departure without agreement.

Being that both outcomes are equally undesirable it comes down to a simple estimation of which side most deserves to lose. Which sin is greater? The ignorance and arrogance of leavers or the ignorance, petulance of remainers.

But then there's that elephant in the room. Remaining doesn't resolve anything at all. It cannot be swept under the rug and our membership would enjoy no legitimacy. At best the remainers can only buy time and in the meantime things get quite ugly indeed. If they kill Brexit they kill hope. They kill faith in democracy and and those who have lived so long without a voice will realise that they live in a system where they remain voiceless. Whatever the book price on a no deal Brexit, the price of betrayal is unimaginable.

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