Monday, 29 July 2019

Denying reality has a price


There are two debating silos on the matter of trade. There are those who accept the reality of our predicament and those who do not. There are those doing analysis and those producing propaganda. The latter spend much of their time dreaming up reasons why we can trade on WTO terms and cooking up counter arguments to those who say we are totally screwed.

The former are realists, usually trade professionals, academics, NGOcrats and think tank wonks from the remain side of the argument while the latter tend to be Tory politicians, snake oil merchants and Brexiter blowhards who think they know about trade because they once posted something to China. For now the latter has the ear of government. This is a government that wants to be told what it wants to hear. For the time being that's a good business to be in.

There comes a time, though, when the propaganda is put to the test. That moment is racing up on us. Here we will find that the crack in the dam becomes a breach as wave after wave of reality washes over us. We already know that some of the worst impacts will be mitigated by way of the EU's contingency measures and I don't completely discount the effectiveness of domestic preparation, but it won't take very long for the penny to drop that the UK really did need a deal.

By that point nobody will be listening to the Brexiters who said everything would be ok. Brexiters simply won't have a dog in the fight. Instead, all trade discourse will focus on the adults - primarily the remain inclined technocrats who see those whole debate only in terms of  maximising trade volumes who unquestioningly accept that if you want trade with the EU you have to cave into them on their terms. Not only do they favour the single market, they also agree that the UK is better off inside a customs union.

Between them, the "rescue package" they concoct when it comes to any future relationship will be maximum vassalage, leaving Brexiters to bleat from the sidelines. Also keeping in mind that to even open talks with the EU we'll have to sign up to an NI backstop type agreement as a starter for ten.

This is essentially what happens when the opposition do to the Johnson administration what Johnson has done to May's; purging the ranks of anyone who had a hand in it. From then on, UK trade policy will be its own private domain of technocrats who all think the same way. They for whom the term "direct national interest" is an alien concept, who largely subscribe to to the trade groupthink that sovereignty is both obsolete and unobtainable.

This is where we will see EU membership rebuilt a brick at a time rather than a re-accession process to the point where we are essentially non voting members. Much like the EU modus operandi, the reintegration will be done quietly by stealth. We'll probably join a new customs union but we won't call it that. We'll have a single market arrangement but we won't call it that either.

It'll take years do do it at enormous cost (while UK trade bleeds away) and between then, they'll do pretty much anything they can to put the brakes on any global ambitions. To a large extent this is a case of all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again - but they'll damn well try and there won't be much to stop them.

This is essentially why we needed the withdrawal agreement. I'm the first to admit that the deal is suboptimal but it represents a scaffolding for a controlled demolition. By using no deal dynamite, the ones who initiated this process won't be around to complete it.

This is why Brexiters needed a plan. This is why it was essential to look at the world as it really is, taking into account the limitations of our predicament. The Brexiters, though, made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. It was enough to win the vote but not enough to win the argument. By inflicting a massive no deal blow on the UK, much like Iraq, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who says they were in favour of it. Leavers will again be out of power and without a voice.

All the crapola about a "Global Britain" could have found a basis in reality had the Brexiters been aware that we first needed to secure a foundation to ensure our EU trade is preserved. A collaborative relationship with the EU, restoring trust would have resulted in a far less confrontational post-Brexit environment where coordinated divergence would have been possible. Now the EU, as much as any domestic force, will be looking to frustrate the UK's overseas and trade policy.

One can certainly say Boris Johnson is right that we have needed a little more Brexit optimism, but optimism without regard for the facts is better described as gullibility and self-deception. A vision without a plan is just a pipedream and a plan without an intellectual foundation, without regard to all the facts, is a kamikaze mission.

Ultimately the free trade ambitions of Brexiters will hit the rocks because they were not founded on solid research. This is an agenda derived from partisan dogma and party scripture, all of which plays well with free market Tory audiences but that little drip of approval was a substance they became addicted to. They then set about preying on the ignorance of those audiences, further cultivating that ignorance through a steady feed of misinformation.

At the core of this is that galactic Tory arrogance and mendacity that only a Tory could muster. You can't tell them anything because they believe they already know it and any voice that doesn't toe the line simply does not exist or is working in the interests of the "enemy". This cultivates its own paranoid little echo chamber that is open only to true believers - where facts go to die. That is the folly upon which Brexit crashes and burns.

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