Friday, 12 July 2019

Will Theresa May have the last laugh?

I'm all doom and gloom on this blog. I think we will leave the EU without a deal because we lack the political talent to do anything else. But then British politics of late is highly unpredictable and set to be more so when you throw in a wildcard like Boris Johnson - a man who for whom yesterday's promises mean nothing.

The narrative in the Tory ranks is that we are here because "traitor May" always wanted to stay close to the EU and being a remainer at heart sought to freeze out Brexiters, leaving her stooge Olly Robbins to sell us down the river. I've never bought into this bullshit. Theresa May made her share of unforced errors but I never doubted her sincerity in seeking to fulfil the Brexit obligation.

At the beginning of the Article 50 process, May was sounding robust enough in setting out her red lines. Leaving the single market and the customs union and ending freedom of movement were indeed her stated aims and that was the genuine intention. She's the one who closed down the single market option and set upon her imaginary economic partnership proposal.

The fundamental misapprehension at work was assuming the UK could take a blank slate approach to EU relations, devising entirely bespoke mechanisms for trade integration, oblivious to the fact that the Eu system is a long established system of rules that the EU not only doesn't want to compromise but also couldn't if it wanted to.

It took some months for this reality to sink in. The think tankery tasked with overcoming these roadblocks proposed all manner of things from a "Guernsey option" to a "hoods only single market" encompassing a "common rulebook, culminating in her Chequers proposal. This drove the Brexiter brigade mad with rage who called it BINO. But then they were always going to do that. Any nod to reality would always see Mrs May labelled a traitor.

Of course, they needn't have expanded the energy in that Brussels was always going to say not o any such proposal not least since the UK had already agreed to the sequencing where the full details of the future relationship would not be discussed until we formally left the EU. The UK's bad faith attempt to circumvent the sequencing wasted months of negotiating time.

Eventually most of the decisions were made for us. Brussels took the view that the UK was never going to comprehend their objections or come up with a viable proposal and for as long as May's red lines remained in place, the only workable solution was the withdrawal agreement as it now stands. We are now faced with a take it or leave it ultimatum. Brussels is not bluffing.

Enter Boris. The rank and file of the Tory party think that the problem was May's lack of backbone and we can still have a mutually acceptable deal if only we send a PM who believes in Brexit. Where they get the idea that Johnson believes in anything at all is another question entirely. But no matter how macho our approach, the facts on the ground don't change. The EU believes it has done all it can to accommodate the British position and has stretched its own rules as far as they will go. It has made political promises to Ireland and it is not going to let the British tail wag the dog.

The coronation of Boris Johnson doesn't change any of this. The clumsy and issue illiterate proposals of the Alternative Arrangement Commission offer nothing the EU can agree to, and to incorporate any such proposal would require the EU to reopen the withdrawal agreement which is will not do under any circumstances. To do so would be to risk the whole deal unravelling.

No doubt Johnson will take an aggressive theatrical approach but this will likely be met with a dead faced stare from Brussels. British exceptionalism does not go down well with Brussels. It never did and it especially doesn't now. That then shunts the issue back into the British political arena where Johnson either has to shit or get off the pot. Though it's difficult to see how parliament can prevent a no deal Brexit, if there is even a symbolic vote of protest, Johnson may well u-turn and seek yet another extension. He will take the path of least resistance depending on what the polls say.

Johnson plays a good game when it comes to telling the grunters what they want to hear - but he isn't one of them. Johnson is an opportunist who will turn on a sixpence if it is politically expedient. Nothing he ever says is bankable, and he can't not be aware that a no deal Brexit comes with enormous risk. His sole motivation is his ambition and as a galactic narcissist he'll have his legacy in mind. Will he really want to go down in history as the man who wrecked Britain?

It is certainly not outside of the realms of possibility that Johnson will betray the party faithful. Committed Brexiter he is not. He then finds himself in the precise position his predecessor found herself in, with only two choices left - ratify or revoke. Brexit then depends on ramming May's withdrawal agreement through the Commons where even the ERG will have to hold their noses and vote for their man. Politically it's difficult to see how they can do anything else having put so much stock in him.

One wonders if we first have to go through the theatricals of securing a largely meaningless edit to the political declaration to "satisfy" the ERG, but they will in effect be voting for the same deal they have implacably opposed for the last year. Tory sheep will of course go along with it and hail it as a great victory but the headbangers will still cry betrayal. That may yet pump more life into the corpse of Ukip 2.0. Johnson may well deliver Brexit, but not the one they had their hearts set on. The hollow laughing sound from the back benches is sure to be Theresa May. 

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