Monday, 30 September 2019

National unity? Are you having a laugh?

Talk today is of a "national unity" government led by Margaret Beckett. Not sure how they see this playing out. The theory is they would seek an extension for however long it takes to hold a second referendum. This presumably would follow Labour's notion that there should be a credible leave option.

They would soon find that the only leave option they could take to the public was the withdrawal agreement as is. The EU is not going to reopen negotiations not can it accommodate any of Labour's fantasies so we'd be going to the polls over a leave option that leavers widely believe is a stitch up in a referendum that nullifies the first.

Here we would see a partial boycott since many would already have given up on voting. A second referendum in itself is a signal that a vote will only be respected provided it goes the right way. In this instance we would probably see remain win by way of a smaller turnout.

This time, there would be no question of legitimacy, no enquiries into spending, no moral panics about targeted advertising. They'll have the result they want and that will be enough for them to put it to bed.

Though such a referendum would in all respects lawful they will never be able to argue it was fair or legitimate. It would provide the leave movement the fodder it needs to mount a full scale anti-establishment culture war. Not only would the referendum be held in question but also the legitimacy of Westminster itself - having essentially had the first referendum overthrown by a coup, installing an election dodging rogue parliament.

Sooner or later there would have to be a general election, only this time the Tories would have to adopt an unequivocal Brexit position. No referendums, no negotiations. Just out. I think that would probably win by a landslide. It wouldn't even be about EU membership by that point. They can dig up all the Boris Johnson scandals they like. It won't make the slightest difference. Even I, fundamentally opposed to no deal and a Boris Johnson "hater", would vote Tory just on principle.

For a remain vote to be seen as legitimate it would need to win an unarguable majority far exceeding 17.4m voters. I don't think that's possible. At one time they might have been able to leverage that kind of support having worn down the opposition, but staging a coup led by a band of hasbeens and rejects, championed by Tony Blair, John Major and all the other establishment deadbeats would be unimaginably toxic.

Anything short of a full on landslide for remain sends the message that we have a ruling class in which half the country is effectively disenfranchised. This is simply not sustainable. Personally I don't rule out a low grade civil war unless we find an outcome that brings closure. But at the very least we are looking at a decade or more of political instability and uncertainty - especially when the question of Brexit continues to loom large for business.

As much as the UK is then in a state of political deadlock, it can no longer be a functioning EU member. Without a legitimate basis for membership and zero mandate for any further integration, the British question brings all EU business to a grinding halt - especially with a permanently hostile contingent of British MEPs.

Again we would soon bump into the reality that EU membership for the UK is not sustainable. The leave movement, with an army of new recruits, disgusted and outraged by the establishment stitch up  would keep a vibrant strain of euroscepticism alive only this time we will have established a political fact. We as a nation do not respect referendums. The establishment doesn't and voters no longer respect them either. They didn't respect ours so we won't respect yours.

The attitude on the remain side here is quite interesting. They don't actually have a problem living in a politically dysfunctional country at eachothers throats just so long as we are in the EU. They reckon it's better to be divided inside the EU than divided out of it. At least something of the status quo is kept ticking over.

One could could almost respect that point of view from an entirely practical point of view, but it does seem to confirm that EU membership is as I have often described it; a life support machine for a vegetable patient. Yes, we can stay in the EU, resolving nothing politically, with the boil continuing to fester but if that's our answer to the Brexit question, then we must accept that this morass of dysfunctionality, bitterness and division is the new normal.

This is not to say that Brexit of itself will bring the nation back together but it is at least a new conversation as regards to a new relationship with the EU and a new political settlement. We may very well be poorer because of it in the midterm, but nobody is getting any richer or safer by maintaining the status quo. As Britain further toxifies inside the EU the economy will stagnate and the mood will turn further sour.

What's missing in the current debate is an understanding that we need a solution that brings closure - and though remainers will wail bitterly about any Brexit, most will eventually get used to the idea. Leaving, preferably with a deal, is the only way to break out of the deadlock.

MPs, of course, haven't realised this and have instead used this time to frustrate every mode of exit. They have likely squandered all their chances to leave with a deal and all the wailing about no deal comes far too late. Johnson's last minute handbagging strategy is sure to fail and there is no new deal in the offing. Moreover, thanks to tribal games on the opposite benches, they still wouldn't vote for any deal so the cliff edge still awaits.

As it happens, parliament has probably left it too late to make its move. It is doubtful a "unity government" could ever command the confidence of the house and I think most moderate MPs recognise the danger of a new government acting without a mandate from the public. Would they really be so arrogant?  A cynic would say unequivocally yes, but I'm not so sure.

MPs really only have two options. They can either call an election, risking a Johnson landslide, where they lose control of the agenda - or they can seek to further strangle Johnson in this current deadlock until the next extension expires. Either way, it doesn't look like they can stop Brexit. The only way to avoid no deal is to ratify any deal, and if they haven't the wits to do that then whatever else follows is richly deserved.

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