Friday, 20 December 2019

The end of the beginning

The Brexit bill has passed without molestation from parliament. Amendments were struck down without mercy. There was no point. Johnson is unstoppable for now. Unstoppable and unopposed. It's a grim day for the remainers not only watching the bill pass but also reflecting on what they could have leveraged had they voted for May's deal. Both sides were playing all or nothing and now remain walks away with nothing - and we are on course for a dog's dinner of a Brexit.

For leavers this is a day of celebration, but again I'm not celebrating. Brexit was not an end in itself. Though it has destroyed the remain movement, the Labour party and much else, it has yet to claim the scalp of the Tory party and this is an unfinished revolution until it does. This swaggering Tory party drunk on its own self-regard has its own appointment with the crash barrier.

I can, though, see why today is a day for celebration. Only a couple of weeks ago some errant polls suggested a hung parliament was entirely possible, and with everything turning inside the margin of error, Brexit itself hung in the balance. But after three long years of bickering and trench warfare, the forces of remain have been vanquished, we have a decisive parliament and the left have been swept to the sides. It's difficult to see anything salvageable about the Labour party. They're going to have to rethink and reinvent but they'll be in the wilderness for a long time to come. We'll have to wait and see what crawls out of the primordial soup.

That then gives Johnson the better part of a decade to inflict his reckless Brexit upon us, assuming he doesn't get bored and offload his responsibilities. This much will keep the grunters happy for the time being, but anybody serious now needs to be thinking about a recovery operation and a strategic direction for Britain after the wreckers have finished. They'll cheer Johnson to the rafters when he gets a new deal, but there are trade deals and then there's the comprehensive relationship we need. Thanks to the Tories we'll spend the decade following the Johnson regime rebuilding what we could have had by joining Efta. Today the Tories have their day of vindication. I'll have to wait a while longer for mine.

Ultimately the Tories are gambling that the EU will cut corners on its own system of rules and adherence to WTO conventions will melt away when it faces pressure from member states on everything from automotive to fishing. It's not entirely without merit in that the UK is still an important market and it's not in the EU's interests to have a UK on its doorstep sliding into the abyss. The EU will hold firm during trade talks in order to exact a penance but in the future it will need to show pragmatism for its own political survival. The Tories will then see what they can get without having to give.

As a strategy it would be sound were the interim consequences not so destructive, but we're dealing with a pack of fanatics who genuinely do believe we have the upper hand. They're about to find out just how important our services exports are by way of watching them disappear down the drain.

In respect of that, Boris Johnson's remarks today about the labels leave and remain being redundant terms, I'm actually inclined to agree. I've done my bit for the leave cause and while I am pleased to be leaving the dysfunctional EU that does not disqualify me from being a Brexit critic either in the way it's delivered or the direction this or any government takes us from here on it. My desire to see us leave the EU does not require my loyalty to Brexiters nor do I owe them anything.

Having explored just about ever dimension of Brexit on this blog over the yeyars I'm sure if I read back on this blog I will have at some point gone along with the fashionable notion of deprived northern places ravaged by globalisation, and while there are some worthwhile themes to explore, it's difficult to see how Brexit brings any remedy, and certainly the Tory insistence on the most disruptive Brexit available to them is more likely to harm the manufacturing and services sectors that replaced the steel mills and coal mines in the north. Those "working class communities" who "lent" their vote to Johnson are going to be sorely disappointed if they were expecting anything different to that which they have become accustomed.

The fact is that Britain is a radically different country to the one I grew up in, and the notion of "working class communities" is antiquated and as redundant as the industries they were built around. They're dead and not coming back. That, though, does not stop the Tories and Labour entering a space race to court an imaginary cohort of monolithic northerners. Johnson's landslide doesn't make the Tory party any less of a rudderless husk and when Brexit turns sour they'll be facing the same existential questions as Labour.

The renewed sense of optimism is is a temporary delusion - like a band of bank robbers celebrating their haul, blissfully unaware that the oil leak from the getaway van is leading the police right to their hideout. Now that the formal departure from the EU is out of the way and the Tories have a majority of their own to pursue any agenda they so wish, they alone are accountable for whatever follows, and as we know from the EU's Notices to Stakeholders, it won't be a pretty sight.

But then with Christmas creeping up on us, who am I to pour cold water on what is at least an emphatic decision from parliament? It's the first in a long while and a brief respite from the tedious horse trading we have seen through this year. The new year brings new battles where we shall see surprising new alliances, and if the remainers can get over their collective grief, they can perhaps contribute something of value for a change.  It's no longer remainers versus leavers. This is now a battle between those of us who want good, responsive accountable government, and those who make excuses for government. Which, ironically, will be the Brexiters themselves. Funny old world. 

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