Monday, 4 December 2017

Bordering on the Ridiculous

Theresa May's approach to Brexit was always going to run into difficulty. From her first proper pronouncements on leaving the EU at 2016 Tory party conference, it was clear she wanted to go for a hard, or what Brexit headbangers like to call a "clean" Brexit. That meant practically severing all ties - the single market, the customs union, the jurisdiction of the European Court and, separately given her authoritarian bent, an exit from the Council of Europe - while retaining the same movement of commodities and capital, but definitely not people. And why was this her Brexit of choice, despite her nominal (and minimal) endorsement of remain earlier that year? Because she, just like her predecessor, is guided by Tory short-termism. The health of British business and the cabal of interests the Tories are supposedly the custodians of have time and again been set aside for perceived electoral expediency.

Hence we've hit the buffers. The fantasists around the Cabinet table and the Brexit bams are richly, deservedly getting their delusions served up on a platter. On outstanding liabilities and spending commitments, the UK are coughing up despite promises of grandstanding and belly aching that never materialised. After some unnecessary quibbling, May has accepted the EU's position on its citizens remaining in the UK with their status virtually unchanged. That one must have hurt the PM. And as you've probably seen from the news, Ireland and the Irish border remains the sticking point.

Befitting the useless decadence of the Tory party and its habit of winging everything, in what little Brexit planning the government indulged they failed to condescend a few thoughts in the direction of the UK's land border with the EU. As any Brentish management consultant will tell you, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. In their arrogance, they thought Britain would be able to roll Ireland over. After all, while cross border trade between the Republic and the North isn't quite as heavy as you might think, as the otherwise ridiculous Owen Patterson notes, 14 per cent of Irish exports head to mainland Britain and it imports a quarter from the same. The Tories were hoping a bit of divide and rule might work as Ireland, after the UK, will be most affected by Brexit and have the most to lose if we crash out sans a trade deal. The fools.

And so their unserious approach to the negotiations saw them boxed very quickly into an impossible position. A return to a hard border is a no, yet May formally remains committed to life totally outside of the EU. For the Tory right, the freedom for Britain to strike its own bilateral trade deals is the panacea for all our woes. Which, in practice, means becoming the world centre for tax avoidance and offshore dodgy-dealing. However, May retains just enough sense to realise that the finely-balanced factional hell of her Parliamentary party will not allow for this, and so has to do something about the border. The debate then about a border in Ireland, an airborne border, an e-border, and a border staked out in the Irish Sea have nothing to do with the intractability of the Irish and the rest of the EU, and everything to do with the Tory Party and their Democratic Unionist mates.

The sensible Brexit position, insofar as one can be said to exist, is for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to remain in the customs union at the very least. The process would be less damaging and economic dislocation kept to a minimum. A new deal setting out a settlement between the UK and EU would still be required, but it would best serve the interests of British business. However, the Tory right don't want it. The compromise position then was keeping the North in the customs union, while the rest of the UK would go its own way. This obviously is not acceptable to the DUP as, rightly, it would bring the North more into the EU's orbit at the expense of the UK and raises the prospect of the overdue unification of the province with the rest of Ireland. Incredibly, it appears May had forgot her party are in hock to Arlene Foster to get the rest of their business through the House and prematurely announced a deal had been reached with the EU on that basis. Cue mayhem. And, as it happens, the DUP vetoed it. Cue no deal.

As the Tories now shut themselves away with the DUP to sort something out - another bung, perhaps? - it seems the parliamentary arithmetic is punting May towards remaining within the customs union after all. Desperate to get the trade talks underway, which will no doubt entail a hefty annual sub on top of the billions already pledged, it is looking increasingly likely we'll see some sort of fudge: some language paying lip service to the indivisibility of the UK and being an independent free trading nation, but in practice pledges "continued regulatory alignment". The headbangers won't like it, the gruesome twosome definitely wouldn't, but it might be acceptable to the other parties and therefore a majority of the House. Crucially, it helps keep the Tories and May's beleaguered leadership afloat. They know well that screwing up, and being seen to screw it up hands the Labour Party the keys to Number 10. And if abandoning the previous position is what it takes to stop that from happening, May will do it.

And so, again, just as short-term party considerations initially pointed May toward the rocks of a hard Brexit, the very same interests are steering her back to a more sensible position. This is not pragmatism, it's panic.


Anonymous said...

"Incredibly, it appears May had forgot her party are in hock to Arlene Foster to get the rest of their business through the House and prematurely announced a deal had been reached with the EU on that basis. Cue mayhem. And, as it happens, the DUP vetoed it. Cue no deal."

Yeah, right. The Tories were trying to 'bounce' the DUP (not for the first time), just as they did to the Lib Dems several times while in coalition.

But the thing about the DUP is that (a) they have something we might call a backbone and (b) whereas the Lib Dems were willing to bend right over for the Tories in order to make their long-desired Coalition work, the DUP has had its knuckles hardened through years of seriously strenuous political streetfighting across the Irish Sea. The DUP isn't going to be cowed by a shambolic chancer like Theresa May or her band of sinister deadbeats.

Poor Theresa. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Or lie down with rabid dogs, and try to get up on what's left of your knees, more like.

Phil said...

Let's suppose that we end up in an EEA-like position - Canada-plus or the full Norway - which involves accepting a lot of the very things that UKIP and the Tory Right were campaigning against in the first place (payments to Brussels, rights of residence for EU citizens, ECJ jurisdiction). What then, politically speaking? My first thought was that it would bring UKIP back from the dead - "let's leave and do it properly this time!" - but I really don't think it would. Their whole shtick was centred on the referendum - on giving The People the right to say whether we should leave or not - so they couldn't really demand that the government do X or Y without consulting the people again. But "consult the people again!" is a lousy rallying-cry; I think an awful lot of Leave voters would take the view that we'd been there and done that. And if by some mischance we did end up with a second referendum, by this point I can't imagine that Leave would win - particularly with the government pointing out that we had left.

Now suppose that the government falls (finally) and the next government steps on the brakes - not to reverse the process, you understand, just to consider the full implications of the new situation in the light of cont'd p 94. Again: do UKIP come back from the dead? Maybe I'm a deluded optimist (people say that about me all the time) but I can't see it. There's a hard-core UKIP vote, of course, but it's composed mainly of people who genuinely want Britain out of Europe because they genuinely hate foreigners. I think an awful lot of the Leave vote (and about 3/4 of the pre-2016 UKIP vote) would take the view "they asked us, we told 'em; it was a good laugh at the time, doesn't seem to have worked though; there you go, can't trust politicians can you?".

Prediction: Corbyn and Starmer will manage Brexit; we'll leave but keep some of the benefits of membership (EEA or EEA+); in another 15 years we'll be queueing up to rejoin, Schengen, euro and all.

Gulliver Foyle said...

I don't think the UK, when it leaves, can stay in the Customs Union even if it wanted to, and I'm not sure it needs to. "Continued regulatory alignment" or, if you prefer, "no regulatory divergence" is more within the sphere of the internal/single market in so far is it enables the kind of frictionless trade the RoI/NI border needs to maintain.

And if the UK deems it necessary to stay in the SM via the EEA via application for EFTA membership then it is entirely possible to negotiate a specific customs union agreement with the EU that covers the areas where such an agreement is necessary to continue the soft border. EFTA members in the EEA can and do negotiate trade deals independently of the EU despite what many continue to erroneously say.

The problem for Treeza is, she made it a red line in her A50 notification but, as we have seen already, red lines have been crossed. Her problem as ever, and as this post re-iterates, is the hard Brexit head bangers in her own party but, as has also been said many times elsewhere, they will never be happy with whatever deal is done.

Robert said...

Roll on a united Ireland and an end to the DUP holding the country to ransom and trousering a billion quid in return for propping up the Tories.

Anonymous said...

It's all very well crowing over the uselessness of Theresa May's government but if there's an election any time soon (courtesy of the DUP) then Corbyn will have a massive problem on his hands which Labour really hasn't yet addressed. We're trying to hold together different sections of our voters who have completely different views on Brexit, and as Brexit is the single biggest practical issue at present, that's a massive problem. Personally I think if Corbyn's elected in 2020 he should release all the expert forecasts on the devastation to the economy that Brexit would case, spell out when that means in terms of cuts to public services AND PENSIONS, and then say "so obviously we're not going to do it." Sod the referendum. By 2020 several million Leave voters will have died and several million new remainers will have turned 18.

Corbyn's biggest problem would be if the DUP decide to bring down the government a lot sooner. And that's far more possible than English academic Marxists would imagine. If you've not been around Christian Fundamentalists (I used to be one!) you really don't understand how different their entire mindset is. Remember Samson pulling down the temple? They positively admire unreasonableness, and can quote scriptures in support of that position.