Friday 9 February 2018

Theresa May's Looming Brexit Disaster

Could the government get any worse? The bar can never get too low, it seems. The latest in your Tory crisis briefing comes the not-at-all surprising news that Michel Barnier has said the transitional deal due to come into force next March after Britain formally leaves the EU is not a foregone conclusion, and that failing to establish a continuity relationship with the single market and customs union makes a hard border between the north and the Republic of Ireland an inevitability. To which David Davis, flustered and blustered, said Britain's position on a two-year transition was very clear. i.e. That we need one and so, um, we should get one. Please bear in mind that this is our chief Brexit negotiator and not some child blundering through their first haggle at the school tuck shop.

Let's have a think about the current impasse. This week Theresa May has been at pains to say Britain is leaving the single market and will not be in the customs union. At pains. Once again, because party management comes before all else for the leader of this accursed outfit, she is totally unnecessarily allowing the hard right zealots in her party to hold her hostage even though they haven't the numbers, the unity nor the nous to deliver the hard Brexit they want on their terms. May's position is weak, but not so weak that she can't tell the Johnsons and the Moggs to take a hike. This itself suggests two things. Either she's utterly incapable of reading the balance of her party, which if so means she's even less suited to her position than we thought, or she is committed to a hard Brexit herself and doesn't need any threats to force her to do the incompetent thing.

That's fair enough if that is what her position actually is, but we don't know for sure. The press has built up "crunch cabinet meetings" all week that were supposed to flesh out the government's Brexit position, but have decided to come to no solution and kick them into the long grass. Quite. After all, it's not like there's a clock ticking or anything. However, May has blundered into setting back the timetable. The problem is to get to the set of negotiations we're supposedly in now, which addresses the UK's future relationship with the EU and covers what disgraced minister Liam Fox calls the "easiest trade deal in history", May had to sign up to an understanding that sees us stay within the customs union in all but name. Yes, you'll remember the events of a couple of months back, the so-called regulatory alignment agreement to avoid customs posts in Ireland (unacceptable to the Republic) or a border in the Irish Sea (unacceptable to May's DUP friends). Every time May denies Britain is going to be in either the customs union or a customs union, Barnier and Ireland's Leo Varadkar look at the text May agreed to in early December and wonder if it's worth the paper it's written on.

Compounding the credibility gap are the demands the government are putting forward over the transitional period. They want the right to turf out any EU national who settles in Britain during the transitional phase, they want to continue having a say over EU rules during this period, and participate in the formulation of EU home affairs and justice policies. Truly we are governed by idiots. Having cake and eating it is one thing, but making yourselves the laughing stock of Europe is quite another.

Unfortunately, Tory incompetence is going to cost us. All across Whitehall, from the DWP to DEFRA, the civil service aren't even being given direction for their forward planning. It's as if there is a vacuum at the top of the state. And so what we're seeing, in department after department is Brexit planning for a worst case scenario, of us crashing out sans a deal and being subject to the full shock of tariff walls, price hikes and a sharp drop in trade. Just as Tory short-termism avoided the cliff edge with their pre-Christmas deal, so the very same is exerting its pull again and the edge is looking like an inviting prospect. The worst possible people are overseeing Britain's withdrawal from the EU, and they are sure to make us pay the worst possible price for their recklessness.


alan s said...

Yes, and an additional feature will be the blaming and deminising of the EU for our ruin

Anonymous said...

It takes some effort to make the last five years of the Blair government seem like a Golden Age, but by God Mrs May is managing it.

Anonymous said...

It's a pity that we don't have a leader who can capitalise on this omnishambles. The Tories are there to be ridiculed but because Jezza won't or can't be honest about his position we end up looking as vague, confused and conflicted as the Tories. Which is losing us all the goodwill built up by the election campaign. We can keep on with the false optimism but we should be humiliating them on this but we're completely failing to. Terrible central strategy, uncommitted leader more interested in party politics than the big picture. we=them. and we're losing our support.

Ian Gibson said...

Agree with every word of this. The only silver lining I can see is that there, for students of politics and history, a certain fascination in seeing just how long the day of reckoning can be postponed. I was mightily surprised that the EU let us get away with kicking the Irish border question into the long grass and conclude stage one: it was as clear as it could possibly be that not only had the question not been dealt with, but that what was offered was undeliverable, and probably was never meant to be deliverable.

SimonB said...

Ive pretty much become used to the idiocy you describe. What concerns me more now is the Labour position. I'm happy defending membership of the EU on the doorstep but not Brexit. It would be like returning to New Labour rule when all I could argue was that Labour are less bad. How can we propose to govern with an ambitious legislative program and Brexit? The civil service is struggling with Brexit as it is. Add on the know damage to the economy and I can't see state support for industries as a vote-winning corollary.

Anonymous said...

SimonB (and Anon)

But there is no majority amongst the voters for "stopping Brexit".

And is unlikely ever to be.

Given that, Labour's current approach seems the least bad.

Anonymous said...

There is a good chance of a majority for "stopping Brexit" given that it was a close result at the referendum and that the leavers tend to be older.

Fred said...

To the last comment I'd point out that in order to stop brexit, you would need another referendum (difficult to see how that is going to happen). You would also need to not only convince some of those who voted leave, but also those who voted remain but think the original referendum should be respect (the last poll I saw put this at about half of remainers, and I count myself among these). If you somehow managed to do this, then you still have to answer the question of why this referendum should be binding but not that one - why not a best of three?!

Given these difficulties, I agree with the poster who said that Labour's policy is the least bad