Friday 8 December 2017

The Right after the Brexit Deal

After wallowing in a lake of Brexit tears (Brexitears?), it's natural to survey the immediate political aftermath following this morning's joint press conference with Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. The ridiculous fool and money counsellor to the global rich, John Redwood, was spitting feathers and thinks crashing out of the EU is better than the agreement. Arron Banks, the man with the magical pockets, called for a leadership challenge: "This traitorous, lily-livered embarrassment of a Prime Minister has just overseen the biggest sell out of this country ...". I suppose it takes one to know one. And Nigel Farage: "This is not a deal, it's a capitulation." Nothing from Rees-Mogg yet, but as he was cheering the DUP t'other day for "saving Brexit", you can imagine his day was somewhat ruined.

Of course, while this is being heralded as a breakthrough deal it is no such thing. The agreement reached with the EU27 on the UK's financial commitments, the status of resident EU citizens, and the Irish border was about preparing the ground for the main event, which is the putative trade deal May is desperate beyond desperate to get settled. And there is also the small matter of the transitional deal. We know the UK government's position. i.e. A bridging arrangement to last around two years to ease the UK's decaying economy into the choppy waters outside the EU's boat. And while, assuming sensible sensibleness continues, this would be in the EU's interest too its implementation cannot be guaranteed. Indeed if the Tories had sense, which the double calamity of May and David Davis have shown scant evidence of hitherto, they would prioritise the basic principles, commitments and undertaking of the transitional arrangements first and then negotiate the subsequent deal at leisure. Then again, the longer this drags on, the greater the uncertainty this introduces into the deals the EU want to fix up with the US, among others.

Still, May can breathe a sigh of relief. The chaos that began this week is temporarily tucked into bed, and all is well with the world. Progress has been made. Except it could unwind very quickly. Despite getting up in the Commons on Wednesday and declaring for the nth time the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union, judging by the report - Paragraph 49 to be exact - we're not. The avoidance of a hard border, the protection of the Northern Irish economy, and the maintenance of the internal integrity of the UK (i.e. no customs border in the Irish Sea) looks unsolvable outside of the EU. Therefore we have "in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement." Exactly as predicted. All that remains are the fudgey words.

What now for our Brexiteers? It depends how much they can stir up the Brexit hardcore the Tories managed to win back from UKIP. So far, the Daily Mail are happy. Rejoice! We're On Our Way! screeches their Saturday front page. The Express in contrast go full on Farage. After all, why write anything when you can transcribe him verbatim? They also splash on US Cold War time travel experiments, which to be fair is more credible than their political coverage. The Sun is more sanguine with 'Done Deal', followed by "Theresa May faces Tory backlash". But they show no evidence of a backlash. They quote Redwood's tweet, but then wheel on the execrable Iain Duncan Smith to offer a lukewarm statement in support. So far, Tory Brexiteers are sticking close. It's a wonder what a single Survation poll can do.

How about those outside exalted Tory circles? As per the politics fatigue large numbers of voters are feeling, most leavers are probably happy to let May get on with it. Yes, it involves climb downs and humiliation but Brexit is not getting subverted. Flags will be waved and "Up Yours, Delors" murmured come 29th March, 2019. A hardcore minority are likely to think otherwise, but it's a question of whether this is enough to stir them into some sort of action. Were Farage still at UKIP's helm, then possibly. However, the conditions of UKIP's rise - notably the consistent support for their position by Britain's biggest right wing titles, the normalisation of their "novelty" politics via the broadcast media, the charismatic charlatan - are not present for a repeat performance. The fact the name of UKIP's new leader, Henry Bolton, doesn't immediately come to mind shows how far they've fallen. This means we won't see much movement in the polls from the Tories' present coalition, more's the pity.

Then again, perhaps not. As we have seen, all throughout Brexit Theresa May, just like her predecessor, has been driven by the short-term interests of the Tory Party. Historians will gawp in wonder at how the government of a leading liberal democracy consistently put favourable editorials and polling numbers above the interests of the class they represent and the system they profess to defend. If May's Brexit right were proper frothing up a fury, and the polls started showing a fracturing of the Tory vote and a bleed of a few percentage points UKIP's way, then we could see a lurch back into hard Brexit/no deal territory again. Just as winging it and short-termism accidentally finds us on the threshold of a potentially soft Brexit, Tory decadence might place us back in the mire.

This one's going to run-and-run. But it's worth observing that now the UK is signed up to the customs union in all but name, the cherished booby prize of the Brexiteers - Britain's freedom to strike bilateral trade agreements outside the EU - is looking like a fantasy, and may become a hill for them to die on later. Also, immigration from within the EU is up in the air, despite the agreement on domiciled citizens, and that is dependent on the trade deal. Anything resembling a liberalish agreement on movement, which is likely to be a condition of the frictionless trade promised, is all set on turning the Brexiteer right rabid. So for May, the immediate crisis is over, assuming no one prominent goes rogue over the weekend, but the potential for huge political damage is yet to be surmounted.

1 comment:

Boffy said...


The Tories had thought they would use Ireland as a Trojan Horse. They thought having the question of the border on the agenda would be the way for them to get the EU to accept round 2 trade talks before completing round 1, and that the need to keep an open border would be the way for them to negotiate access to the Customs Union without becoming a member of it.

It backfired on them, but don't underestimate just how arrogant and delusional the Tories are. They think they have pulled the wool over the EU's eyes with clever wording. They think they will be able to weasel around "regulatory alignment" to mean "regulatory divergence", whilst still having open access across EU borders. They are also confusing and conflating a free trade deal with being a member of a customs union, for a similar end.

It won't work, because the EU is not dependent on the UK as the Tories believe. The EU will insist on convergence in full. They can do no other if thy don't want the EU to unravel. Its obvious who has the whip hand, and it it is May, and Britain that are the supplicant in these relations.

But, as the talks unfold in the coming months - and there will be great pressure for May to accept a 2 year transition period, which means staying on the current terms - it will become ever more apparent that Britain is staying in the EU in all but name, and that it will be doing so on far worse terms than now. For one it will no longer have a say. Secondly, it will have to join all of the various EU bodies such as the EASA, on an individual basis, paying subs to each of them on an individual and more costly basis. The current rebate will have gone, and so on.

The attempts of people like Dominic Rabb to say that regulatory alignment means that the UK can make its own regulations will be shown to be hot air. The Tory Right will get fractious, as the reality becomes ever clearer to everyone, and their delusions of being able to pull a fast one on the EU are exposed. The Brexit bill et al will cost the UK around £8 billion a year for 10 years, and on top of that, and after it, Britain will pay about the same amount to belong to EASA, Euratom and so on, even if it doesn't formally apply to be in the Customs Union!

Moreover, as it becomes obvious that there is no benefit of having to belong to all these bodies, to pay to be a member of them, and being subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, whilst having absolutely no say in the formulation of the rules and regulations, not only will that cause the Tories to fracture, but the voters will begin to realise they were sold a pup from the beginning. Its why Labour should make a clean break now, and come out to strongly oppose Brexit, and show the way forward.