Wednesday 14 November 2018

Theresa May's Dreadful Settlement

Imagine shooting someone for a packet of cheese and onion crisps in the blasted ruins of Sheffield. With the announcement of Theresa May's withdrawal deal, it appears, for now, that a Threads Brexit is off the table. But what smörgåsbord of culinary goodies can we look forward to instead? The 600 pages of the withdrawal agreement looks like a meaty affair, but almost two-and-a-half years on from the fateful day, is thin gruel the only fare on offer?

Looking at the BBC's write up, for the lonely, defective few who've paid Brexit more mind than is advisable one is struck by how, well, how we've seen it all before. I like nostalgia as much as anyone, and I was taken back to the halcyon days of ... December 2017. You remember the time. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker shared a stage and announced the UK and the European Union had agreed arrangements to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the reciprocal recognition of rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, and a ballpark figure for the UK's divorce bill. Indeed, reports of tonight's agreement could easily read like reports of last year's agreement.

I wouldn't want to give the impression that the last year has been spent needlessly and fruitlessly going round the houses on what was supposed to be signed and sealed already, because there are some interesting and arresting additions. The most politically significant of which is the knife the Prime Minister has thrust into the ribs of unionism in Northern Ireland. "No Prime Minister would stand for a border in the Irish Sea", Theresa May has said on more than one occasion. And what do we have? As Jacob Rees-Mogg puts it, "The proposed agreement would treat Northern Ireland differently than the rest of the UK". Indeed, so while the UK as a whole remains within a common UK-EU "customs territory" - something May had previously ruled out - there would be an extra layer of compliance not applicable on the mainland to allow the two Irelands to carry on as normal. A red line she has steamrollered across and no mistaking. Irony of ironies, it is a Conservative and Unionist government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party that is preparing the grounds of a united Ireland. If these were the only considerations, I'd be tempted to support their Brexit deal.

Just as the right didn't like it in 2017, they like it even less now. In addition to Irish matters, Mogg has moaned about handing over the £39bn as if this is the first time he's heard about it. Though had he got his own way and a hard Brexiting Britain repudiated such a debt, you can forget about signing those shiny trade deals the ERG have fever dreams about. Countries prefer to stick to partners who pay their debts and respect the rules of international trade. And on that very topic, the dream of shuttle diplomacy, of Tories jetting off to exotic locations to sign bilateral deals is a dead one: the UK economy remains fully in the orbit of the EU mother planet.

Still, there is one thing here that would gladden Tory hearts. As the IPPR's Tom Kibasi observes, there are tough rules on state aid, but this is counter-balanced by ruling out the offshore tax haven fantasies of the more decadent honourable members of the government benches. However, because a comprehensive free trade agreement hasn't been arrived at - you'll remember the Tories champing at the bit for negotiations to enter this phase - Tom adds that the customs territory means no say over the rules the UK will be subject to, and that a final Brexit deal, one that establishes our relationship and its future terms is kicked even further down the road. In other words, if you're fed up if hearing about Brexit then have we got news for you ... Think of tonight's "result" then as less a fudge and more a treacle; a thick, clinging morass that is impossible to extricate oneself from.

So, the deal is rubbish. You might take the view that May was bound to concoct a dreadful settlement, but what about the politics? Unfortunately, I cannot shake the view that contrary to arguments made a few days ago, this deal will somehow get through the Commons. May has lost the DUP, a chunk of the ERG, and some hard remainers like Heidi Allen and Woke Soubz - assuming they keep to their word which, admittedly, hasn't meant much in the recent past. But Brexity rebellions on the Tory benches are surely going to be more muted than advertised. Likewise, sufficient empty heads on the Labour benches are sure to nod along with this nonsense. They can fool themselves into thinking it's a soft Brexit because ooooh, customs union! and, ooooh, close alignment with EU rules!, and pat themselves on the back for their pragmatism and putting country before party. You can see the sorts of twisted logics at work as people who've attacked Jeremy Corbyn for not opposing Theresa May hard enough on Brexit do a 180 and now attack him for refusing to back May's Brexit deal. Remember the missing Tory 'have cake and eat it' strategy? I think we've found it.

The Tories know the stakes here. The reason why their rebellions will be much smaller than trailed is because they don't want a general election. They know there's a very good chance they would lose, and they fear the Corbynist hordes coming over the hill to collectivise their heated stables and duck houses. Remembering the Tory record in power, the hundred thousand or so premature deaths their cuts have overseen, the misery inflicted on millions, rising mental health crisis, housing shortages, and homeless people paving the streets, no Labour MP will be forgiven for keeping this shower in "because Brexit". The Tories are more than just opponents to lampoon and shout out across the Commons chamber, they are a threat, a clear and present threat to our people. A shambles of a Brexit is bad for our class, but keeping the Tories in power with all that they entail is much, much worse.


Speedy said...

Obviously, it's a bad deal, but what other sort was there? Lexit was as stupid as Brexit.

I don't know the details and could certainly care less about Ireland (one for all I say), but Labour's proposal would have meant continued free travel and settlement, which I would be happy with but, arguably, really isn't the Brexit even the most dopey Leavers chose.

So, given that the EU always had the upper hand in the negotiations, it is hard to see how May or anyone else could have done any better, and I'd like to see you explain how, just as I'd like to see the Brextremists come up with a realistic alternative.

Jim Denham said...

Now that Raab's resigned the deal is surely dead. Nevertheless, it has exposed the incoherence of the Labour front bench and Corbyn's position. As LabourList noted:

'Jeremy Corbyn’s initial reaction was fair enough. “We will look at the details of what has been agreed when they are available,” the leader said. “But from what we know of the shambolic handling of these negotiations, this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country. Labour has been clear from the beginning that we need a deal to support jobs and the economy – and that guarantees standards and protections. If this deal doesn’t meet our six tests and work for the whole country, then we will vote against it.” Under further scrutiny, however, opposition frontbenchers start to crumble as interviewers point out that May’s temporary customs union arrangement is pretty much what Labour has been advocating. It’s a tough gig, explaining why they oppose something that looks closer to Labour’s proposals than expected without being able to highlight the finer problematic details. Even when the documents are published, that’ll be 500 pages to comb through.'