Thursday 17 January 2019

Theresa May's Big Crunch

Crunch time is coming, and contrary to the headlines and the bellyaching it's Theresa May, not Jeremy Corbyn who's caught in a vice. As forecast days ago, May has gone cap in hand to each and everyone, asking all corners of the Commons to come forward to try and make her Brexit deal work. And from all points of the map they came, a self-selected pick 'n' mix of Liberal Democrats, backbench Tories, nationalists, loyalists, and Labour people filed in and filed out of meetings with the PM and/or her henchmen. For the Greens, Caroline Lucas criticised May for introducing this listening exercise at the 11th hour, and then not budging on her fabled red lines. Likewise, Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn more or less declared their meeting a waste of time because she won't take them off the table. A farce in other words, and one Jeremy Corbyn is wise to stay away from.

Examining the logic of Theresa May's position, the PM says she cannot take no deal off the table and that it constitutes an impossible condition for talks. May argues that only two ways exist to avoid a no deal scenario: back her deal, or back out of Brexit. It's almost as if her deal hasn't gone down to the humiliation of a sitting government's worst ever defeat and doesn't know the meaning of the word 'negotiation'. The problem for May is behind the scenes, her chancellor has done the ring around of key businesses and, um, has promised to take no deal off the table. Could it be the Tory leadership are saying one thing for public consumption, positioning Jeremy Corbyn as a target for the flak guns for his intransigence, and hypocritically whispering assurances to their well-heeled mates in private? I'll leave you to make your mind up.

Nevertheless, it's not just the Greens and a pair of undistinguished suits from Labour's past that have been wasting their time speaking to the Prime Minister. Looking as pleased as punch, David Davis, Steve Baker, and a useless entourage of the European Research Group smiled for the cameras before and after their meeting. As Boris Johnson wasn't present, the contents of the occasion did not immediately light up the phone of the Telegraph's chief political reporter, but according to Davis, the PM was in a listening mood as she politely heard their concerns. Yet as May hasn't changed her mind and is unwilling to offer concessions to her left, it is impossible to see how she can move and offer the hard Brexiteers something - no matter how conciliatory the poise.

Let's look at this in a little bit more depth. The position of the ERG and sundry Brexiteers is unchanged. While their flavour of Brexit might differ in some respects, they are resolutely against a customs union. It's more complex than a pathetic fancy of a swashbuckling Britain led by a new generation of Tory gentlemen signing trade deals here, there, and everywhere, but it's a Boys' Own desire they cannot quite shake. And it's a matter of coincidence it aligns with the hedge fund and disaster capitalist interests that have an intimate and constitutive relationship with the ERG faction. Secondly, as we've heard ad nauseum they're opposed to the Northern Irish backstop. This, for readers who can't be blamed for tuning out the finer details of the Brexit process, is the guarantee that the north will remain in a customs union with the Republic and, therefore, the EU in the event of the EU/UK not securing a trade deal and settling the future relationship after the transition/implementation period has expired. This is due to last 21 months from our putative exit from the EU on 29th March. Hence, as May rightly points out, her deal and her backstop is an insurance policy and probably isn't going to happen - though there are plenty of idiot bankbenchers, including Boris Johnson, who want a deal sorted as quickly as possible and are opposed to the transition lasting any length of time.

That's for another time. As far at the EU are concerned, the backstop is insurance for the economy of the Irish Republic. As the EU member state more dependent on the UK economy than any other, effectively remaining in an economic union with the north protects if from the worst of a no-trade-deal scenario, though barriers to trade with the British mainland would prove onerous. The EU are insisting on this, and as May refuses to accept a customs union for the whole of the British Isles, we have a fudge in which Northern Ireland might be placed outside of the UK, economically speaking. Here's why the DUP can hardly be described as fans (though they're happy for the North to remain separate from the rest of the UK for other reasons), and ditto for other Tories for whom the constitution of their state is sacrosanct - as long as it continues to defend their interests.

Houston, we have a problem. Because May caved to the right on no customs union, we have a compromise where the EU will only accept this if Northern Ireland remains in the customs union as insurance. Which is unacceptable to the Brexiteers. What May giveth with one hand the ERG try and take with the other. If May, however, was to accept an all-Britain customs union as insurance and the basis for a Brexit deal, which is Labour's position, then the Irish backstop will go away. What's not going to happen is May disappearing the backstop after tea and tiffin in Number 10, no matter the smiles, or how courteous and charming the ERG's ambassadors. The EU won't accept it, and it cannot get through the Commons. Therefore an ERG Brexit deal is foreclosed, and the route to one lies through a customs deal Brexit, be it something bespoke like Labour's or the Norway option, which is attracting attention on the Tory and Labour backbenches. Unfortunately for May, as Steve Baker made clear earlier today, a customs union means a split in the party - though it is worth remembering there's really no such thing as a Tory rebel, as last night's no confidence vote reminds us.

There then is Theresa May's big crunch. If no deal is to be avoided and the Tory party once again fulfils its historical vocation as the vehicle for Britain's business interests, it takes the sensible route and suffers a permanent schism with its wrecking tendency. If it no deals, the party underlines its isolation from the rising generation of voters, suffers a split with its more moderate figures and, crucially, makes the decisive break with the bulk of British business and bourgeois interests. A painful couple of months for Theresa May and the Tory faithful then, but an agonising fate so richly and justly deserved.


Speedy said...

"a pair of undistinguished suits from Labour's past that have been wasting their time speaking to the Prime Minister"

Didn't you vote for one of them the first time around? And isn't she the only one trying to achieve some kind of parliamentary cross-party consensus?

And they are both younger than Jeremy Corbyn.

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

"And it's a matter of coincidence it aligns with the hedge fund and disaster capitalist interests that have an intimate and constitutive relationship with the ERG faction."

Careful, they'll be calling you a coincidence theorist.

Anonymous said...


Corbyn fully supported Cooper's successful recent amendment, and whipped Labour MPs to vote for it.

She and the other Labour people who met May confirmed that the PM was not willing to budge on anything significant, and that the whole exercise had been a waste of time. They also agreed with Corbyn that "no deal" has to be taken off the table to get anywhere.

Maybe you could direct your ire where it is actually deserved.

Just for once.