Wednesday 20 March 2019

An Authoritarian Without Authority

Brexit is deep in logic denying territory. It's almost as if events are actively gaslighting those paying close attention to them, so let us consider the events of the last few days in an effort to keep hold of our collective sanity.

Over the weekend, May indicated she planned on dragging her deal back to the Commons for the third time. Again, having learned nothing from the fourth and the all-time worst defeats ever inflicted on a government, she thought it would be a simple task to to table it again. There were also indicators from some hard leavers, like Esther McVey, that they were prepared to stomach her deal because it was the nearest to their idea of Brexit they were ever going to get. And the possibility of the DUP changing their minds thanks to more Northern Ireland cash was talked up in an effort to create a buzz, or at least an impression of movement. Why? In the hope of shunting a few Labour MPs in the direction of the deal too.

And then John Bercow happened.

The government protesting against his "ambush" is, as with all things the Tories say about their opponents, completely disingenuous. At the very beginning of the meaningful vote process the Speaker plainly and bluntly stated the government would not be allowed to keep bringing the same deal back after its defeat, as per the rules of the parliamentary rule book, Erskine May, and upheld on several occasions since 1604. In fact, by allowing it to come back a second time you might argue the Speaker has shown considerable leeway and generosity. To get around this, the government have to do more than just find another form of words. They could put forward their deal with Labour's second referendum amendment, or negotiate something different. Instead, they have threatened to refuse Bercow a peerage - the second time this pathetic threat has been aired - and proceeded as the Speaker hadn't ruled on the matter, talking up other obscure parliamentary routes to circumvent the Speaker's authority. Bizarre.

Well, Theresa May might consider Bercow's statement beneath her notice but Donald Tusk certainly didn't. Her letter formally requesting an extension to the Article 50 process to 30th June is, like everything else, subordinate to Tory party management. At this afternoon's Prime Minister's Questions the point was reiterated. The truth of the matter is she fears participating in the European elections for reasons other than their being an utter farce. Her concern is an insurgent force to the Tories' right, be it UKIP or Farage's vanity vehicle, not just taking seats but sticking a great bloody crowbar into her party's widening divisions. Nevertheless, Tusk's reply - Delphic as always - suggested the EU would be receptive at giving this deal more time if there was a plan and a positive vote attached to it. Nothing on what they are prepared to do to avoid no deal, nor ruling out the possibility of someone else coming to them with something else.

And typically of May this bounced right off her tin ear. In her appeal "over the heads" of parliamentarians, she obviously thinks if Farage and, to a lesser extent, Jeremy Corbyn can do the populist thing she might as well have a go. As a number of folks have pointed out, opposing "the people" to parliament is not a good idea, especially when the political mood is febrile and, lest we forget, last time matters were at fever pitch a MP was murdered. Who, apart from the unhinged fools who spend all day every day outside of Westminster shouting "traitor!" at passing MPs or the grizzled loner dreaming of getting their hands on a "traitorous" member is this sort of rhetoric supposed to appeal to? May is past caring. As an authoritarian lacking all authority, there is nothing she won't say, nothing out of bounds if she thinks it will serve her ridiculous ends. Up to and including dog whistling political violence.

The more things change the more they stay the same. In May's mind, her inflexibility and rigidity demonstrates resilience and leadership, when in fact it's a symptom of weakness and an unwillingness to face up to political realities. A deal can be done. Labour's customs union approach, or the similar scheme hawked around by Nick Boles (who, nevertheless, has voted for May's deal twice and probably will do so again) has a greater chance of getting through the Commons - especially if May whipped for it in a 'it's-this-deal-or-remain' scenario. But she isn't about to do that because the tenuous unity just about keeping the Tories together would be torn asunder. Still, she has today allowed a glimpse of her Plan B. Assuming the EU grant an extension, which is likely seeing as the Irish Republic are desperate to avoid a calamitous Brexit, but May's deal is rejected again and again, those are three months in which disgraced minister Liam Fox potters around the world signing continuity trade deals (this week Liechtenstein, next week Andorra?), three more months of Brexit contingency planning, and three more months to sort out side deals on the down low with the EU to keep things going after exit day. She won't get her deal, but she will be the Prime Minister who more or less kept her party together, produced Brexit and, with it, controls on immigration. Damn all the rest - to her own satisfaction she will have delivered her political objectives: the cracked promises she began her blighted premiership with.


1729torus said...

The Tories have imported the tactics employed by the DUP (and the UUP before them) into mainstream British politics. Unionist politicians were notorious for rightwing dogwhistling.

The EU and Ireland are pretty much as prepared as they could be for No Deal. Unlike London, they had been preparing since 2016. Ireland had been diversifying its economy since David Cameron announced a possible referendum back in 2013.

Three more months would be of little benefit to the EU27, since anything that could have been done in the additional 90 days has been done already.

Hence why the EU is basically saying they are only interested in extending the UK's membership of the Single Market and Customs Union for at least 9 months, whether as part of an A50 extension or the transition period.

Of course the EU knows the UK on the other hand could desperately do with 90 more days, which gives the EU a lot of leverage to set terms for an extension.

Don't discount the possibility that the EU simply shoves the UK out the door though. Brexit is clogging up the EU's political system.

The most likely outcome is that the EU and the UK agree to a 9 month extension subject to the condition that the UK holds a general election by the end of June.

Boffy said...

"A deal can be done. Labour's customs union approach, or the similar scheme hawked around by Nick Boles (who, nevertheless, has voted for May's deal twice and probably will do so again) has a greater chance of getting through the Commons - especially if May whipped for it in a 'it's-this-deal-or-remain' scenario."

Except a deal cannot be done, for the reason you then state,

"the tenuous unity just about keeping the Tories together would be torn asunder."

In reality, May's deal, as John Heeley admitted last week is identical, in practice to Labour's proposal, because it means keeping the UK in the Customs Union and Single Market indefinitely, because no solution to the Irish Border question is possible unless that continues to be the case. As Heeley said, Labour has no argument with May's Withdrawal Agreement, because in practice it is identical - as I also said some time ago - with Labour's position. The only difference is Labour's insistence on a political statement that commits to being in the Customs Union and close to (whatever that means) the Single Market.

But, ist precisely that that the Tory rank and file, by a majority of 80% to 20% will never agree to, and is why they even reject May's Deal, let alone Labour's requirement to codify in treaty that commitment to the CU and SM. Moreover, Labour do not just call for membership of the CU and SM, but ridiculously demand to have a seat at the table, whilst negotiating independent trade deals, rejecting free movement and so on, which the EU could never agree to.

So, any deal that might be stitched upi in parliament would fall at the first hurdle because the EU will reject Labour's impossible demands. That would put us back to No Deal territory. Either that or, as with the equally ridiculous Common Market 2.0, EFTA EEA proposals, it would mean that Britain would have to accept being a rule taker, pay the subs, but have no seat at the table, a continuation of free movement and so on.

In which case, how on Earth is that any improvement on simply staying in the EU???