Thursday 24 December 2020

The Shite Before Christmas

The Tory press called it an early present for the UK, while in his presser Keir Starmer said the new Brexit deal was "thin". Truth be told, it should be known as the shite before Christmas. Boris Johnson might have a barrel full of fish under one arm and a 2,000 page document in the other, but this is truly a terrible deal compared to the status quo and one much worse than might otherwise have been the case. Like, say, if Labour were in government or sundry remain MPs in the indicative vote process had voted for a closer relationship with the EU instead of their second referendum fantasy. Let's not dwell on the past, though, and unwrap the rancid-smelling gift the Prime Minister has left under the tree.

For an economy weakened by austerity, ravaged by Coronavirus, and heavily dependent on services (comprising some 80% of UK economic activity), the new deal makes it more difficult to sell them into the European Union. There will be delays to British exports into the single market as goods become subject to origins checks. There is the added paperwork, and the logistical nightmare of digesting the new rules and complying before the new year - a recipe for more waiting. And at the end of it, for what benefit? So Tory ministers can jet around the world signing bilateral trade deals replicating existing EU trading terms, and the government gets to exercise their "sovereignty" without the staying hand of the European Court. Except, they don't. For all the guff about standards and regulatory divergence, the UK must abide by and match EU standards if it wants to carry on selling stuff. Which, as Johnson helpfully reminded us, amounts to £650bn/year. Likewise, continuity in the security relationship between the UK and EU is premised upon the Tories' continued commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. Infringe this and the UK are kept at greater arm's length.

With this trade deal negotiated in record time there are bound to be some howlers and frights awaiting in its pages, and these are going to stoke the political fires well into the new year. Indeed, the Commons ratification of the treaty on 30th December might be fun even if proceedings are entirely by Zoom. And this is what matters; the politics. For Johnson this is the promise fulfilled. It doesn't matter how bad the deal is, he can guarantee the rightwing chatterers and broadcasting's client hacks will talk up the achievement and faithfully relay his lines when things go awry, or those nasties emerge from the deal's text. This is the deal he secured in the face of opposition from within parliament, opposition from within business, and has kept the faith all the way through the pandemic. The 2019 Tory manifesto didn't promise much because this was the centrepiece. Johnson has delivered Brexit, despite the grifting whingeing of Nigel Farage. For a man who compulsively lies, for millions of voters who supported the Tories a year ago he has kept his word.

Now the immediate issue is whether the deal clears the Commons, which is virtually certain. Labour aren't about to oppose it, as confirmed by Keir Starmer this evening, and nor are the European Research Group and their allies. Interviews with the likes of Andrew Bridgen and Craig Mackinlay finds them coy about the "devil in the detail", and well-known stroppy bod Steve Baker has spent the evening sanguinely tweeting the Tory party's self-congratulations. They might prefer a no deal because of the interests at stake, but allowing Johnson his moment now and not being seen to jeopardise the Brexit "project" trumps any rebellion in the Commons next week. Besides, what is done can be undone in the fullness of time.

How about the Tory vote itself, and those Johnson flattered and patronised a year back for their conditional Brexit votes? Will the deal finally break the polling logjam and start the slow bleed back of Tory supporters to Labour. Is politics going to return to "normal"? No one can say with certainty, but as predicting the outcome of social relationships is a probabilistic game, I'm going to suggest the answer is ... nyet. The remainers can bang on about what has been lost, but thanks to the pandemic the Tory base aren't fussed by the disappearance of free movement into the EU, they're not going to be bothered about the job losses or wage freezes because it mostly does not affect them, and where goods are held up it will be a minor inconvenience. So what if they can't get Spanish strawberries in the middle of Winter? As far as they're concerned nothing changes and they will feel vindicated in their decision. Perhaps a Labour strategy based on economic radicalism could reach some who switched in 2019, but remember, Brexit is a symptom of the polarisation in British society as a whole. Or, to be more precise, helped catalyse the manifestation of two poles in politics. As long as this persists, it's hard to see significant numbers of Tory voters folding over into the Labour camp. Cue pundits scratching their heads wondering why Keir Starmer's patriotism offensive etc. stubbornly refuses to work.

Johnson might be secure for now, but here's the other problem. Brexit isn't done. It will never be done. The details, difficulties, and damages inflicted by the deal might fade into the background and become one for the geeks in the same way the EU was before Dave recklessly gambled and lost, but we've seen how a fringe issue can blow up into popular consciousness. There is a grievance narrative ready to be composed by the likes of Farage and the Brexiteers looking to carve out a long-term position for themselves, and there are opportunities too for continuity remain around the fringes. The problem, as the last 10 years have taught us, is how these niche issues can become mobilising issues if the media run with them. And so this Christmas we are waving goodbye to five years worth of fraught and frustrating politics, but the wind about the door and the chill in the air carries one thing: the ghost of Brexit consequences to come.


drew said...

Quite right. Day one of the foreverwar. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia

JonnyC said...

Feels like a lame rom-com where the ERG and FBPE finally get it together in the final scene.

Unknown said...

Well said! What a never-ending disaster!!

Dipper said...

Game Set and Match to Boris. Brexiteers were clear in what we wanted, and we got the whole lot. David Davies has taken a lot of crap these last few years, but he was absolutely correct - the car makers and other interests would give us a deal.

The EU is now going to move so far in a federal direction it will become extremely hard for the UK to rejoin.

Merry Xmas all, and here's looking forward to a fantastic vaccinated 2021.

Unknown said...

It will be the gift that keeps giving even if there are 1200 pages to cover off what's in the agreement. Remember not one economic assessment by government or august authoritative organisations said exiting the EU Single Market and Customs Union concluded it was in the UK's best interest.

Blissex said...

«Game Set and Match to Boris. Brexiteers were clear in what we wanted, and we got the whole lot.»

It is actually brexit champion Keir Starmer who got the whole lot, because all that Johnson did was to follow obediently Keir Starmer's official brexit policy:

Labour wants to get Brexit done. We want the government to succeed in securing a deal in the national interest and to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Like the rest of the country, we want to move on from Brexit and see the UK making future trade deals across the world.

Boffy said...

"Brexiteers were clear in what we wanted, and we got the whole lot. David Davies has taken a lot of crap these last few years, but he was absolutely correct - the car makers and other interests would give us a deal."

Absolute nonsense. The EU never blinked, and as on every previous occasion, it was Britain that capitulated, because they knew that a No Deal would be immediately catastrophic.

The basic truth of the deal.

1) NI in the EU indefinitely, with a border down the Irish Sea. Not what Brexiters wanted or promised.

2) Britain as a whole tied to the Single Market and its regulations indefinitely. Not what the Brexiters wanted or promised) And,

a) Britain has to abide by those rules but now with no say in determining them,

b) Britain has had to stay in some regulatory bodies, for which it will pay more than it did as a member, whilst for those its not in, it does not get equivalence, and now has to bear the cost of running those bodies on its own,

c) That only gets Tariff free trade on the less than 20% of its economy involved in material production, but i) still means trade frictions in regulatory border checks etc., and ii) no provisions for the 80% of the economy involved in service industry.

d) Britons lose all the benefits of free movement etc.

3) Britain gets to do its own trade deals, but the ones it has done only replicate those it had with the same countries as an EU member. As a small economy, the UK cannot negotiate from the same position of strength that the EU did with those other countries, which is why Britain will get worse terms in any of these future trade deals.

4) because of the UK's signing up to Single Market regulations, any trade deals will be highly constrained to comply with the Single Market rules on country of origin.

5) Britain collapsed even on fishing.

None of what the brexiters and lexiters promised has been achieved, nor could it have been. It is BRINO, but still one that Labour should oppose. This saga will continue for years until Britain rejoins, as the reactionaries die out. They didn't go away after they lost in 1975, nor will Remainers go away today, especially as they are in a clear majority, and history is on their side.

Blissex said...

Whatever the merits of the deal, one political consequence is clear: Keir Starmer and his New, New Labour have succeeded in their goal to completely co-"own" hard brexit with BXP and Conservatives, and he has positioned New, New Labour as a 100% hard "Leaver" party for electoral purposes, even if 60-70% of members and voters are "Remainers". But they have nowhere else to go, and if they go, to be replaced by tory "Leavers", I guess the "new leadership" will be quite pleased.

What is amazing is that the same mainstream media who were screaming at Corbyn for campaigning vigorously but not vigorously enough for "Remain" and then accepting soft-"Leave", and "betraying" that 60-70% of members and voters who had actually accepted the soft-"Leave" compromise, are now making no noise about Keir Starmer's committed and loud turn to hard-"Leave".

Dipper said...

2 Boffy

thanks for that. More Christmas cheer.

1. When we export to the EU we have to follow their regulations. They determine those regulations. Exactly the same as exporting to literally every other country on the planet. I have no wish to make their regulations for them.

2. Britain collapsed on fishing? Of course. The losing side is investing £100million on new infrastructure. The winning side is compensating fisherman €30K each. Some loss.

Will you campaign to rejoin the EU no matter what? single currency? Unlimited immigration (well, limit of 500,000,000) plus large amount of money per week? At least we can get some of our fish back. Oh hang on. Good luck with that campaign.

Boffy said...

"he has positioned New, New Labour as a 100% hard "Leaver" party for electoral purposes, even if 60-70% of members and voters are "Remainers". But they have nowhere else to go, and if they go, to be replaced by tory "Leavers", I guess the "new leadership" will be quite pleased."

But, clearly they do have somewhere else to go! Starmer's hard Brexit position will not win over Tory Leavers, or win back the handful of actual Labour Leavers. It will piss off millions of young Labour Remain voters, as well as the Liberal and Green, and Plaid votes that lent Labour their votes in 2017. All the latter will either go to thee other parties, or else simply abstain, as happened in 2019.

Labour has no chance of winning seats in Scotland or Wales on this basis, as well as in large parts of England that back Remain. So Starmer has condemned Labour to opposition for at least the next generation. His Popular Front with Boris Johnson to defend reactionary nationalism, means that Scotland will almost certainly push ahead with independence, making it difficult to see how Labour could ever win an election ever again.

Totally disastrous and insane populism that results ironically in a condition of perpetual minority. As for members, why would they tolerate this for long. This is not the 1980's, when the Labour movement went into a period of passivity and retrenchment induced by the defeats resulting from the onset of a long wave stagnation. Probably sooner rather than later, as interest rates rise driven by astronomical levels of borrowing, asset prices will crash. Even with the depressing effects of Brexit, capital will need to invest in new production. In fact, Brexit means a shift from large capital to more labour intensive smaller capital, which pushes up wages, and pushes down profits, whilst depressing living standards due to lower productivity. That in itself means higher interest rates and crashing asset prices.

It creates conditions where conflicts between labour and capital are heightened, and political solutions are required. Starmer will not have the answers, and so the creation of some alternative becomes inevitable be it, the rank and file taking back control of the party, and the right splitting, or else the creation of some new party, by tens of thousands of activists, backed by trades unions, much as happened with European social-democracy, at the end of the 19th century.

Boffy said...

"When we export to the EU we have to follow their regulations. They determine those regulations. Exactly the same as exporting to literally every other country on the planet."

Not just in relation to exports. Britain has signed up to Single Market standards and regulations, and that applies to goods circulating inside the UK market, or else their could be no level playing field. For example, if Britain imported US chlorine washed chicken or other substandard food at lower prices that would create an unfair advantage, as well as risking those products getting into the manufacturing process and finding their way into NI supermarkets or the Single market, so its not allowed.

Of course, I would campaign for re-entry including membership of single currency and open borders. A single currency is inevitable for a unified state. I would also campaign for wages and benefits and conditions to be equalised across Europe to the highest level, which goes a long way to undermining all the scare mongering by Brexiters about 500 million immigrants. The UK labour movement should argue for that even outside the EU, to prevent Tories turning UK into an even lower wage economy, to offset the negative effects of Brexit.

I would campaign for a democratisation of the EP, making it a sovereign body replacing the Commission and Council of Minsters, as part of creating a federal United States of Europe, on the way to a United Socialist States of Europe brought about by a unified European working-class.