I’ve spent the last couple of years acutely aware that my predictions about brexit were comically off target. Writing in July 2016, i said:
This week the deadline seems to have stretch out to Article 50 definitely being triggered by the time of the General Election in 2020.
and, as the triggering of Article 50 occurred on March 29th 2017, that was very wrong.
The reasoning behind that statement was, i believe, essentially sound. The various constraints on the UK government made it highly unlikely that an advantageous negotiating position could be found. Those constraints:
- the indivisibility of the core EU four freedoms (goods, service, people, capital)
- the Good Friday Agreement’s requirement of an open border between northern and southern Ireland
- a desire to maintain the union (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
- a need to maintain open / tariff free trade with the EU
- the requirement to hold together a fractious Tory party
made it seem unlikely that anyone would be stupid enough to pull the trigger to start a race which can obviously not be won.
Since then the situation has become even more complex by the introduction of the biblically backward DUP into the mix.
In hindsight the obvious mistake was assuming that the Tory party would put country above party… that should have been obvious when David ‘trotters up’ Cameron called the referendum in the first place.
It has been my firmly held belief that no UK government would be capable of negotiating an advantageous deal for exiting the EU – the EU holds all the cards, and the UK civil service is hamstrung by the incompetence and tautological beliefs of the Tory party.
Where does this leave us with trying to understand what might happen with Perfidious Albion?
If we rule out a negotiated exit, and given the above we surely must, there are are only really two options left:
- crash (and burn) out of the EU on March 29th 2019, with the pyrrhic victory of not paying any settlement
- capitulation / humiliation of withdrawing the Article 50 notice, and remaining in the EU on existing / modified (EFTA, etc) terms
The first option would please / placate a small, but highly vocal, clique of Torys, but probably cause long term (economic / reputational) harm to the UK, rolling back the Good Friday Agreement, and maybe even cause the dissolution of the Union.
The second option would please… actually, that’s the wrong way to look at it. The second option would displease the same highly vocal clique of Torys, but allow the current arrangement of peace and (poorly distributed†) prosperity to continue.
[There are other short-term options, such as getting an extension on the Article 50 deadline, holding another referendum, etc, but in the end they’ll eventually lead back to the above two choices.]
I’m out of the predictions game – in many ways i no longer have a horse in this race. However, it still interesting to imagine how we ended up here..
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
As insufferable and parochial as Theresa May appears, it seems unlikely that she is stupid. Which obviously raises questions!
Having adopted brexit, and cleaved to childlike logic of “the will of the people” in a representative democracy, she called a General Election. This was done presumably with the hope of gaining a majority large enough to push through a form of brexit advantageous to the Tory party… there was some clue as to how that might look in the initial act for leaving the EU, and it was an executive branch power grab of the kind you’d expect from former Home Secretary May.
When the GE didn’t return a majority, and an agreement with the DUP, that option was off the table. With the “will of the people” fork in the road behind her, it was too late to change course. And from here on out it stops being an authoritarian’s wet dream, and becomes a farce.
The problem with content free phrases such as “will of the people” and “brexit means brexit” is that they inevitably take on a life of their own. Having no inherent meaning they can be bandied around, adding nothing to the discussion, with all sides assigning their own strongly held, magical thinking and *beliefs*. Politics becomes akin to theology.
At this point any rational person would have determined that brexit on terms determined by the UK government is not possible. And, getting the Tory party to accept this reality is equally unlikely. A rock and a hard place.
Admitting that the game is up, that it would be better to admit defeat than risk plunging the country into chaos, is essentially a resignation letter. Resigning too soon would risk giving one of the swivel-eyed loons the time to rally the Tory party around a plan to crash and burn over the white cliffs of Dover.
Better to labour (small L i can’t even begin to imagine what is going on there!) on refining a completely unacceptable, known bad, plan in order to limit an usurpers ability to influence the outcome. All the while bringing into sharp focus the consequences of the default choice. “Yes, to avoid starving to death we may need to return to rationing, but don’t worry we’ll put troops on the streets, and turn the south-east into a lorry park… it’ll be fine!”
All this smoke and mirrors in order to accept the inevitable and avert an entirely avoidable act of catastrophic self-harm.
Doubt we’ll ever know… maybe she really is that stupid. That will be easier to judge by the end of March next year.
† make no mistake, the main reason that the populist right has been able to whip up the frenzy of self-harm that has overcome the UK is the rolling back of post-WW2 consensus undertaken by Thatcher and Thatcher-lite (aka New Labour) and the subsequent inequality that engendered. The populist right has no plan, or intention, to reverse this inequality, only a desire to exploit it to further it’s own (scary) goals.