Baldrick's plan

7 July 2018

So now we know. In May’s cunning plan, Brexit never meant Brexit, or anyhow not as most people understood it. To quote at length from my last post, Three-in-one,

"Half of…the respondents to YouGov’s “Second Anniversary” poll, published 23 June…agreed that it would be illegitimate for MPs to vote against Brexit going ahead (vs 29% to the contrary); and 45% agreed that there should not be a second referendum (vs 37%). When it comes to details of negotiating outcome, 44% of respondents replied that staying in the single market would not honour the referendum result (vs 31%); 42% said the same about concessions on the border with Ireland (also vs 31%); as did 39% about freedom of movement (vs 36%). Ardent campaigning for the Customs Union has not so much obtained traction as blown smoke (35% each way as to it honouring the referendum result, with 29% don’t know)."

Apologists for the Chequers outcome will argue that it honours the last sentence in the quote above: public sentiment on the Customs Union. In the event, the text of the announcement recalls Corbyn’s manifesto last year - sweeties for every kiddie. As then, the snags are transparent, for example:

On past form, the “regulatory flexibility” on services in (b - these are references to subparagraphs on pp2-3 of HMG’s document) will be objectionable to the EU as “cherry-picking” and as opening up stalking horses for smuggling and so on, especially regarding (c) the Northern Ireland border. 

The independent trade policy as (e) will prove somewhere between hard and impossible to negotiate, as the UK will lack scope to offer concessions on “agri-goods”.

The legislative autonomy described in (f) and (g) is notional for trade in goods, as well as any concessions elsewhere granted down the road.

The end of free movement of (i) is contradicted by the “mobility framework” of (j).

-o-

The questions arise: what does it tell us that the Cabinet Brexiteers have accepted such a porridge; and that May has pushed it?

It seems that the Brexiteers have either been unable to sell the “Nike tick” economic argument, or declined to do so yesterday. If the latter, we may entertain all sorts of speculations about them holding their fire for a better occasion, or against Europe’s dismissal of May’s stance. Meanwhile, however, they look awfully like they have been rolled up. May is putting them in the wrong by reasserting collective responsibility and Brussels is now most likely to take advantage of her lack of ambition, chipping away on services, regulation and jurisdiction.

I gather that as I speculated in my last post, May has indeed kept back-channels to Barnier open throughout these negotiations. This is no hanging offence - rather, sensible practice. I also learn that both sides were waiting for a change in the national mood, failing which May has had to rely on the well-timed orchestrations from manufacturing exporters. This tells us that she was never persuaded by the economic argument for Brexit; or flinches from the frictional dislocation. How Trumpian!

Which takes us to the US President’s visit next week. If he attempts to change the weather by repeating the remarks of his ambassador, Woody Johnson, that we should “stop being defeatist about Brexit”, this will go down as well as Obama’s threat to place us at the “back of the queue”. However well-meant, no-one relishes the attentions of the playground bully.

-o-

In 1953, the East Germans demonstrated against their rulers, leading Bertolt Brecht to joke (I think it was a joke) in Die Lösung (The Solution) that the government might do best to elect a new people. Many voters are going to feel that this is what has just happened. Now for the upshot. By way of background, the quarter-century coinciding with my early life took the form of a low-level civil war between the Trade Unions and the public. This was kicked off in the fifties (anyone remember Peter Sellers’ I’m all right, Jack?) and settled bloodily in the early eighties by the miners’ strike. Now I’m bracing myself for more of the same.

The results to be expected from the Chequers document are conditions both worse than those before the referendum and failing to honour it. This foreshadows continued disharmony. It is of the essence of democracy that voters’ decisions be taken seriously by their representatives. Where not, trust breaks down and populism flourishes. How is this other than Hillary’s “deplorables” or Thornberry’s “white-van man”? I regret that we are amid a failure of political nous and leadership, with consequences set to cloud the outlook as far as we can see. Well done, Baldrick!