May’s Cabinet nominally approved the 585
page document on withdrawal from the EU. It is no surprise that
subsequently her Ministers have begun to bolt, as her scheme fails to deliver
what the country voted for, specifically:
provides for a transition period which runs the risk of indefinite extension
and expenditure - page 207, Article 132.
maintains an adjudicative role for the ECJ, in particular as to the thorny
issue of the Northern Irish “backstop” - page 340, Article 6, Para 3.
political declaration, also published overnight, confirms May’s
intention to remain in a de facto customs union with the EU, which would
prevent trade agreements with third parties - page 1, Part II, Economic
May is in many
respects an admirable woman: she has a palpable sense of duty and remarkable
tenacity. But either her inclinations as a reluctant leader of a process to
which she fundamentally objected, or her failings as a negotiator mean that she
has been rolled up by Barnier and his thousand Lilliputian threads. We can’t be
certain that she won’t pull her unfortunate scheme off, but it’s more likely
that failure will have its own reward.
On the other
hand, those of a leave cast of mind will benefit from a few moments of ruthless
honesty. Let’s face it: Brexit is failing. Why is that? Let’s go back to
basics: the EU is a political project, whose purpose we must admire - peace in
Europe. Many Remainers take such inspiration from this objective that it blinds
them to all else. Never mind that the EU’s methods – political, economic and
social entanglement - have become controversial all round. That doesn’t take
away from their effectiveness: not just the bread and butter of integrated
supply-chains, but “freedom to live, work and love”. And Leavers haven’t done
enough to honour the idealistic objective while taking exception to the
downside of the methods: mangled accounting, reckless decision-making and a
fundamental democratic deficit.
let the economic argument get hijacked by the UK’s manufacturers. On this
subject, no-one takes the Treasury seriously but it’s harder to overlook
earache from honest-to-goodness employers. It’s turned out tricky to make the
argument that industry’s natural preference for the status quo doesn’t
justify tying down the rest of us: “fuck business” was never going to win
prizes in debate club, let alone charm school. Professor
Patrick Minford, Martin
Howe QC and Shanker
Singham have done their bit at the intellectual end of the game
(click on each for examples), but too many of their arguments have blushed
unseen. Brexiteers should have done better.
months ago, my countrymen voted against the EU’s methods. May has made a bish
of fulfilling their intentions: she has failed to rise above the entanglements
and thrown in with a manufacturers’ ramp. This last is all the more astonishing
given the evidence of an economy in fine fettle, already making its adjustments.
May is delivering the consequences of delinquent strategy, leaving us with five
- She pulls it off – possibly
with some cosmetic alterations. I can’t rule this out, but it looks like an
uphill climb. Her party seems to be turning on her and it’s hard to see the
Commons voting for her deal. In every other alternative she falls, possibly
within a matter of days: her intermittent rabbit-in-the-headlight demeanour at
the dispatch-box this morning and her press conference this evening gave
something of a sense that she knows that the jig is up.
- The Tories find a leader who
forms a new government. Setting aside the question of who the heck the new hero might be, conventional whipping and the renewed support of the DUP would give
the poor sod a week or two to set a course. But what would be the point,
unless the Government went back to Brussels with a far harder line? If they
did, it’s not clear they could carry the Commons - let alone the civil service
where a new broom might be tempted into something into along the lines of a
- The Tories bring in Corbyn
for a government of national unity. Coalitions are a hangman’s kit, but we know
Corbyn is no Remainer and possibly Labour would be seduced if they got the
ministries for their specialist subjects, health, education and welfare. This
could be squared as either the end of austerity or a counter-cyclical spree
against the expected shock of exit. Maybe the Tories could throw in Justice,
but not Home, Foreign, Treasury or the Brexit ministries. The payroll vote
might then bring in enough Labour MPs to swing the Commons arithmetic.
- An election. It is impossible
to speculate how that might go or even what the issues might be, with both
parties split on the issue of the day.
- Another referendum. This
isn’t quite the get-out-of-jail-free card which its promoters imagine. After
all, what is the question to be? If May’s out, then so is her deal. A rerun of
the 2016 question makes no sense - after all when does it end? best of three?
penalty shoot-out? And if voting for “hard” or at least “harder” Brexit, what’s
If a new
Government emerges, survives and can steel itself to a change of stance (and if
not, what’s the point?) it would face three problems:
- international reputation a new stance will have to counter accusations
of bad faith or placing the country in bad legal standing. There are answers to
this, but the government machine would have to get up a decent head of steam
with briefings to Chanceries around the world (possibly another reason for that
- mechanical sorting out contingency plans for no deal
with a will, ie, getting the civil service and industry to make it work.
Churchill had Beaverbrook to goose up production; he was a bit of a nit but
effective in his way. Who do you fancy? Luke Johnson? James Dyson? Tim Martin? Peter Thiel?
- domestic messaging accepting that no matter how bonny, babies
come with labour pains. Mandelson
is right (paywall): you can’t have frictionless trade with Europe
without regulatory juniority to Brussels. On the other hand, industry may be
entitled to regulatory certainty but this is not the same as stasis. Net, net,
it’s a matter of getting the “Nike tick” message out there. Get some of our
latter-day Saatchis onto it.
But first we
must navigate the next few days, the hinge upon which Brexit is to turn.
Earlier today, I filed my tax return online. This is never what you’d call fun, but
HMRC has developed a pretty user-friendly interface. Well done them, and a
signal of what can be achieved once you set your mind to it. Call me a
cock-eyed optimist, but I still want to believe that it is not beyond our
national talents to make a decent fist of Brexit. Heaven knows, the hour is