12 June 2017
There’s enough doggy-doo for everyone, so let me admit my error in calling for the disastrous election. I must have imagined a crew which understood campaigning. More fool me. Otherwise, let’s not make too much of the last few days: these commentaries are not about domestic politics but Brexit. Even so, at present in particular the one patently bears upon the other.
First, the grand politics. May is irremediably damaged. A replacement would face identical problems but more credibly. So later this year. The Tories would be bonkers to call an election before new boundaries come in. So after the third quarter of 2018.
Now for the view from Brussels. Oddly enough, the very fact of the election turns the page sufficiently for all there now to get that Brexit is coming. Europeans are used to coalitions and will make little of May’s. Indeed if anything, they will take her position as a challenge to the extent that she uses it as a bargaining point - “I can’t sell that back home”.
And so to back home. Campaigners were paradoxically silent on Europe, so we have to combine a formulaic approach to manifestos with common sense. Ultras like Heseltine and Mandelson as well as - amending the US acronym - LINAs (that would be “leavers in name only”) like Soubry and Davidson have their tails up. They argue that the election mandated “soft Brexit”, ie, sticking with the single market and customs union. On its face, this is odd. The only campaigners for this, the Libdems and SNP, lost votes. Parties wanting to get out of both won an eighty-four percent share. Of course, Tom Watson wants out so he can introduce socialism in one country, but that’s mañana. And Labour did better where voters had previously gone for Remain, so expect them to trim.
Although the ‘22 has supported May, it is still fractious. It also includes ultras and LINAs. Davidson controls thirteen bonny MPs whom May must love up. Labour will remember enough of the “Pottery Barn” gibe after Iraq to dodge a Grand Brexit Committee. Instead it will look for common cause with enough Tory dissidents to defeat May. So what are Labour's Brexit priorities?
Its campaign made much of EU expats, but showed no enthusiasm for Brussels’ demand for appeals to the ECJ. Even so, some in the Shadow Cabinet seem willing to tolerate the Court’s jurisdiction elsewhere.
The €100m went largely unmentioned, but we may take it that Labour would be keener on anteing up for the deal they regard as essential.
They said nothing on the EEA or “Norway option” - smart as it combines the worst of both worlds in accepting EU tax and sovereignty, without any influence on either.
The major difference between the parties is that Hammond spoke of tax and regulatory reform, which Corbyn rejects. This bears more upon Hammond than May, whose instincts are if anything the other way. This puts the Chancellor on the spot to broker a deal with business (see below). It would be a partisan bonus if he could wrong-foot Corbyn as the defender of comfy insiders. But don’t bet on it.
May will find a breakdown in negotiations tricky: remember that Labour line about an essential deal. So her team must go beyond Parliament to persuade voters that the sky will not fall in if talks go awry and must exert itself to carry the country if diplomacy fails.
May has also been told to pay more attention to her party and the country. As to the former, she has maintained ministerial balance by keeping the three Brexiteers and recalling Gove (albeit to the poisoned chalice of Defra), while bringing in Grieve and keeping Hammond.
Beyond Parliament, May stiffed business for a year or so, abandoning its monthly talking-shop. Now she must listen. Business never wanted to leave but that ship has sailed; so too the single market and suchlike - as things stand. Business wants open-door immigration, now more likely; and transition, to which no one objects provided it doesn’t go on forever. There’s the deal for Hammond to broker.
Although LINAs and outright Remainers relish May’s setbacks, it is hard to understand why. Article 50 notice has been served. Macron is set to take Europe onward to its brave tomorrows, so Brussels is preparing to forget yesterday’s perennial malcontent. Unintended consequences indeed.