Saturday, 7 July 2018

Perfidious Albion

The charade at Chequers, yesterday, was just the latest attempt at deception by the Tory government. If there are any EU politicians, or soft Brexit supporters gullible enough to be taken in by it, I have a London Bridge I can sell them.

At every stage, we have been told that Theresa May has had to balance a range of conflicting interests; at every stage, May adopted a hard Brexit stance, initially formulated as “Brexit means Brexit”, and then set out as a series of “red lines”, which if they were adhered to would mean that only a hard Brexit, on WTO terms, and a collapse of the Good Friday Agreement, was possible; at each stage, on this basis of setting the scene of the impossibility of a deal, a deal was reached, on the basis of May rolling over, ignoring her red lines and accepting the EU's terms, but doing so on the basis of a vague and fudgeable set of words; at every stage, within days of the EU having given May the benefit of the doubt, in these agreements, she stabbed them in the back by again lining up with the Brextremists, to claim that the fudged words, in the agreement, meant the opposite of what everyone had accepted they meant when they signed the agreements; more recently, May used exactly that tactic in stitching up Dominic Grieve, and his supporters, in relation to their amendments over the requirement for a meaningful vote.

The current proposals are so convoluted and abstract that they simply represent the pinnacle of this process of systematic deceit. The reason May is led to adopt that strategy is that, when all is said and done, the objectives that are being sought are mutually exclusive. The EU representatives were right, at the beginning, when they said that the options were hard Brexit or no Brexit. But, the fact is that the Brextremists like Rees-Mogg, Cash, Bone et al, who have themselves correctly argued that line, are a minority, even within the parliamentary Tory Party, let alone MP's in general. Had they been a majority, which May might have hoped to achieve, when she called the General Election last year, they would have no need of these shenanigans; they would have just pushed through a hard Brexit. But, had that been the case, the kind of response seen from business, in the last few weeks, would have happened a year ago, the Pound would have tanked, UK bond, share and property markets would have crashed, and it would have been that reality that the Brextremists would then have had to respond to.

Of course, May did not win the election. The Tories proposals for a hard Brexit were rejected by the electorate. Even in Tory strongholds like Kensington and Chelsea and Canterbury, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party won, as thousands of younger voters, Liberals, Greens, and even more progressive Tories recoiled in horror at the prospect of a hard Brexit. That made May's job of pushing through a hard Brexit, and sticking by her red lines, even harder; hence the continual process of deception.

The agreement, yesterday, has several purposes, and the fact that none of the Brextremists walked out is instructive. As with the deals done at previous stages, the first requirement is to be able to move forward to the next stage of the process. Given that May has no majority that means a requirement for a deal that both the Brextremists and their opponents can live with. Had May come up with proposals for a hard Brexit, she would not have got it through parliament. The EU, of course, could accept a hard Brexit. Other than it would break apart the Good Friday Agreement. From the EU's perspective, a hard Brexit would clarify things; it would mean that they could simply treat Britain like any other third country, such as India, Mexico or Brazil.

The Brextremists make a big play out of the fact that the EU do not want a hard Brexit, because it would mean that Britain would renege on the £40 bn. that it owes to the EU, and that it would disrupt UK-EU trade. That's true, but the effect on the UK would be devastating. If the UK reneged on the £40 bn. it owes, ultimately this is insignificant to the $18 trillion EU economy, but, it would mean that the EU would immediately exclude the UK from all of the 40 EU bodies the UK currently has access to, as a result of that payment. The consequence of that would be that UK airspace would be closed down, the movement of radioactive isotopes, required in the health service, would stop, UK flagged aircraft would be grounded, everything covered by the certification of EU regulatory bodies would cease to be covered, and that is before all of the chaos at UK ports etc. is considered. Then there is the secondary effects of businesses leaving Britain to set up in the EU, as indicated in the last few weeks.

Its worth keeping this in mind, because the reality remains that there are only two options – hard Brexit or no Brexit.

Why have the Brextremists not walked away from this deal, which all of the media commentators are presenting as BRINO (Brexit in name only)? The answer is simply. They know that to move forward, May has to neutralise the Grieves, Soubrys and co., who in any case have shown themselves to be RINOS (Rebels in name only). The Brextremists know that, so long as May gives the RINOS a form of words that appears to provide for a soft Brexit, they will buy it.

The RINOS and the EU politicians should ask themselves the question, especially given the history of the last two years, if this agreement has not provoked resignations from Bojo, Davis, Fox and co., is it relly what it purports to be? What discussions actually took place in the secret enclaves of Chequers, with the mobile phones taken away, and so on?

For the Brextremists, having presented this agreement as BRINO, but yet, which they have been so amenable as to sign up to, they hope that the RINOS will then ensure it has safe passage. They then hope that the EU will reject the proposals. The narrative of the Brextremists is already being disseminated. Their spinners, like Alex Deane, appear on TV and say, “You see, we bend over backwards and offer the EU the softest of all Brexits and they still reject it, which shows they have no interest in negotiating a deal with us.” It's interesting that many of these Brextremists are also increasingly aligning themselves with, and becoming the apologists of Trump, which puts Brexit, and this ideological trend, in its wider international context. Of course, when the Brextremists make this argument, about the EU not really wanting to negotiate a deal, they don't seem to realise that this contradicts their other claim that the EU is desperate to avoid the UK leaving via a hard Brexit!

The EU has every reason to reject the proposals that May is putting forward. It amounts to nothing more than a repetition of the same proposals based on magical thinking they have put forward before. If the EU does reject the proposals, the Brextremists will demand that May walks away, and because Labour has so far failed to put up a resolute opposition to Brexit, whilst the RINOS capitulated over the requirement for a meaningful vote, whilst parliamentary politics stops during the Summer, the reality will be that the Brextremists will be in a position to push through their hard Brexit by default.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29th March 2019. Under the conditions above, parliamentary politics would not really start again until October, after all of the party conferenes. Take out the break for Christmas and New Year,a nd there is little more than four months to arrive at some deal to avoid catastrophe. What is in the mind of the Brextremists is clear. They continue to have the mindset in which the rest of the world must bend its knee to Britain. They hoped to use Northern Ireland that way. Their original plan for having cake and eating it was that Britain would leave the EU, but would continue to have the same rights of access as before, on the basis that the EU would have to grant that as the only way of avoiding a hard border in Ireland. They still put that idea forward, saying that, in a hard Brexit, Britain would not erect a border, so as to force the Republic to have to do so.

Now they think that, with utter chaos about to ensue, after March 29th, the EU would be forced to give Britain what it wants. But, as set out earlier, whilst that chaos would be inconvenient for the EU, in that it would disrupt its trade and communications with Britain, it would be immediately devastating to Britain, as even the Brexit Department's belated analysis recently showed. The Brextremists do not really seem to have grasped the reality of the world in which they live. Outside the EU, the UK is a rival power. The EU will not want to completely destroy the UK, but it will have every reason to weaken it by every means possible, so as to subordinate it. This is not just the way global politics works, it is the way capitalism itself works, every day in the relation between competing businesses.

Rather than conceding to the Brextremists demands, in the event of a hard Brexit imposing devastation on Britain, the EU is more likely to offer to ride to the rescue by offering fast re-entry into the EU on its own terms. Britain would have to give up all of its current concessions, join Schengen, and adopt the Euro. This, in any case, is the path that Brexit, hard or soft, leads to in the end.

But, the Brextremists have not walked out because they calculate that, even if the EU does not reject May's proposal, the contents of such a deal enable them to blow it up after Brexit. The deal requires the UK parliament to agree to any changes that the EU introduces relating to the customs arrangements. Its hard to see why the EU would agree to a non-EU country being able to hold it hostage in that way. But, if the EU does sign a deal on that basis, then, after Brexit, a Brextremist government could simply refuse to agree to any new EU customs proposals, blowing up the deal, and thereby bringing about the desired hard Brexit.

The real goal of the Brextremists has been to go along with anything, say anything, do anything that enables the Brexit date of 29th March 2019 to come and go, so that Britain is officially out of the EU. That is why they were so intent on having that date written in stone on the EU Withdrawal Bill. After that point, whatever deals have been done to get to it, whatever promises have been made, they will all be torn up, as the Brextremists push through a hard Brexit. After March 29th 2019, unless Brexit I stopped, the Brextremists will be able to do what they want – and they will. That is why we have to stop Brexit.

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