Monday, 6 January 2020

Predictions For 2020 - Prediction 1 – Brexit Does Not “Get Done”

Boris Johnson has two real options. Either, to get a deal done before the end of next year, he again capitulates to the EU, and accepts a Brexit In Name Only deal, whereby Britain essentially stays inside the Customs Union and Single Market, or agrees to indefinitely abide by their rules and regulations, or else he implements a No Deal Brexit that is simply deferred until the end of next year. He could try to negotiate a Managed No Deal, in the few months available, but the EU will resist that, insisting on the need to negotiate a deal. The markets would also resist that, and big business would apply increasing pressure against it, demanding the government negotiate a deal. Johnson cannot go for the crash out option, although the ERG and Tory base will want it, because he knows it would be such a disaster that his government, even with its majority, would fall. The requirement to “Get Brexit Done”, within the year, therefore, will create considerable pressure to just do a BRINO. Alternatively, Johnson will have to go for an extension of the Transition Period, which the EU will insist be for two years. Either way, Brexit does not get done inside the next year. 

The easiest option for Johnson is BRINO. He has already passed off his capitulation to the EU as being some kind of victory, in which he got them to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, and removed the Irish Backstop. Neither was true, he simply went back to Theresa May's original deal, offered by the EU, in which the border was placed down the Irish Sea. May couldn't get that accepted because she was beholden to the DUP, and people like Johnson, supported by the ERG, opposed her, for their own tactical purposes of removing her from office. Johnson has neutered the DUP, and even more so, now, with his parliamentary majority. The Tory Party, with its instinct for staying in government, will not want Johnson to appear to have failed. So, there will be huge pressure to pass off BRINO as being a marvellous deal, and the fulfilment of Tory election promises. 

The Faragists will complain, but the Grand Old Duke of York has led his army of disgruntled pensioners up the hill and back down again too many times now. For many of them, just Getting Brexit Done will translate into any deal that Johnson can pass off as having achieved that. The Spartans will act as the Faragists fifth column inside the Tory Party, but Johnson will dispose of them in a Night of the Long Knives, in the same way he disposed of the DUP, and of the Tory Remainers. Johnson has learned the lesson of other Bonapartists. Stalin in the 1920's, sided with Bukharin and the Right Opposition, to defeat his main opposition coming from Trotsky and the Left. By the 1930's, having destroyed the Left, Stalin then turned on his former allies on the Right, and destroyed them too. Hitler, used the Strasserites, and their support amongst the lumpen elements, and sections of the working-class, to put himself in power, and then liquidated the Strasserites. Johnson used the Tory Libertarians to destroy May, now he will destroy the Libertarians, and their support in the Tory associations. 

Johnson also knows that, with Labour in disarray, the Liberals having again destroyed themselves, and the SNP acting as a useful threat around which to rally English nationalism, he can probably rely on the sheer opportunism of the Labour Right, to come to his assistance. The right-wing Labour nationalists, and no doubt some of the Blair-rights, and soft lefts like Kinnock, will make the case for supporting any Brexit deal that Johnson brings forward. A BRINO gives them every excuse for doing so. So long as Johnson can rally the large majority of support for a BRINO, which his 80 seat majority makes it easier for him to do, then even if the ERG could muster 100 rebels to vote against it, Johnson needs only 20 or so Labour rebels to back him to get his deal agreed. Johnson must see that as eminently achievable, whereas a crash out would not only destroy his government, it would also provide a pole around which all opposition could again rally. 

Johnson can use BRINO to say that he has got Brexit done, whilst, in reality, all that would have happened would be that Britain would have remained inside the economic institutions of the EU, having given up its political input into those bodies. It is a totally ludicrous position to be in, and, eventually, even those that voted for Brexit would wake up to that fact. Effectively remaining inside the Common Market – which is what people like Farage originally said they wanted – means that, in a few years time, simply rejoining the EU itself becomes not only the obvious rational course of action, but relatively simple to do. It means that Britain would lose all of the advantages it currently enjoys in the EU, such as exemption from the Eurozone, Schengen and so on, but such is the history of all former great powers, as they try to cling on to former glory, and thereby even more rapidly go into decline, as they have to face reality. 

BRINO even allows Johnson to keep that option open for himself in a new incarnation. His plan, as outlined some years ago, was always to try to negotiate a better deal for Britain inside the EU. That won't happen, but, were Johnson to win another election, in five years time, having negotiated BRINO, it would be more than possible for him to orientate to a different electorate. In five years' time, with more of the Tory elderly voters having died off, and more young voters having replaced them, it becomes hard for the Tories to win without responding to those demographic changes. Johnson could shift position on Europe, thereby swallowing up all of the remaining Liberal voters. In effect, he would reverse the transition effected by Thatcher in the 1980's, during which the Tories went from being the main champion of Europe to becoming the champion of Euroscepticism. To do that, Johnson will have to show that his electoral strategy has not only worked in the short-term, but also works in the longer-term. He will have to move swiftly to neuter the opposition to his Right.

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