This time last year , most of which still stands and I won’t repeat it here. Since then, much has happened. Most obviously, another year has passed. That is not a trite observation, because ever since the invocation of Article 50 the passage and press of time has been the defining reality of Brexit.
Equally obviously, Britain has not left the EU, with the deadline now twice extended. That too is not a trite observation, given both the Brexiter promises of how easy leaving would be – remember and Theresa May’s adamantine insistence that 29 March 2019 would, incontrovertibly, be Brexit day. that 18 months would be “absolutely ample” for a “great deal” -
The clock is still ticking, which continues to matter and is soon going to be what matters most again. The current hiatus of the leadership contest perhaps makes politics seem more normal than it is. For although such contests are not an everyday event they do have a familiar shape, allowing the media to obsess about the odds of the ‘runners and riders’ and to revel in the skulduggery of the candidates’ tactics.
Normality masks crisis
That apparent normality obscures the extent to which Britain is in a very deep crisis, completely scrambled by Brexit. That is doubly unfortunate because apart from being misleading it is also a missed opportunity. Arguably, for all that the contest is a , it could, just conceivably, have been a chance to finally begin to get real about what Brexit means. When Rory Stewart, the only candidate for the leadership who even partially tried to do this, was knocked out earlier this week any such realism departed.
Stewart’s realism was only partial in that, in effect, he was seeking to resurrect May’s deal without properly addressing how that would get through parliament in the absence of another election or another referendum. But at least he was raising the important point that the idea of a substantive renegotiation of the Irish backstop is a fantasy, as well as important questions about .
With him gone, and the candidates now whittled down to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, even that small sliver of sense has departed. Their Brexit policies are not remotely realistic and differ only in that Johnson probably (though he has left himself the tiniest piece of wriggle room [£]) wants to leave the EU on 31 October come what may, whereas Hunt would be willing to countenance a short delay. Even that is enough to enrage the most extreme Brexiters, as Michael Gove found out on a radio phone-in today, when a caller (responding to his analogy for such a delay) said she would rather rip out her new kitchen, for want of the hob being delivered, than wait an extra couple of days.
But even if Hunt were to take the hardest of lines he would, in the new McCarthyism of Brexit, be forever damned for having once been a remainer. His ill-judged and distasteful ‘Soviet Union’ jibe at last year’s party conference did as little for his reputation amongst Brexiters as it did for his reputation full stop. Unless Johnson commits some massive gaffe – not impossible, by any means – Hunt has virtually no chance of being chosen by the Tory Party membership.
For a showed just how extreme a body it has become, with a majority willing to accept Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK, significant damage to the economy, and even their party being destroyed so long as Brexit is delivered – and 46% of whom would be happy if Nigel Farage became their leader. There’s a need for caution in interpreting this – such responses could just be a way of signalling strength of feeling about Brexit rather than the actuality of what those responding would accept – but, even so, it is remarkable.
The revolution continues to devour its children
But what is actually even more remarkable is the fact that the state of the Tory Party precludes Hunt (or for that matter Stewart, Javid and Hancock, had they made it this far) becoming its leader. For, recall, even the ‘softest’ of them, Stewart, advocates a deal in which the UK leaves the single market and customs union without further negotiation (whilst the others, including Hunt, seek re-negotiation with no deal as a possibility).
At the time of the Referendum Stewart’s would have been described as a hard Brexit position. Yet, now, . Even more remarkably, Michael Gove, one of the leading figures of the Vote Leave campaign, is as not being a true ‘Brexiteer’ at all. The obvious consequence of that claim, as , is that it means the referendum didn’t give a mandate for the Brexit of the true believers.
All of this is a further indication of the shift, , which has normalised no-deal Brexit as if it grew directly from the referendum result. Another version of the same claim is that because this means that they voted for no-deal, because that is what happens at the end of the Article 50 period if there is no deal.
That is pure nonsense, not just because a deal was promised but because there are other possible outcomes (extension, revocation), and it was the previous parliament anyway. So it is quite dishonest to pretend there is either a popular or a parliamentary mandate for no-deal Brexit (and if Johnson or anyone else pursues it, there will be ).
Same old lie, part 24
Honesty is in any case, as usual, in short supply. For the advocates of no deal have now brought to centre-stage , that offers a pain-free way of doing no-deal Brexit. It is a new version of the original referendum lie, which has dogged the entire process, that Brexit can be easy and costless. Johnson in the woeful TV debate last Tuesday, and the . The claim is that Article XXIV would allow the UK to continue with tariff- and quota-free trade with the EU for up to ten years if there is an agreement that that is the ultimate goal, even if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Yet that a not especially intelligent child could see it: Article XXIV relates to the implementation of an agreement in principle. If there is no such agreement, it is irrelevant. If there is a no-deal Brexit, there will be no such agreement. Therefore it is irrelevant. It’s also worth noting that, in any case, it would only relate to trade in goods, not services, and – which seems hardly remarked upon at all – it has nothing whatsoever to do with all the non-trade aspects of Brexit. Those, of course, are the subject of another logic-free proposition, based on the same flaw, that of the ‘managed no-deal’.
Taking a stand