Thursday, 9 February 2017

Politics fail, costs rise

As predicted in my previous post, the government’s bill on triggering Article 50 was passed, overwhelmingly, without amendment yesterday. No amendment came close to succeeding – the nearest was amendment 110 which related to parliament being given a vote on the final deal. Here, rebellion from Tory backbenchers was bought off with the promise that there would be a vote – but immediately it was made clear that this would be a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, meaning that the choice would be between whatever had been negotiated or no deal at all. No deal at all would be so chaotic and disastrous that the vote would be meaningless. Even so, only a handful of Tory MPs rebelled – including, I’m pleased to say, my own MP, Heidi Allen. There’s no question that to have done so shows real courage, given what will undoubtedly have been intense pressure from party whips, but it was in vain.

As I posted before, the way that the House of Commons has responded to having its sovereignty confirmed by the courts has been shameful. In fact, it is hard to see which is more shameful – their feebleness or the glee with which the Brexiters who fought tooth and nail against parliament having a vote now greet the vote to support Article 50 (the ubiquitous Jacob Rees-Mogg inevitably amongst them). Matters now move to the House of Lords, and already the Brexit bullies are warning that any opposition there will be dealt with punitively, with the abolition of the second chamber. It is the same tactic (‘enemies of the people’) they used against the Commons and it will probably produce the same result, although it is slightly less predictable.

Labour’s utter uselessness continues. Even faced with the ludicrous idea that a final vote would be between the deal or nothing, their Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer greeted it as a victory, going on to say that in practice the government would agree to re-negotiate if parliament voted the deal down. That is absurd: in reality what would happen is that MPs would be put in an impossible situation of ratifying the deal or torching the country. If they don’t have the courage to take on the Brexiters now, they certainly won’t then. By the same token, the idea tweeted today by Jeremy Corbyn that ‘the real fight starts now’ is beyond risible when he has just forced his party to support the government’s Brexit plans.

Unless the House of Lords comes up with something spectacular, Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March and then the real stuff starts. The bubble of UK politics will meet the realpolitik of negotiations with the EU, with the first thing on the agenda being the exit bill that may be as high as £50 billion. In the meantime (meaning the last few weeks whilst the Supreme Court verdict and the consequent parliamentary debate have been happening), the costs and the warnings of costs of Brexit continue to rise inexorably.

Investment in UK start-up firms has dropped dramatically. 58% of British businesses report that Brexit has already had a negative effect. Microsoft has said that Brexit is leading it to consider pulling investment in the UK. China is warning its companies to take precautions against Brexit (aka hold off investing). The Chairman of German Industry UK is warning of a pull-out from the UK. The Bruegel thinktank estimates 30,000 financial services jobs leaving the UK along with £1.5 trillion of assets. An agricultural thinktank has produced numerous reports about the disarray that Brexit will cause to farming. Just today the football club Manchester United has announced that Brexit has already cost it almost £90M, the British Beer and Pubs Association has said that beer prices will rise because of Brexit, and the same could be said of just about every sector of the economy. As for the cost of the government having chosen to fight against the parliamentary votes we have seen this week – well, they have refused to say.

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