The events surrounding Brexit are now whirling out of control, and taking Britain to an unknown, but certainly dangerous, destination. It’s worth briefly summarising how shocking the current situation is. A narrow vote to leave the EU on unspecified, but beneficial, terms is being used by a minority government with a Prime Minister who has not faced the electorate to mandate leaving without agreed terms, and he is suspending parliamentary democracy to enable this.
it is the root causes remain the same as they have been since the beginning –
and they have been chronicled week in and week out in this blog - a series of
lies and (to be charitable) misunderstandings that have been comprehensively
falsified by reality. The intensifying crisis results from a government which
refuses to accept that reality and is intent on shredding the country rather
than doing so.
Deal or no
not entirely clear whether Johnson has any genuine belief in his continued insistence that
he is going to obtain a renegotiated Withdrawal Agreement (WA) or whether he is
fully intent upon no deal as his expected and desired outcome. If it is the
former, and the threat of no deal is just a negotiating tactic, it is doomed to
failure. It is predicated on the familiar Brexiter canard that EU negotiations ‘always
go to the wire’ and that the EU will ‘blink’ and offer a better deal.
aside the fact that, by the letter of the Article 50 extension agreement, the WA
negotiations are over, this is not the ‘standard’ negotiation amongst ongoing
member states. And, anyway, the existing withdrawal agreement is neither a ‘good’
nor a ‘bad’ deal: it’s just the technocratic reality of what a deal based upon
the UK red lines looks like. Proposals
for ‘alternative arrangements’ for the Irish border won’t make a difference:
if they come to exist then the present backstop becomes unnecessary anyway;
until they exist, they can’t themselves constitute the backstop.
isn’t the case that suspending (let’s not use the anodyne obscurantism of ‘prorogation’)
parliament is going to make a difference – it just makes the UK look even more
deranged and unreliable – as an excellent
article by Helene von Bismarck in Foreign
Policy makes clear. (And, as an aside, the Brexiter claim that suspending
parliament will persuade the EU that MPs can’t stop no-deal Brexit is completely
at odds with their claim that the suspension makes no difference to MPs’
ability to stop no-deal Brexit, and it’s
just a ‘business and usual’ move).
No deal: the
failure of Brexit
negotiation ploy or desired outcome, even the prospect of no deal reflects the
failure of Brexit. It was, after all, sold to the public on the basis that a
deal would be quick, easy, and advantageous. Every leading Brexiter claimed
that in 2016. That claim has now been comprehensively discredited and that, in
itself, means that no deal has no mandate whatsoever.
headline failure, once Brexit got defined as hard Brexit, all the subsidiary
lies about ongoing ‘full,
free market access’ and about how the Irish
border would be unaffected became exposed. May’s deal, which the Brexiters
reviled, was the hard Brexit they said they wanted. But as soon as they saw
what it meant in practical terms they disowned it. No-deal Brexit as a policy
goal arises solely from the fact that there is no deal that could deliver the
Brexit they claimed was possible – just as they were always told.
than accept that they lie anew, claiming that no deal was always what they wanted
(which may be true of some) and that it was voted for by 17.4 million people (which
it certainly wasn’t). This is what a
politics based on lies looks like, and with each turn of events those lies
are exposed even more.
Hence none of
what is happening under Johnson is new, it is just, as
predicted in my post when he came to office, a fast-forward replay of what
happened under May. With the suspension of parliament, we see the
intensification of the contempt, both literal
which May displayed. With the possibility of a ‘people
versus parliament’ General Election we see the intensification of the
attempt to ‘crush
the saboteurs’ through May’s ill-fated 2017 ballot.
as set out in that earlier post, Johnson is now trapped in exactly the same
dynamic as his predecessors and for the same reasons. Having come out all guns
blazing for a new deal or no deal and leave ‘do or die’, exactly as the Brexit
Ultras within and outside his party demanded, he now finds that they have once
again moved the goalposts. So even if he is serious about seeking a revised
deal then they
will not support it (thus it is hardly worth bothering to consider the
nonsense of what he might demand and how he imagines the EU could accept it).
ominously for Johnson, Farage has now set the bar as being that nothing but no deal is
good enough. So we have gone from a Brexit deal being easy and quick to any
deal at all being a betrayal of true Brexit; and from Brexit being what the
majority want to Brexit in a form supported by a small minority. It was not
inevitable that this was how things would develop, but it was always a logical
possibility unless someone or something intervened. May might have done; she
didn’t. Johnson was never going to try.
No damage is
too much for the Brexit Jacobins
that what is happening now is a repeat of, and grows out of, what happened
before I do not mean that nothing has changed. On the contrary, the
fast-forward version is also injecting amphetamines into the damage that
Brexiters are inflicting on our country. Suspending parliament was once the
idea of a mad fringe; now it is in prospect. The possibilities of Northern
Ireland and Scotland leaving the United Kingdom are now becoming probabilities.
As sober a figure as Chris Patten is speculating that Britain
is in danger of becoming a failed State.
to the point, what were once dangers, dismissed by Brexiters, are now becoming
accepted as irrelevant collateral damage to the overweening objective of
Brexit. Sterling doesn’t matter, the constitution doesn’t matter, the economy
doesn’t matter, business in general doesn’t matter and small businesses in
particular can be sacrificed, Britain’s global reputation doesn’t matter,
societal cohesion doesn’t matter.
point is perhaps the most extraordinary of all. It used to be a cliché of
history exam papers that any answer could correctly make mention of ‘the rising
middle classes gaining power and influence’. It would be true of virtually any
period and relevant to almost any question. In Brexit Britain, however, it is
not. The demographics
of the referendum vote, as well as the lobbying activities since then,
suggest that the majority of business people, professionals, civil society
bodies, economically active people and young people opposed Brexit and,
especially, oppose no-deal Brexit. Yet these people are now treated as dirt and
sneered at as ‘the elite’ even as they are charged with making preparations to
survive no-deal Brexit and urged to evince positivity about it.
What do the
Brexiters hope for?
therefore becoming very unclear what kind of country Johnson and the Brexiters
think they will have left if they get their way. It’s likely to be smaller in territory
and alienating to those individuals and businesses who can leave. They seem
just to want to ‘win’ Brexit – any Brexit, at any cost – and even the
supposedly more positive approach of Johnson (compared with May) hardly bothers
to pretend that Brexit will bring any real benefits.
Of course it
is possible that no
deal will still be stopped by parliament, either with or without a
challenge to the suspension. It’s even possible that the outrageousness of
what Johnson’s government are doing will solidify
and unite opposition to it. But it has to be said that MPs are themselves
reaping the consequences of their earlier failures. In particular, the supine
way in which they (mostly) voted to trigger
Article 50, having only had the vote because of the heroic efforts of the Gina
Miller case is, along with the lies of the Brexiters, one of the main reasons
we are in the current situation.
Even if they
stop no-deal Brexit now, it is far too late to stop most of the damage. It might
do no more than lead to a General Election which, quite conceivably, Johnson
would win on a no-deal ticket. It certainly won’t put an end to the bitter
divisions, the viciousness and the incipient and actual violence. Because
Brexit is no longer – if indeed it ever was – about the narrow, institutional
question of membership of the EU. It is about the entire basis of the UK as a
country and as a society. For the hard core Brexit ideologues it always was.
Which means that, whether or not Britain stays in the EU, the Brexiters have
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