Thursday 17 January 2019

Breaking the log-jam

Insofar as the last few days and weeks have clarified anything, it is that there are two major obstacles to making progress in any direction on Brexit.
The Irish ‘backstop’ isn’t one of them.  The backstop itself isn’t something which some people who should know their place, aided and abetted by Brussels bureaucrats, are unfairly and unjustly imposing to fetter the freedom of a great global power; it’s the inevitable outcome of previous international agreements and a series of contradictory demands laid down by the UK government.  It’s a hole which is entirely of the UK’s digging.
The intransigence of Brussels isn’t one of them.  The withdrawal agreement which has emerged is, again, the inevitable outcome of a combination of previously agreed commitments and the red lines laid down by the UK Government.  And the Political Statement on what happens next is as vague as it is because there is no known way of squaring what the UK is demanding with what the EU can ever give without destroying itself in the process, but they had to put something down on paper anyway.
The fact that the House of Commons contains a majority of ‘Remainers’ isn’t the problem either.  Some of them might do so reluctantly, but if they were presented with a deal which meant that the UK left the political institutions of the EU whilst remaining in the single market and customs union, I remain convinced that a majority would probably support it.  The Brexit extremists would argue that it isn’t really Brexit at all, and it might well destroy the Conservative Party (it's an ill wind...), but the only decision taken by the referendum was to ‘Leave the EU’, and in legal and constitutional terms, such a deal would honour that result.  It wouldn’t honour all the wild, contradictory and fantastic claims made by pro-Brexit campaigners, but those claims weren’t on the ballot paper.  Such a deal might really have been “one of the easiest in human history” (© Liam Fox), and had it been presented to parliament within a few months of triggering Article 50, I suspect that it would have sailed through with the support of Remain MPs still shocked by the result.
No, none of these are the real obstacles to sensible progress.  Both the obstacles are actually people – two individuals who are, as it happens, both in the position which they occupy more by accident than design, and who are both incapable of applying flexibility and common sense to adapt to changing circumstances and revise their stances.
The first, obviously, is the Prime Minister herself.  Here is a person who is forever claiming to be ‘listening’ but without hearing a word that is said to her.  If Plan A loses by a huge margin, then Plan B is to explain to the opponents once again why they are wrong to oppose it.  And discussing alternatives must be limited to discussing alternative ways by which Plan A can be pursued.  Even many in her own party realise that this won’t work, and members of her cabinet, including the Chancellor, are actively briefing a completely different approach to that which she is pursuing.  The ‘red lines’ on which she refuses to budge are her interpretation – and her interpretation alone – of the result of the referendum.  They are not an inevitable part of any agreement except in the circumstances where she is directing the negotiations.
The second is the leader of the opposition.  Here’s another individual who is forever claiming to be listening; in his case it’s the claim that it is the members of his party who make policy, not him, and that he is pursuing that policy.  He does, though, seem to be in a tiny minority of members who believe that what he is currently saying reflects the opinion of the membership.  He, too, is suffering from open disagreement by those around him who are saying something very different to him.
Brexit has led to a log-jam in UK politics and in parliament in particular.  It seems to me that the only way to break out of that log-jam is to remove the two individuals most responsible for it.  I honestly don’t know exactly what the outcome of that would be, but I suspect that it would be a rapid and dramatic change in the dynamic.  If – or when – either happens it’s likely to be quite sudden.  And, based on their history of ruthlessness towards leaders in pursuing and retaining power, I expect the Tories to get there first.  If Labour are not to be totally wrong-footed, they will need to follow rapidly.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

I think Mrs May-Day started this whole thing off on the wrong foot and believed that settling the big and generous divorce bill first, would buy flexibility on the other side – WRONG!!!!
You are right that there is a log jam in this sceptred isle, but listing to foreign news reports there is clearly a log jam on the other side, as the current Commission will in no way make any changes to what they sign off.
The log jam in Europe does not get reported here, but Euro zone financial committees have come out in demanding big concessions to Britain, while the Commission has up to now ignored their advice, but they clearly see the financial impact and backing that up a US economic think tank has stated that Britain could source 93% of all its EU products from elsewhere.
I think both sides are running out the clock and a suspension of Article 50 is the plan, initially until July and by that time there will be a new head of the Commission (rumoured to be a German – eastern and southern politicians “need not apply”) this might get the log jam moved.
As Europe closes down for August, a further extension will be made until the end October, to see if the new team can get things done.