Monday, 5 February 2018

Agreement and reality

On Saturday, Jacob Rees-Mogg told the world, in all seriousness, that the civil servants who had prepared the document showing that all credible types of Brexit were likely to be be worse, in economic terms, than remaining in the EU, were guilty of ‘fiddling the figures’.  It’s a very serious accusation, but the only ‘evidence’ that he seems to have produced is that he disagrees with the answers.  Personally, I very much doubt whether they have fiddled any figures; but what they have done is to look at a limited range of potential scenarios.  Very specifically, they appear not to have looked at the government’s own preferred scenario – that is, of course, the one that the government have so far found it impossible to articulate.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary told us that the Cabinet was more united on Brexit than people outside understood.  They are, she claimed, completely united on ‘on the need for "frictionless trade", the ability to strike international trade deals and avoid a hard border in Ireland’.  I suspect that she’s right about the degree of unity around those simple objectives; if that’s the level of detail to which they’re working, getting agreement looks like an easy task.  I suspect that it would also be fairly easy to secure cross-party agreement and wide public support for a demand that all taxes be abolished and the NHS budget be doubled.  The question is not whether they can agree about the desirability of the objectives, but about how useful an agreement to demand the impossible is likely to be.

I’m certain that the civil servants could indeed produce a model for Brexit based on the assumption that the EU27 will allow frictionless trade on terms unavailable to members let alone to any other non-member.  And if they did produce such a model, there’s a good chance that it would show that such a scenario would be no worse than remaining a member, and maybe even better.  Even Rees-Mogg would probably be happy to brandish the figures.  But how meaningful would they be?  Making the numbers add up to a total which provides the ‘right’ answer doesn’t make those numbers useful or relevant.

The agreement which the Home Secretary is so sure can be achieved within the Cabinet is based on a convenient suspension of reality, just like her boss’ declaration this morning that we will both have a different customs regime to the EU and avoid having any sort of border with that part of the EU which happens to be to the west of us rather than the east or south.  But who needs reality, when fantasy is so much more comforting?


Anonymous said...

'But who needs reality, when fantasy is so much more comforting?'

Without wishing to be impolite, isn't this precisely the problem with all versions of Welsh history?

Perhaps if you re-wrote your piece praising Westminster politicians for emulating what we do so well here in Wales we might all feel a little bit happier and more comfortable.

Or perhaps not!

John Dixon said...

Even assuming that "isn't this precisely the problem with all versions of Welsh history?" were true (particularly in relation to the word 'all' which is sweeping to say the least), and even assuming that it was in some way unique to Wales (why else include the word 'Welsh' in the comment?) it seems to me that it has nothing to do with the original post. This really isn't the place to express your apparent disdain for Wales and all things Welsh; it contributes nothing to debate either. Comments in similar vein are unlikely to appear.

Anonymous said...

One has to feel a little sorry for Barnier. He keeps having to point out what is obvious and reasonable to any rational observer only to be greeted with shock and outrage by sections of the Tory party and English press. It's lucky he is a mild mannered man. I would have long since run screaming from the negotiation table.

John Dixon said...

Indeed. He strikes me as an exceedingly patient man. I do wonder, though, how long it will be before the EU27 decide that enough is enough and walk away. After all, they thought that they had secured agreement over the Irish border issue, only to find this week that the UK is ruling out any solution which does not require such a border. It's as if May doesn't really understand what 'negotiating in good faith' means; or more probably, thinks that's something which doesn't apply to the UK.