Tuesday 10 July 2018

Leaving the frying-pan

In his resignation letter and the series of interviews which followed it, David Davis did at least succeed in explaining his own apparently indolent and relaxed approach to negotiating with the EU – he still believes that ‘they need us more than we need them’, and the leaders of EU states would eventually fall into line and dismantle key aspects of the single market to accommodate the UK’s requirements.  Seen from that perspective, who needs to spend long hours locked in negotiations or carry voluminous files of paperwork as a basis for those talks?  It’s simply a matter of not blinking first, and his anger that May did blink gives him and the other Brexiteers the scapegoat they need. In Davisland, all would have been well if only they’d just done nothing and waited for the EU to bend.
It’s the stuff of fantasy, of course, because it turns out that for the EU (albeit not for the UK) it really is true that a bad deal (under which single market integrity is damaged) is worse than no deal (under which the biggest loser is the UK).  It’s what the Brexiteers have been saying all along, just the other way around.
With May in trouble, there’s no surprise that Labour are scenting blood, with the First Minister demanding a general election.  I entirely agree with Carwyn Jones when he says that “We need a different government with a different view on Brexit…”; I’m just utterly unconvinced that the Labour Party is offering that, let alone that a general election would produce one.  It’s true, as Paul Mason writes in the New Statesman, that there is a route by which the Labour Party could offer a coherent alternative based around the so-called Norway option; there’s just no sign that Corbyn is anywhere close to embracing that option.  It might be a sensible approach, and it’s certainly one which leaves the door open to re-joining easily and quickly at some future date (it was, after all, designed to allow easy admission to Norway should the political situation there permit it at some point). 
But if there’s one thing Labour can be depended on for in relation to Brexit, it’s taking a bad situation and making it worse.  The logical outcome of any sensible negotiation based on the May plan is a Brexit which looks remarkably like the Norway option, albeit using different words and descriptions in an attempt to pretend that no red lines are being crossed.  That logical outcome is exactly what is making May’s Brexiteers so angry with her; they can see the further concessions coming.  She knows that she doesn’t have a parliamentary majority for such a deal, which is why she is busy wooing other parties to support it.  And the current probability is that, rather than follow the approach outlined by Mason, the Labour Party will instead unite to vote against the outcome of May’s negotiations in the belief that a general election will lead to a Labour government – effectively demanding a ‘harder’ Brexit than the Prime Minister.  Unless and until the Labour Party changes its position, the First Minister is effectively asking us to leap out of the Tory frying-pan into the Labour fire.

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