Friday 24 August 2018

The no deal that never was

I almost felt sorry for the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, yesterday as he tried to spell out the consequences if there is no deal with the EU before departure day.  He was given an impossible brief: meet the needs of his boss by explaining why ‘no-deal’ is so bad that her so-called ‘plan’ looks good in comparison without undermining her persistent claim that ‘no deal’ is better than a bad deal, whilst at the same time satisfying the more rabid Brexiteers’ desire for the government to say that ‘no deal’ really isn’t a problem at all.  He was never going to achieve both and in the end he achieved neither.  And at the same time as he was busy attempting the impossible by both scaring and reassuring people at the same time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was busy writing a letter explaining just how significant the potential economic impact was going to be.  It was not exactly a good day at the office for Raab, but my temptation to sympathise is tempered by the fact that his plight is, ultimately, self-inflicted – no-one forced him to take the job.
His contingency plans themselves are notable for not matching the label on the tin, to misuse a phrase.  The theory was that they would help people to prepare for the worst-case scenario, but that’s exactly what they don’t do.  As imagined by the UK Government, the ‘worst-case’ is simply one where the UK Government continues to behave as though the UK was still a member of the EU, following the same rules and processes laid down by the EU27, and assumes that the EU27 will do the same and effectively treat the UK as a continuing member in all but name.  But that isn’t really the worst case at all, is it?  Because the EU could simply decide not to treat the UK in the same way at all and treat us instead as an external third party – and that’s a scenario which the government’s plans don’t even seem to consider.
There is, of course, a question as to whether that would be a reasonable response by the EU27, and whether they’d actually go that far.  If the UK tries to insist that it will follow all the rules but exempt itself from the authority of the bodies enforcing those rules – such as the European Court of Justice – then it does seem quite credible to me that the EU would take a hard-line stance, in which case the plans announced yesterday by the government would be wholly inadequate to deal with the actuality.  If, on the other hand, the UK were prepared to agree to continue to accept the authority of the relevant bodies for the time being, then the EU27 would almost certainly be prepared to take a more reasonable stance to allow more detailed negotiations to continue over a longer period.
Here’s the rub, though.  In the first place, such an agreement would be highly unlikely to get the support of the Brexiteers, and in the second, it would require a formal agreement with the EU.  In short, the government’s plans aren’t for a ‘no deal’ scenario at all; they are for a scenario in which there is a short term and limited deal.  But that short term and limited deal is no more certain than the wider deal towards which the government has supposedly been working, because the UK Government’s own red lines rule out the likely content.
I don’t know how much time and effort went into the plans which the unfortunate Raab announced yesterday, but they simply don’t deal with the situation in which the UK might find itself, they don’t work even as a PR exercise, and they satisfy none of the potential audiences.  Sooner or later, the Brexiteers need to start being honest and accept that, if their prime demand is that the UK should become a third-party country with relation to the EU, then there should be no surprise if the EU grants that wish and treats the UK as a third party.  Spelling out the consequences of that demand is not about some sort of ‘Project Fear’, it’s about facing up to, and preparing for, the reality.  To date, they’ve barely started on that.


dafis said...

Rabb is no different to the rest of this government (and much of the Opposition) in having an irrational need to "have their cake and eat it". I also question the extent of his personal belief in much of the garbage he trots out as it is riddled with implausible notions.

Spirit of BME said...

I have to confess that I do not follow the daily spin by the Brexiteers or Remainers, partly due to the fact I have a life to live.
In terms of what might be good for everybody`s financial wellbeing and expectations, - if HMG have a deal or no deal will depend more on whether US or Chinese economy falls into a sharp recession.
I expect there will be disruption if there is no deal, this is a certainty as there are people in the system that make things happen in this very divisive question, that will create that and the Brexiteers should be more honest about that.
To those who view the exit with interpretation, could I add one clear fact that must give us hope.
We are told by the BBC that there are over two hundred economic migrants in France risking life and limb every night and trying to board trucks, trains and ships to get to England. So, these people are not stupid and why are they putting their life on the line and wishing to leave EU (27) where they would be safe and could thrive. Do they know something about the EU that we do not?

John Dixon said...


I think a 'true' no-deal is highly unlikely, because the immediate consequences would be so profound, and that's why even the government's so-called no-deal preparations are assuming that there is a deal or series of deals to enable things to carry on as they are at present for a while at least. Perhaps it will be at one minute to midnight before such deals are agreed, and they will inevitably involve a humiliating climb-down by HMG, and chaos within her party, but I simply can't believe that any government would be so stupid and incompetent as to agree nothing and find that trade and movement grind to a complete halt within days. The sensible thing would be to 'delay' the implementation of the red lines (i.e. forget them for a while at least), agree to continued membership of the EEA for the foreseeable future, and take the time to negotiate properly on the successor phase - a negotiation process likely to take 10 years or so. Brexiteers would go bananas, of course (probably the bendy sort that Brussels never tried to ban), and the Tory party would implode (a very worthwhile outcome), which is why it seems to me to be unlikely that such an outbreak of common sense will occur.

"We are told by the BBC that there are over two hundred economic migrants in France risking life and limb every night and trying to board trucks, trains and ships to get to England. So, these people are not stupid and why are they putting their life on the line and wishing to leave EU (27) where they would be safe and could thrive. Do they know something about the EU that we do not?" The question here is not about whether those 200 know, or think they know, something that the rest of us don't, but what percentage does that 200 comprise of the total number of economic migrants in the EU? There are a lot more people not making that effort.

Spirit of BME said...

Your reply is very logical. but in negotiating being logical is still on the “wish list”, what delivers an agreement is the systems within administration of both parties that are flexible and the authority to say “yes” is not challenged later. If that confidence is not there both parties are not going to put forward their “best and final” position.
Whatever, we think of the English system of government, one has to admire the fact that it has evolved over centuries of trials and tribulations and the channels of communications in times of crisis are well tested. The same cannot be said of the Brussels, where the current system is about forty years old and has never faced such an issue as this in the past.
Talking to business people in Europe they have no idea what is going on and the press are not covering this issue -in fact you have to look for the coverage in the papers. Brussels went on holiday (as usual) in August and the system will not be up and running until mid-September and business people in the 27 are now concerned that they cannot get their message to the desks of those that are formulating the policy.
So, logically of course a deal would be of value to both parties, but the system may well fail to deliver it – take it from me who got old before my time in negotiating with Japanese companies and government departments.