Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Yesterday’s poll showing that only one third of the electorate support exiting the EU without a deal is being interpreted by some as an indication that the PM is going against public opinion and should be reconsidering.  That seems to me to misunderstand the point – having around 34% support is enough under the UK’s electoral system, and the PM is more likely to interpret it as a very encouraging finding.  He doesn’t need the support of a majority, and public opinion on this one issue is unimportant.  All he needs is to ensure that all that 34% vote goes to his party (and of course that all his party’s candidates support no deal) and he could win the forthcoming general election with a thumping majority of seats.  And at the moment, that is the outcome which the polls are suggesting.
Personally, I’m not convinced that the polls are correct, or that the strategy will work.  Firstly, there is a real question as to whether the overall national figures will translate evenly across constituencies; in this election it seems likely to me that individual constituency battles (for instance those involving 'expelled' Tories) will be more important than has traditionally been the case.  Secondly, there is Scotland where the likeliest outcome is the annihilation of the Tories as an electoral force.  Thirdly, a Lib Dem surge in parts of England may well take a number of seats from the Tories, thereby pushing the winning line further out of reach.  And finally, there is a serious question as to whether long-term Labour voters who support Leave will really turn out and vote for the traditional enemy in the numbers which the Johnson strategy requires.  A hung parliament still seems the most probable outcome to me.
Let us suppose, however, that that analysis is wrong, that Johnson manages to unite most of that 34% behind his party as well as hanging on to less-convinced traditional Tory voters in sufficient numbers to win a large majority of parliamentary seats.  What then?  I wonder if he’s even thought forward to that point – he does, after all, have something of a reputation for flying by the seat of his pants.  It seems to me that his troubles, far from being resolved by a quick no deal Brexit, would be just starting. 
In the absence of a withdrawal agreement there would be no transition period, and all existing arrangements with the EU would, legally, come to an immediate end along with all the EU-brokered trade agreements.  For all Trump’s old talk of quick deals, negotiating a deal would probably take at least 5 years and probably more – the UK will not be dealing with Trump at the point of signature but with his successor (although that’s probably a plus rather than a minus); and negotiating other deals will probably take longer.  There would be customs checks at the border across Ireland, and the UK would be starting a long drawn-out process of negotiating a trade deal with 27 EU countries acting in concert, all of which it has spent 3 years mightily p***ing off, and for whom dealing with all the issues which were supposed to have been dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement will be their starting point.  And all those voters who thought that the supposed difficulties of no deal were just Project Fear start to disover the truth.
His main objective (continuing to occupy the post of PM) would have been achieved, but I wonder how long it would be before letters started arriving in the in-tray of the chair of the 1922 Committee…

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