I HAVEN’T written about Brexit (or anything else) for a while, mostly because the real world has been occupying my time but also due to a lack of anything new to say. Even after last week’s creation of a new centre party, the facts remain unaltered.
Our kitten-heeled, wheat-field-trampling, dancing queen masquerading as a national leader has now performed more changes of direction than the Red Arrows in a display. We have watched her change from ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ (statement of obvious, but at least correct), through ‘this is my deal and it’s better than no deal’ (not even the Parliament of Fools bought that), to ‘we need more time or there is no Brexit at all’ – or something. Meanwhile Corbyn, who loathes the EU, decided he liked political opportunism more and now wants another referendum, which puts him in the same position as Blair’s mouthpiece, that bastion of probity and purveyor of dodgy dossiers Alastair Campbell. You really couldn’t make this up.
Here are the facts:
- The electorate voted out. Unambiguously and decisively. In spite of the government’s advice.
- The House of Commons agreed to trigger Article 50.
- We had an election in which 80 per cent of the current MPs were elected on a manifesto that committed to leaving the EU. Some, like the allegedly ‘clever’ Oliver Letwin, don’t seem to think that they are bound by a manifesto that they don’t agree with. His constituents may disagree.
- Mrs May got the offer of a deal that was resoundingly (and rightly) rejected in the ‘meaningful vote’.
- Somehow that intellectual titan John Bercow managed to arrange the business of the House to avoid the logical consequence of rejecting the bad deal, which is no deal.
And on and on it goes.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, I went to one of the Bank of England briefings on their most recent quarterly inflation report. (Excellent occasions, where highly impressive economists explain the decisions of the Monetary Policy Committee). Here’s the reality:
- Our economy is still growing.
- Employment is as close to full as you can shake a stick at.
- Investment is flat (i.e. it’s happening, but the amount invested per annum is not increasing).
- The world GDP is growing, as is the bit we trade with – albeit more slowly.
In discussion it came out that the Bank of England’s economic models assume the UK is in the EU. While it is possible to develop models where this assumption is removed, these models can’t be calibrated against reality and so are less reliable. Hence it is intellectually and morally (and Bank employees care deeply about these things) impossible for the Bank to be positive about Brexit as it does not have the evidence. Which is entirely reasonable and laudable.
My interpretation (based on observations from my day job) is not that Brexit per se is an issue; most regard it as a done thing. The question was how much turbulence will be created in the transition. Now, with fewer than 40 days to go and still no decisions or plans, the thing that is worrying business is when the decision will be, and how firm it is. Theresa May’s reliance on a political declaration to cover off the tricky bits is not a decision, it’s a fudge and means that uncertainty is perpetuated.
We now have, at last, noise from Germany saying that no deal is a disaster for them. The correct UK response is ‘Yes, we know, but Brussels wouldn’t give us the necessary. Of course, once we’re out we would be happy to strike a deal. Your problem, mein freund. Tschuss.’ And this is the real point: a WTO exit on 29th March means we can start with a blank sheet of paper on the 30th. And that is a process when we are in the driving seat. ‘No deal’ on the 29th is not ‘No deal ever’, it’s just ‘not Mrs May’s awful deal’.
Of course, it is an open question as to how much effort it is worth investing in doing a deal with a struggling supra-national bureaucracy with an ageing population, massive currency problems and a reducing relevance in the world (as measured by population and GDP). While the EU may be our closest neighbours, the country we do most trade with is the United States.
And talking of close neighbours, we come to Ireland, the one country with whom the UK has a contiguous land border. As is pretty much the case throughout the history of the Emerald Isle, there’s always a question, few can remember it and the answer is therefore elusive. Allow me.
When the UK leaves the EU, as is its absolute right, the EU has a bunch of problems about movement of people and goods. Any sensible British Prime Minister (yes, abstract concept, but bear with me) would quietly point out to the EU that their problem is not our problem. However the UK is content that we can track goods and people over the UK/Irish border now. He (or she) would then suggest to the Irish that if the EU force them to build a wall they have the option to leave, and we would happily enter a free trade agreement now. And, very quietly but firmly, remind them that we beat the IRA once, learned from the experience and will now ruthlessly, efficiently and effectively destroy any and all threats to the stability of the current peace.
I genuinely have no idea what will happen in the next pointless but ‘meaningful’ vote. I, like the clear majority of the electorate (who give Parliament its sovereignty), voted to leave the EU and was told it would be achieved with in two years, as per Article 50. Parliament rejected the deal, so it’s no deal on 29th March.