The bemused public watches the danse macabre of Brexit ‘negotiations’ continue, including the self-destruction of the Conservatives, the suicidal behaviour of the Lords, and the reduction of the intellectual and moral reputation of Whitehall to the level of Love Island. This similarity is no wild analogy – the Department for Education employs Love Island contestant Zara McDermott, 21 and with no degree, as a policy adviser.
It has become clear that the EU does not want a ‘no deal’, since it is issuing daily threats to the UK, from Galileo to security sharing, to hampering holiday flights to Europe, to treating UK citizens post-Brexit as a kind of lower caste, to generating new civil war by the IRA. The one thing our UK ‘negotiators’ fail to threaten by way of counter-attack is the same ‘no deal’ outcome and the EU’s loss of its £80billion trade surplus, as set out so convincingly by the highly experienced economists in the press such as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Roger Bootle, Liam Gallagher and Matt Ridley. They have been warning that a good soft Brexit is not available and that the UK needs to be preparing deals under WTO rules, under which most of the world trades. But contrary to that expert advice we hear, notably in a devastating critique by the Daily Mail’s Alex Brummer, that Mr Hammond has completely blocked any such preparations. Hammond is using his hand on the purse strings to cut off the no deal option and force the UK to take the worst deal possible.
Whitehall, Blairite to the core, is supporting this national harakiri. When Mr Hammond spoke of his ‘collaborative’ approach as against a more positive and aggressive one against Barnier’s raw hostility, he must have meant ‘collaboration’ in the sense of the Vichy regime. But Mrs May is ultimately responsible for not compelling her Chancellor to bat for Britain rather than for Barnier. Her zombie-like emptiness of policy direction keeps on growing like a black hole in the body politic. She got us into this quicksand, and will keep on digging. Her latest pantomime gesture is to grant Mr Speaker Bercow the final, albeit apparently only technical, say on a ‘meaningful’ Commons vote when negotiations are ended. Mr Toad in the chaotic Toad Hall springs to mind. Dominic Grieve and his band of saboteurs are passionate for the sovereignty of Parliament – so that this can be given away to an unelected bureaucracy permanently: all part of this weird and irrational danse macabre.
As I pen this all-too-obvious comment, Mr Verhofstadt has just told the Commons that the EU is much more popular post-Brexit as this has highlighted the need to reform itself – in which case why not cosy up to the UK whose wisdom alone revealed this deeply buried need? It does occur to the public that the Italians find the EU increasingly unpopular, calling it a ‘German cage’, organised by the equivalent of Albert Speer with classic efficiency but precious little humanity, certainly towards the welfare of Italians and Greeks. Does Mr Verhofstadt dwell in a similar bubble to our Westminster and Whitehall experts, and not see the blindingly obvious? Mr Rees-Mogg told Mr Verhofstadt that the UK, with no deal, would leave the Irish border open, with some beefed-up motorway cameras in place as now. Oh no, replied Mr V, the EU would have to build a border, ‘rules are rules’. Here we see the EU in all its difficulty: the Napoleonic Code approach, rules are rules and not subject to development to fit changing circumstances. EU rules are more like laws of nature, not human laws made by politicians, so Mr V operates in a sort of necessitarian mental world of absolute rules. No deal would cause a hard border, despite other national borders with the EU existing without such a wall being demanded by the EU gods. The trouble is that Mrs May is herself obeying these gods and not the Rees-Mogg deity of common sense and reason: she scolded Rees-Mogg for denying the absolute necessity of a no deal necessitating a hard border to be erected by the EU. The EU would have to adjust to changing times. But Mrs May advocated EU determinist doctrine and supported Barnier’s absolutist logic for reasons known to herself alone. Why make their no deal problem ours, thus removing pressure from them to become reasonable and cease their aggressive and irresponsible leverage of this border issue, citing their rules in a unique situation? As I mentioned, Mr V has just said that Brexit has revealed the need to reform the EU and its rules – here is where he could start. We hear that the EU is being forced to drop its tariffs on US car imports by Trump’s forceful demands, so change can happen.
The whole attraction of no deal for the UK is precisely the reversal of problems: the EU is faced with the loss of a massive trade surplus, furious fishermen, a defence amputation, no divorce money. And yet Hammond has worked to remove this option: if one looks at the Parliamentary definition of impeachment, he could be getting close to bringing this long-disused procedure back to life.
And we shall see if ‘rules are rules’ for Mrs Merkel as she faces revolt from her Bavarian partners in government who want, like Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Austria, to block free population flows into their countries. Rules are rules: they are made by the equivalent of Plato’s philosopher king and his band of infallibly wise rulers. These rules come from a higher realm than mere national Parliaments. But somehow we might just find, as with the frequent breaches by France of EU budget regulations, that some are more equal than others when it comes to the sanctity of rules. The Gaullist Barnier knows this. He has chosen to use rules like a tourniquet on Northern Ireland, with Mrs May failing to realise that post-Brexit the UK has no duty to help enforce EU rules on Eire. A hard border would be built, or not, as an EU decision, not ours.