…this plot, this ream, this ignorance. Apologies to the Bard, but these times in which we live are, to quote the Chinese curse, “interesting”. For, thanks to the identity crisis among our English cousins caused by Westminster’s fixation with centralisation and inability to distinguish between England and Britain, the fifth-largest economy in the world is about to commit economic hari-kari. Regular readers will know this blog was always skeptical about the prospects for Brexit. But recent developments indicate the future may be scarier than even our earlier pessimism. Three recent developments point to this:
- Tory backwoodsmen are restless. Reinforced by Davies and BoJo, the Rees-Mogg natives scent blood and are gathering strength.
- Barnier, Junkers & others in the EU are suddenly sounding conciliatory, which can be taken to mean they see a hard Brexit as likely and they the damage to EU economies.
- May is off in Africa, showing a shapely ankle above kitten heels, as if trade with that continent could compensate for loss with Europe. Exports to South Africa and Nigeria make up half the £14bn we export there. Even doubling this 2% of UK exports is trivial, compared to 43% or £274 billion (out of £616 billion total exports) to the EU.
Given we have until the end of October to come up with a deal when we have not been able to scrape together any consensus in Britain over the last two years, the runes look bad. Look for the following milestones on the slippery slope to economic limbo:
- September: look for more trade puffery like May;s brief African safari as various cabinet members add to their frequent flier miles.
- October: To increasingly strident interventions from the backwoodsmen, Dominic Raab gets increasingly frenetic in negotiations with EU.
- November: Negotiations continue past deadline with May becoming involved and a ‘ Modified Chequers’ agreement is reached and announced with much fanfare.
- December: Rumbling of revolt from Tory back benches threatens vote to block Government adopting the agreement without parliamentary approval. DUP support this as Ireland border issue not resolved. This causes May to send out feelers to other parties to support the agreement reached, else there is no deal at all.
- January: SNP and Lib-Dems announce support for May and opposition to any attempt to derail the modified Chequers agreement. Such bedfellows causes more Tory MPs to rebel and means Corbyn fails to marshal his troops into a coherent position, for the same reason. Some senior Labour MP;s follow Frank Field in resigning the Labout whip.
- February: After weeks of debate, speculation and fake news, a Commons vote on an early day motion by Bill Cash, veteran Eurosceptic Tory MP for Stone, blocks the Government’s intention to sign the agreement by 3a 10 to 301 vote. Most EU countries have by now indicated they will accept the agreement but Italy, Austria and Hungary are holdouts.
- March: Desperate negotiations by May’s government fails to make converts to reverse the decision taken by Bill Cash’s motion. The EU holdouts are persuaded to agree to accept the modified Chequers agreement but the month ends in stalemate ad Britain leaves the EU under article 50 to operate entirely under World Trade Organisation rules.
- April (not necessarily 1st, but it might as well be): Theresa May resigns the premiership. As the arch-Brexiteer who wished for this, BoJo becomes party leader and, in a whirlwind campaign based on personality and popular sound-bites reminiscent of the Trump campaign of 2016, wins a May election amd so lands the job of prime minister with a majority of 56 against a fragmented Labour opposition.
Far-fetched? Possibly. Excessively negative? Hopefully. But if anyone can honestly tell me that 2 1/2 years ago they foresaw any of the countdown to catastrophe we have been experiencing since, then I would love to hear their version of what will transpire over the next eight months.
Either way, would the last one to leave please turn out the lights?