Neither the most inventive writer, nor the most learned historian could ever have come up with the script for an opéra bouffe, such as has played out at Westminster over the last few years. In good Pantomime tradition, the lead was played out by a woman, more manly than any in her fractious household—yet thru were her undoing.
Over the 24 hours following Theresa May’s announcement that she would step down as Prime Minister, the flood of unctious praise for he character and resolution came in from a gamut of politicians, many of whom had spent the last three yeas trying to trip her up. But these soon dried up as the media circus went into overdrive to second guess who would be he replacement. They had plenty from whom to choose.
While this may do wonders for nightly news viewer numbers and newspaper circulation, it appears to be a futile distraction from reality. For, much though the British chatteratti like to busy themselves interpreting various bird entrails abound the Westminster bubble, they have so far excluded four factors that will determine the outcome, not just of Tory kingmaker process, but also the future of the United Kingdom. These are:
- European Election 2019 results
- The Conservative Party members who will select a new PM
- European Union reaction to the results.
- Post-Brexit economic future
On the first factor, results of the European Election shocked many. In the other 27 members states the centre alliance lost ground to a mix of smaller parties. Both Merkel and Macron have their work cut out to deal with domestic fragmentation. Nobody will have much time to keep focusing on Brexit. In Britain, Tories and Labour alike suffered catastrophe, losing 13 of 17 and 8 of 18 MEPs, respectively., The Brexit party climbing over the corpse of UKIP to elect 29 on 32% of the vote. Pro-EU Lib-Dems, Greens and SNP all did well, tallying almost 40% of the vote among them and arguably winning for Remain. Conservatives are already declaiming that this shows an urgent signal to deliver on Brexit and assuage anger shown. That seems too simplistic as avid Leavers and Remainers are much less common than parties claim. Most voters seem disgusted by the indecisive cacophony coming out of Westminster for months and were looking for a way to take their overly self-important representatives down a peg or two.
The problem posed by the second factor is that these results mean most MPs—especially Tories— are running scared. Whoever winds up being the final pair of candidates to lead the Tories must be avid Brexiteers. To get shortlisted by MPs, they will have to out-boast Farage in virulent euroscepticism AND distance themselves from May’s ‘deal’, seen as a weak-willed compromise that caused all the trouble in the first place. BoJo ad Gove are the most likely winners of the 3-week first stage. Then July will be taken up by membership voting. And since the 1670,000 members are mostly older white males keen on a no-deal Brexit, the resulting winner will be geared up to take on Farage where he lives.
Problems are compounded by the third factor. By the time the UK has a new PM, not only is Parliament in recess but the whole structure of the EU is on flux while they also take their vacation and haggle over the composition of a new Commission. Even though Westminster reconvenes in September, it is short-lived as recess for party conferences lasts into October. Even if the new PM were serious about negotiating a deal, it will not jappen because:
- thee is no time left before October 31st
- the EU has been consistently clear the May ‘deal’ is NOT re-negotiable
- the selection process will ensure any new PM prefers a ‘No Deal’ anyway
There will, of course, be some window dressing of wanting a deal, or even holding out the possibility of a “people’s vote” referendum to appear statesmanlike and discomfit Corbyn. Remain parties and even a late-conversion Labour may posture in Parliament for debates and motions but a Brexit-minded PM can parry all such attempts—at least until it is too late. The default is still leaving with no deal. the reality is that the Europeans, while preferring a proper deal, will be too preoccupied with their own internal affairs, too reluctant to risk fragmenting unanimity by re-opening negotiations and tired of British inability to put their house in order to even contemplate any extension. The idea that they will follow our wishes because no deal hurts them as much as us is delusional: they have too many other things at stake.
Which, altogether, means a >90% chance of a No Deal Brexit on October 31st.
Which means Nigel and BoJo (or whoever is in the Tory hot seat) will be happy. But not for long. Because just about anyone in Britain numerate enough to understand its economy (which does not include the two gentlemen mentioned) will tell you of the negative impact such a Brexit will have. From the Bank of England to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, this fourth factor has been studiously ignored or dismissed by Brexit supporters. But the truth is that the 60% of UK trade that is with the EU will be disrupted in the short term. As for other countries, WTO terms are not automatic, so there will be various delays while even these terms are settled. And, as for lucrative FTAs Liam Fox has come up with Faroe Islands and five others so far. The idea that China, America, Brazil or Indonesia will go out of their way to cut UK (65m people) a better deal than the EU (240m people) is delusional.
Because they will be terrified of an outcome similar to these elections, whatever luckless Tory leader caries us into a no deal Brexit like a bowling ball down a gutter, will avoid all talk of any General Election. Buy, eventually, June 2022 will roll around and we may see the demise of the once-powerful Tory party as it circles a few remaining wagons around Cheltenham, Guildford and Tunbridge Wells to reminisce of past glories and empires lost.