by Frank Schnittger
Mon Jul 9th, 2018 at 08:24:34 PM EST
Davis, Fox, Johnson and Gove
David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned from the UK government because they cannot support Theresa May's Brexit proposals which are unlikely to be acceptable to the EU in any case. Liam Fox and Michael Gove may soon follow although both are no doubt trying to position themselves for a leadership contest. He who wields the knife rarely inherits the crown... Meanwhile Theresa May is left to struggle on in what may well be a terminally weakened condition.
There is no Brexit agreement that comes close to providing the balance of benefits which full membership provides, so it is easy to criticise any Brexit negotiating position or eventual deal. The problem is that a "no deal" Brexit is infinitely worse.
However it is also much more difficult to criticise because it does not as yet exist. So Boris & Co. can continue their daydreams of a free and independent Britain once again taking all the current benefits of membership for granted as if the EU will have no choice but to confer them on the UK because "they need us more than we need them".
Unfortunately for Boris, the whole future of the EU will then depend on ensuring that Brexit is as horrible as possible as that is the only way to prove the benefits of membership outweigh the benefits of leaving. Otherwise why would other members not leave? The interests of the EU and the UK would then be diametrically opposed.
It is not possible to go back to the status quo ante EU membership even if that were desirable because the world has changed: Economies have integrated across national boundaries and transnational services and production processes have become much more important.
And somehow the Brexiteers appear to have forgotten what a basket case the UK economy was when it joined the EU in 1973. Since then manufacturing has continued to decline and services have thrived. But very few major companies operating within the UK are now actually UK owned any more. Where will those owners then give priority for investment - a market of 65 million people, or a market of 450 Million?
But the great thing for Boris and Davis et al is that they now no longer have to take responsibility for the clusterf*ck that is the Brexit negotiation saga. They can vote against any negotiation outcome in the Commons and put it up to Labour rebels to provide a Commons majority for any deal.
Corbyn would be right to demand a general election on any deal - it isn't Labour's job to prop up a government unable to muster a majority for its proposals. And neither is it the job of the EU27 to negotiate against their own best interests and provide a life line for Theresa May. The lack of engagement across the negotiating table has meant that they haven't had to move beyond their own opening negotiating positions at all.
So the negotiations will trundle on towards an almost inevitable unhappy denouement. There seems little point in making concessions to a government unable to deliver on it's part of the bargain. At some point, sooner or later, Theresa May will have to cut a deal negotiated from a terminally weakened negotiating position. That deal will then almost certainly be rejected by the House of Commons resulting in a general election.
The task of the Tory Rebels is to force her to resign before that can happen. They are strong enough to terminally weaken her, but are they strong enough to force her immediate resignation?
The question for May will be does she give way to a Boris Johnson or Michael Gove who will in all likelihood lead the UK into a "no deal" Brexit, or does she call an election which will, in all likelihood, be won by Jeremy Corbyn, or worse still, lead to another inconclusive result? Is her prime loyalty to the Tory party or to the country?
She can cling on to the hope that she can win a second general election based on whatever deal she has negotiated but it will be a very hard sell especially with almost half the Tory party against her. Most Britons are fed up with the whole Brexit saga and might yet opt for a clean break, but who then do they vote for? May, Corbyn, or a resurgent Farage led UKIP?
And what problem would a general election solve? Corbyn has almost no friends in Europe and many potential hard right enemies. Would they want to enable what they see as a hard left government? It is also difficult to see the EU giving a Boris Johnson or Michael Gove led UK government a better deal than they offered Theresa May.
It might be a different story if a general election gave a UK government a clear mandate for a particular negotiating position but with major both parties split on the issue and no leader commanding overwhelming support from his party's voters, that seems a most unlikely outcome. About as likely as the Lib Dems or UKIP leading the next government.
Conservatives blue, Labour Red, Lib Dems Orange, SNP yellow, UKIP Purple, and Greens.
Recent opinion polls give the Tories a small advantage on Labour with the rest nowhere, but which Tory party? And regardless of who wins, will there be sufficient time to negotiate a significantly "better" deal?
The hard fact remains that once Article 50 was triggered a "no deal" Brexit was always the default outcome. Any alternative requires a still unlikely coalescing of parties and legislators around a specific Brexit deal. A new government can always request an A. 50 extension but that requires unanimity on an EU Council increasingly riven by their own conflicts around immigration and other issues. It only requires one government with an axe to grind against Brussels or the UK to block that outcome.
It is still possible that a UK government with a strong electoral mandate could cut a deal May is now most unlikely to be able to deliver. It would probably require last minute crisis negotiations and, perhaps, an A.50 extension to give E27 member states enough time to ratify it. It seems most unlikely that A.50 would be extended in the absence of imminent agreement. The negotiations would have to be effectively completed by March for such an extension to be likely.
Some Remainers and commentators still cling to the hope that the A.50 notification could be withdrawn. But what party other than the Lib Dems is likely to campaign on that basis and form a government with a mandate to do so? The end game now is likely to be around whether any kind of deal can be negotiated and ratified in time, or whether there is an unavoidable slide towards a no deal Brexit. Over two long years after the referendum the end is slowly coming into view, and it is not a pretty sight...
Boris may be about to discover he is not a reincarnation of Churchill and the world has changed since 1940. Trump is most unlikely to come riding in to the rescue and the EU27 are not about to abandon their main basis for peace and prosperity since World War II. The Commonwealth may offer some consolation but hardly a return to British imperial rule. Scotland will most probably go its own way and N. Ireland seek salvation elsewhere. And all because a small English nationalist elite wanted to "take back control" from a Brussels elite which would not always do their bidding.
A sad end, to a once great power.