Richard North, 01/08/2017  

There was never any good reason why Brexit should be a disaster. Leaving the EU was always going to be complicated, but it never was impossible – until the Tory "Ultras" set their stall out to make it so.

It is in this light that the current disagreements must be seen – an internal battle within the Tory Party between the right wing "Ultras" and what might be called the pragmatists, as represented by Philip Hammond.

We should have seen this coming when, exactly a year before the referendum, we had Dominic Cummings refusing to entertain an exit plan on the basis that it would be impossible to get an agreement on its precise nature because there were huge splits between the different factions.

I disagreed and still do, arguing that the issues should be thrashed out, whence we needed strong leadership to take us forward with the solution that emerged.

Those two requirements, however, are still missing. We are as far away as ever from devising a workable solution and, as time passes, our options diminish. Already, we've probably blown any chance of negotiating Efta membership, and we don't have time to construct a bespoke agreement. As for leadership, all you have to say is two words: Theresa May – trying and failing to end the squabbling.

We should not be surprised either that the chaos vultures are hovering over the site of the soon-to-be train wreck. There have always been businesses that thrive on chaos, so one should expect them to see in Brexit major opportunities.

There is no need to get hung up on the use of the term "disaster capitalism". With the amount of money potentially involved, one might expect some enterprising capitalists (and that is what they are) to give the politics a nudge in the "right" direction to ensure (for them) a favourable outcome. And £4 million a year to buy the Tory right is cheap at the price - chump change for a multi-billionaire.

Thus, we have another from the ranks of the ever-willing useful fools, in the form of Robert Colvile churning out his Muppetry in pursuit of the Legatum/Chandler agenda.

"Brexit", he recalls having written, "only made sense as a kind of shock therapy – a way of galvanising the British economy into becoming truly competitive, of pushing firms to look to export markets, of forcing us to face to up the flaws in our own economic model, such as our failure to build enough houses or give many young people the skills they need".

This is exactly the same as the superficial nostrums dribbling out from the likes of Minford, a man who talks glibly of "good shocks" which force the British economy to adapt and deliver future prosperity, heedless of the short- to medium-term consequences.

In different circumstances, we've seen exactly the same dynamic used in the construction of le projet only then we called it the beneficial crisis. Even quite recently, we had the Financial Times quoting Jean Monnet, declaring: "“Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises". Anybody who thought that the crisis that Brexit is fast becoming wasn't going to be exploited needs to renew their day pass to the kindergarten.

On each side of the coin, we see the same dynamic – the pursuit of some future nirvana, for which we must sacrifice the present. Between the "Ultras" and the federalists, there is no difference in method. Only the objectives change. And in neither case, can mere democracy interfere. And to ensure the path of least resistance, there must be no public debate.

Sadly, as the train wreck comes closer, the "Ultras" have the easier job of it. They just have to block progress, obfuscate and confuse. There are plenty of people, bolstered by the ranks of useful fools, ready to suck up their self-serving propaganda, giving the illusion of widespread public support.

In that context, the current controversy over whether freedom of movement will end when we leave is just another way of confusing the issue. There is no the slightest chance that this issue can be settled in isolation from the broader EU negotiations.

Not only do we have the interests of British expats to look after, we have to confront the vast issue of how we're going to manage the tens of millions of passenger movements between the UK and the continent that take place each year. If we cannot police those – and the infrastructure to do it simply does not exist – how are we going to detect that much smaller number that comes to our shores and decides not to return?

But, as long as the "Ultras" can throw the occasional bone in the ring, for the chatterati to obsess over, it will keep them from addressing the real and more pressing issues.

The job of the "Ultras" is made that much easier by the confusion amongst the "remainers". Some are taking a hard line, wanting to frustrate the referendum result, directly campaigning for a second referendum to reverse the decision. Others are taking a more devious line, pushing for a hard Brexit in the hope that the resultant chaos will drive us back into the arms of Mother Europe.

Yet others are joining with the pragmatists, looking for a sensible solution to mitigate the effects of Brexit. But, if this latter group are at one with the like-minded "leaver" faction, to form a moderate centre, they lack leadership and a clear narrative.

The "remainer" factions, therefore, are as every bit disjoined as the "leavers" and are equally without leadership, relying on either Corbyn or a lacklustre Lib-Dem grouping that can't make up its mind what it wants. 

To this we must add the almost total inability of the media to report Brexit in anything other than binary terms. It is either "leavers" or "remainers". That there is a centre ground is beyond their comprehension, leaving then to purvey their simplistic narrative to the growing tedium of all.

As the media indulges itself, though, the clock ticks away. Every day spent on charting the twists and turns of the warring Tory tribes is a day less spent on addressing the practical issues of Brexit, and the complications which seem to multiply by the hour.

What of course it really needs is for a leader to come in the middle, bang heads together and set out a clear programme for everyone to get behind. But I've already used those two words, Theresa May, which explain why that isn't going to happen.

All we're getting for our money at the moment is internecine warfare between warring Tory tribes. Yet even that does not represent the true nature of the battle going on. Behind the fluff and the distractions is a deadly struggle to define the shape of Brexit.

Not one newspaper nor one broadcaster is even close to reporting what is going on and even those who have an inkling are not going to be able to break from the herd. Those politicians who are not in a fog of their own making, have sold themselves out to a doctrine every bit as poisonous as the one they seek to replace, while the entire progress of Brexit is stalled in a miasma of confusion.

We're getting to the stage now where the situation is probably beyond salvation. There is a small chance, right up to the day we leave, that the current government could be overthrown and be replaced by politicians who have the national interest at heart.

Completely out of left field it may seem, but what we actually need is a government of national unity, with a strong centrist bias, prepared to take the extremes and fight for a sensible Brexit. Such a grouping does not yet exist, but I have long felt that we are overdue for a realignment in British politics, with a new centrist party comprising the more moderate elements of the existing parties.

A Conservative Party dominated by the right is as loathsome – and terrifying – as a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Neither are sustainable and, demonstrably, neither can manage the Brexit process in the national interest.

Should a miracle happen, that would leave a new government to seek extra time from the EU-27 and start anew on the Brexit process, looking for a solution that all parties can live with. But without that miracle, the future looks very gloomy indeed.

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Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
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