Richard North, 27/03/2018  
 


If there was going to be any rebellion against Mrs May's European Council Brexit "surrender", it was going to be today, when she reported on the meeting to the House of Commons.

But there wasn't even the slightest whiff of dissidence in the air and when it came to the turn of the putative ringleader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, he wimped out just like the rest of his gutless colleagues – having been in no small measure responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves.

"Many of us" he said, "are concerned that, in the transition period, most of the red lines have gone, but we can live with it on the basis that they will be restored when we finally leave". The spirit of Maastricht didn't even make it to the first bar.

Given the hell fire and brimstone that the "ultras" have been spewing out over the months, all this craven little creature wanted was "reassurance" that, when we leave, "we will be out of the single market, out of the customs union and out of any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice".

With the prime minister enjoying the easiest ride from a back bench caucus since Vaseline was invented, she was "happy" to reiterate that "we will be leaving the single market, we will be leaving the customs union". And, for good measure, "we will be leaving the common fisheries policy - we will be ensuring that we take back control of our waters".

With that, the sleeping dogs slept on, having been disturbed only slightly by a querulous question from John Redwood, asking whether the Government would "produce their draft legislation, so that we can have the new fishing policy, the new farming policy, the new spending policies and, above all, the new borders policies that will represent the Brexit bonus that we are all waiting for".

Mrs May had batted this away without so much as disturbing a single hair on her coiffured head and, in a relatively thinly attended chamber, there were few "ultras" on station to witness the humiliation. The prime minister lived to fight another day, the "ultras" a spent force.

Next in line is Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who is setting himself up for a fall with an amendment to the withdrawal bill demanding a "meaningful vote" on the final deal by MPs.

In the event of a rejection, Starmer wants the prime minister to "go back to the negotiating table" to achieve a better deal. But since there is no provision for the negotiations to be reopened, any such attempt would most likely mean the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal. Ironically, Labour has taken over the baton from the "ultras".

Meanwhile, the government has reopened its own talks with Brussels on the Irish border. But, from the look of things, it is reheating earlier proposals which have already been rejected by the Commission as "magical thinking".

Needless to say, this will get little attention from Parliament, whose MPs have secured a far more interesting (to them) debate on Vote Leave's spending allegations. This will be followed assiduously by the popular media which has given up any pretence of making an intelligent contribution to the Brexit debate.

Huffing and puffing in the corner, however, is the Financial Times, trying to give the impression that it is still a newspaper. It is whingeing that the UK will be excluded from access to contracts for developing the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system.

Worse still, it complains that we may be excluded from the encrypted, high-accuracy public regulated service (PRS) component of the system. The Commission is apparently arguing that the service would be "irretrievably compromised" if a non-member state has access to it.

This is supposed to have defence implications, although – as major customers of US defence hardware – we have full access to US high-definition GPS, sufficient for most if not all military needs.

Being blocked from using PRS, however, could have major implications for the UK's as yet undeclared plans for road charging and intrusive traffic enforcement systems. While the US has guaranteed that GPS is free to all users, that does not apply to governments wanting to exploit the technology for revenue-raising purposes. For the UK to go ahead with satellite-based road charging and similar schemes, it would need the PRS.

To that extent, we can count dropping out of the Galileo project as a lucky escape, a hidden benefit of Brexit - especially as it has been so badly managed that, at one time, we were calling it the CAP of the sky, having increased in cost from its original estimate of €3.4 billion to well over €10 billion.

This notwithstanding, this is another example of UK business (and academic) interests being frozen out of lucrative EU spending projects (even if our contributions sometimes exceed the returns). It is said of the space programme, though, that we are net beneficiaries, with added spin-offs from being able to sell technology applications outside Europe.

Losses here can be taken as part of the "Brexit penalty" – the very antithesis of the "Brexit bonus" that Redwood was prattling about in the House yesterday. There will be no "bonus", and I'm just waiting to see the response when the government has to start spending on customs posts instead of hospitals, and hiring officials instead of nurses. Wait then for the French and other continental nations to demand funding for their border infrastructure.

And it is this which is gradually going to start concentrating minds. But what Mrs May has also done by kicking the cannery down the road - agreeing a transition period without the "end game" trade agreement – is give businesses more time to execute their contingency plans. For the main part, these will involve relocating all or parts of their enterprises away from the UK, with the inevitable consequences for jobs and UK earnings.

No one outside the all-embracing rose-tinted filters erected by government is under any illusion that a Canada-style trade agreement will be anything but a disaster for many UK operations. Into the next decade, we can expect serious losses in financial services, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, aviation and motor manufacturing, and food processing. Even tourism may take a hit, while fishing and farming will struggle to survive.

That fact that this will now be a slow-motion train-wreck, rather than the "big-bang" disaster so often predicted, means that the media can stay asleep and the politicians can pretend it isn't happening. Even if the losses trigger a recession (or worse), there are plenty of other economic factors which can be blamed.

The worst of it all though is possibly the reputational damage – as this so often impacts on business confidence and investment decisions. How bad can it get when we have Tony Blair crowing that the Europeans, "having at first thought that there was some truly cunning plan [behind Brexit] from the best brains of the British system now frankly think it is the product of the brain of Baldrick".

This is a man who is telling us that it is a measure of the frailty of the public discourse around Brexit that the "deal" the government struck last week on transitional arrangements, was accepted as some sort of victory. The reality, he says, "is that Britain conceded that, during the transition, we will remain bound fully by European rules, though we will have lost our say over them. It was not a compromise but a capitulation".

One feature of Brexit is that we find ourselves increasingly agreeing with natural opponents, but it really comes to something when we find common cause with Blair, having already said what he now observes – to which the media seems totally oblivious.

Stop for one moment and consider the implications of a situation where we are writing in terms of "disaster" and "surrender", only to find the media happily trilling away about Mrs May's "success". Something is seriously amiss, the nature of which we shall become increasingly aware.






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