Richard North, 03/05/2018  
 


Trying to analyse current events Brexitland is a complete waste of time. It's like expecting a specialist chess correspondent to take time out from the world championships to report on pre-school children playing the game when they don't know the rules, and expecting a predictable outcome.

The ultimate irony is that it doesn't matter anyway. The government, on the one hand, is talking complete nonsense, with its half-baked idea of a "customs partnership" while Ree Smog and his merry band want something completely different in some senses, but entirely the same in that it is equally irrelevant to the grand solution.

Circling the perimeter are the vultures, with the House of Lords doing such things, the like of which we know not yet. They are unlikely to be the terrors of the earth, though. Their accumulated votes are just about as irrelevant as just about everything else being done.

As for the government, to get it out of the hole which it has so recklessly dug for itself, we all know what must be done. But such things as are needed will not be done. Instead, ministers will continue to indulge in activities equivalent to sitting at a chequered board shunting pieces over the squares, with only the vaguest idea of what moves to make, until the time runs out.

What these people have to realise is that the "no deal" Brexit is like a massive bomb primed to explode automatically when the time runs out. That is the default scenario. For it not to happen, the hero must reach the detonating mechanism before the clock stops ticking and cut the green wire – or is it the red?

But in this game, there is no hero – just a prime minister who thinks that, if she says nice things to the bomb designers, they will switch it off and present her with a gift package of her choice. Neither she nor her ministers are really convinced that it will go off.

So, this is where we are – on a countdown to a "no deal", with no serious (or any) attempts being made to cut the wire. Millions more words will be spoken and as many more written before the detonation, but they will have no impact on events – none whatsoever. The die is cast.

Not least of our problems is that too many people in high places simply do not believe that the countdown is automatic and, if it is, the "no deal" scenario is nothing to worry about. The so-called "WTO option" holds no terrors for them, or they believe the EU will come to the rescue at the last minute, and make things continue just as they were before.

For the rest of us, barring a miracle, we have run out of options, and can only wait for the inevitable – earlier than some expected as there is unlikely to be a transition period. Barnier has made himself crystal clear: if there is no solution for the Irish border, there will be no withdrawal agreement – and no transition period.

One wonders what it takes to get through to our politicians, and convince them that Barnier means what he says. But then, in the forty years or so that we've been members of the Communities (and now the Union), our relationship has been littered with UK politicians who have dismissed the words of the "continentals", saying they didn't really mean what they've said.

When not just Barnier, but Tusk and Juncker, to say nothing of a procession of Irish politicians, have all being saying that the UK government's preferred option is not good enough, it is perhaps time to take notice.

There is of course, the chance that Mrs May will change tack and accept the EU's version of the "backstop" that she has already rejected, even with the face-saver pretence that it is only a temporary inconvenience. But there is no sign that this is any more politically palatable now than it was when she first rejected it.

And then, as I pointed out a little while ago, if this means a "wet border", the government has made no plans to implement it, and has none of the resources needed to put it into place by the end of a national transition period. Even if Mrs May was prepared to accept the EU's solution, she doesn't have the wherewithal to make it work.

For analysts such as myself, therefore, we are getting to the point where we have to decide how we handle the prospect of a "no deal" Brexit. I personally have written a great deal pointing out the consequences, and the European Commission's "Notices to Stakeholders" have added considerably more detail.

But if politicians and industry are determined to ignore the information that has been so freely given, then there is not much any of us can do. Perhaps they prefer the nostrums of Pete's minimum-knowledge McExperts , rather than confront the reality.

But anyone with skin in the game should expect the worst, and prepare for the worst. Anyone with any sentiments of optimism simply hasn't been paying attention. Unless you are a disaster capitalist, there is no upside to a "no deal" Brexit. And even then, those who are waiting to buy in that the bottom of the market may have a long time to wait. There is nothing in the book to say that what starts off as a recession can't degenerate into a depression.

Perhaps the only room we have for optimism is that Mrs May has been so damaged by the Windrush affair, and the other political events that have beset her premiership, that she will not see the month out. There is a certain symmetry in the end of May seeing the end of May.

What makes this less than likely are the same things that have kept Mrs May in office: the fractures in the party which prevent any one faction ousting their leader; the lack of any credible replacement; and the chronic weakness of the Labour Party. Maybe today's local elections may change things, but that is beyond my powers of prediction.

However, should we be fortunate enough to be rid of Mrs May and find ourselves with a competent leader at the helm, there first thing that must stop is the dreadful rhetoric about holding "war cabinets".

The essential fact that our politicians need to be addressing is that Brexit is not an exercise in terminating relations with out European neighbours, but changing the basis on which we do business. That we no longer want to be part of the European Union does not mean that we wish the Union or its members any harm. We are certainly not going to war wit the EU.

There is no acceptable scenario where we come away from Brexit with anything other than a commitment to maintain cordial relations with EU/EEA members, and the institutions of the EU and Efta/EEA. And in that case, the bellicose rhetoric has to stop.

Already, we have squandered an enormous amount of goodwill. Doubtless, the Brexit process would have been much smoother if we had approached it as a joint endeavour, seeking a common solution to the administrative problems thrown up by our departure.

With a new leader at the helm, our first task should be to negotiate an Article 50 extension, which can only come with unanimity. But if we show that we are prepared to look seriously at an Efta/EEA solution, then we should be able to make a powerful case for more time. And we could still be fully out of the EU by the end of 2020.

But, if there truly is no prospect of a change of leadership, then it is a question of sauve qui peut. Businesses need to be looking hard at whether they need to restructure their operations in order to deal with Brexit, and at the actions they need to take in the first few month from April 2019, when trade and communications could be badly disrupted.

For individuals, it is by no means untoward to consider stocking up on food and other essentials, from candles and batteries, to toilet paper and washing-up liquid, and matches and medicines. Basically, one should be able to sustain a basic lifestyle for about three months, on the assumption that many important commodities will no longer be available.

One might also need to consider what actions might be needed in anticipation of the breakdown of law and order that might well accompany a "no deal" Brexit, as well as the need to revise any travel plans in the first half of 2019. It would be unwise to plan any international flights.

As we get closer to the day, all we can then hope for is that the encroaching disaster will focus minds. But, if the legacy media are as useless as they have been, we cannot rely on much from that source. When the chips are down, it will be for us to rely on ourselves. If we are to ensure out own survival, we need to realise that the government is not our friend.






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