Richard North, 22/06/2019  
 


The debate in which we've all been engaged would be a lot less tedious if we weren't constantly having to recycle the same limited set of factoids, while rehearsing the same banal assumptions that are never going to fly.

For instance, since virtually forever, the "colleagues" have been making it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation. Yet here we are with both of the remaining candidates for the Tory leadership asserting that the first thing on their respective agendas is renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Predictably, the "colleagues" are getting a tad fed up with this constant recycling, hence the intervention of Donald Tusk yesterday at the conclusion of the European Council.

Having in April warned Britain to use the latest extension wisely, he was asked by the BBC whether his advice had been ignored. And the response could hardly have been any different. Tusk took the opportunity to accuse the UK of wasting the time it had been given.

For Jeremy Hunt, though, this is only one of two rebuffs he got yesterday. This man has been asserting that EU leaders, including Angela Merkel, are willing to consider amending the Withdrawal Agreement, with specific reference to the backstop.

Yet, the news from this quarter is far from promising. Reiterating the obvious, Mrs Merkel has now said that, while the EU was "willing to work cooperatively" with a new British prime minister, leaders had stressed that this withdrawal agreement was closed and could not be renegotiated.

"We are open for talks when it comes to the Declaration on the future UK-EU relations if the position of the United Kingdom were to evolve", she said, "but the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation".

Just to even things out, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has closed down on Johnson's latest fantasy, pointing out that his claim to a tariff-free world using Article XXIV of GATT was unwarranted. "We should be clear", he said, "that not having an agreement with the EU means there are tariffs automatically", adding: "Because the EU have to apply the same rules to us as they apply to everyone else".

The thing is, though, that there is nothing new here – nothing that hasn't been said many times before, and nothing that hasn't been rehearsed on this blog and yet, here we are, days short of the third anniversary of the EU referendum and we're churning over these self-same issues.

One doesn't have to be at all expert or especially knowledgeable to pick up these issues. The real question is why they haven't been resolved, and why they continue to be raised by people who should know better.

But what is not being properly addressed are the consequences of this. Effectively, both candidates for the Tory leadership are offering false prospectuses on the flagship policy of Brexit. And, worse than that, they are putting forward scenarios that anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge should know is false.

That suggests one of three things. Either the candidates are so thick that they don't realise what they are offering simply won't fly, or they think we're so stupid that we won't notice that we're being lied to – or that we simply don't care.

Certainly, the legacy media doesn't care – or doesn't care enough. The big story on Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson in the papers today, making the front-page headline in The Times, is how police were called yesterday to the flat of his paramour, Carrie Symonds, after complaints of a heated argument.

First run in the Guardian, part of its report is based on a recording of the altercation where Symonds is heard saying Johnson had ruined a sofa with red wine. "You just don't care for anything because you're spoilt. You have no care for money or anything", she complains.

This is being raised as additional grounds for questioning Johnson's fitness for office. But, if it does raise doubts, it also misses the point. Yesterday, we heard serious arguments from the highest possible sources that the leadership candidates' policies on Brexit are junk – that they cannot possibly be implemented.

One almost has to do a double-take to recall that Mrs May was forced to resign because she was unable to resolve the Brexit impasse yet here we have her potential replacements in exactly the same position, unable to come up with any credible offerings which will take us forward.

By any measure, this puts us at the seat of a major political crisis, yet it would seem that the media are so inured to fantasy politics that they've cease to notice. The hollowness of the candidates' pitches have already been relegated to down-page slots, treated almost as technical oddities.

However, picking up on the theme from my post yesterday, The Times is suggesting that Johnson is indeed drawing up early plans for a general election.

Noting that Johnson is supported by 74 percent of Tory members, against Jeremy Hunt's 26 percent, according to a YouGov poll, the paper goes on to say that preparations for the Oaf going to No 10 "include putting the Tory party on an election footing in the event that parliament refuses to accept a 31 October Brexit".

This, the paper suggests, might involve an electoral pact with Farage's party, where the two parties agreed not to run candidates against one another. Yet this actually seems an unlikely scenario. An early election scenario would make much more sense if Johnson had already taken us out of the EU, thus neutralising Farage's USP.

And since, bearing in mind the comments of Tusk and Angela Merkel, the only realistic way an early withdrawal can be engineered is to go for a no-deal Brexit, that it what we must expect from a Johnson premiership.

Since this is virtually the only possible outcome from a Johnson victory, and indeed the only outcome if he intends to honour his 31 October pledge, we really need the media to be focusing on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, and how the candidates plan to manage the consequences.

Most likely, all we can expect is for the details to be fudged, with Johnson evading the issue while the media devotes most of its energies to personality politics. Mentally and physically, the nation will be wholly unprepared to the economic and political turmoil that is about to engulf us.

Nor can we rely on electoral caution to deliver us from the worst effects. There has always been a general expectation that a Tory government might seek to avoid a no-deal because the consequences would be so dire that they would face annihilation in the 2022 general election.

An early general election, before the effects of a no-deal exit had been felt, would change that calculus while we have in Johnson a man stupid enough to believe the ERG propaganda, and work on the premise that the longer-term effects of a no-deal would be beneficial.

On that basis, all he needs to do is believe he can weather the short-term perturbations on our journey to the sunlit uplands. On the normal electoral cycle, a November election would make the next one due in 2024, by which time Johnson might have hoped to have signed an advantageous trade deal with the EU, and the economy might have stabilised after the no-deal dip.

Such is the capacity of the political classes for self-delusion – and Johnson in particular – that, to them, an obviously insane course of action could look to be the most rational option. And, given that Johnson seems currently to be trying to delude himself that renegotiation is an option, just about anything is possible.






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