Richard North, 11/11/2019  
 


This is the way it goes. The Tories cobble together an attack piece in time for the Sundays, claiming that Labour policies will cost £1.2 trillion, and achieve some success in placing the figure on the front pages of a few sympathetic newspapers.

By mid-Sunday, Labour has counter-attacked, deriding the Tory costings as a "work of fiction". Nevertheless, the £1.2 trillion figure has been lodged in the public consciousness and left to stew for the first part of Sunday. Labour's profligacy with public money, the message says, makes the party unelectable.

Johnson seriously needs a distraction of this nature, as his Brexit policy is falling apart in front of our very eyes. Under pressure from Farage, it seems that he has committed to getting "the fantastic new free trade agreement with the EU by the end of 2020". Thus, he confirms, "we will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020".

This comes from Johnson's Sunday night "Twitter video" proving beyond doubt that the man is a complete idiot. He burbles about a "fantastic deal" that means "we can take back control of our money our borders, our laws, as soon as we come out of the EU".

"And of course", he says, "it enables us to do a big free trade deal with our EU friends and partners. And I want to stress that that will be a straightforward free trade agreement with no political alignment".

But this "straightforward free trade agreement" is "on the model of a Super Canada Plus arrangement", which is anything but straightforward. Furthermore, the actual EU-Canada agreement (CETA) took eight years to conclude.

But just to demonstrate how deeply he is embedded in his own fantasy world, Johnson tells us: "Look at how quickly we got a new withdrawal agreement done it took us less than three months" – an assertion of jaw-dropping proportions.

Apart from the fact that the bulk of the withdrawal agreement is unchanged from the draft brokered by Mrs May – with only the Irish protocol having undergone any substantive changes – the actual changes are a reversion to the previous deal agreed by Mrs May until it was scuppered by the DUP.

For Johnson to claim his process took "less than three months" puts him in the land of the fayries, where unicorns graze and cuddly white lambs gambol in perpetual sunlight. The man is barking mad.

Then to use as an example something that took the best part of a tortuous three years, as the basis for a claim that we can conclude a comprehensive trade agreement in so short a time, is to put him on another planet.

Even then, Johnson is asserting that this could be done by the end of 2020, a mere eleven months. But this will be a mixed treaty, so it will have to be ratified by all 27 EU Member States, including some of their regional parliaments.

And although there are provisions for treaties to take partial effect before ratification, the parties really need to leave about six months for the process. This means, effectively, the treaty must be concluded by June, leaving a mere five months for negotiations.

The most likely consequence of this insane timetable is that we drop out of the EU without a fully-formed deal and fall back on the EU's contingency arrangements. The best we could hope for is a "bare bones" treaty, limited to tariff-free arrangements and nothing much else.

Effectively, as we have remarked so often before, in terms of our trading relationship with the EU, this is so close to a no-deal exit as makes no difference. If Farage and his followers want WTO terms, that is exactly what they will get.

The problem though is that is what Johnson is promising, whether or not Farage is demanding it. It is his own personal default position, which he will execute if he wins a big enough majority in the election. With that, Farage effectively gets what he wants, so there is no need for him to take on the Tories with a full slate of candidates.

Despite that, the legacy media rather seem to be missing the point (as always). The Telegraph, for instance, is getting worked up about Farage's activities, running an editorial with the headline, "Nigel Farage risks losing everything with his great election gamble".

It argues that Farage now risks jeopardising the very achievement he has spent a political lifetime trying to bring about. And, while he can't win the election, and will be lucky if he wins any seats, Johnson can lose it. If that happens, the Telegraph says, there will be another referendum because Labour, the only other party likely to be in a position to form a government, is committed to one, albeit only after yet another renegotiation.

Somehow, though, I would have expected something more than this superficial analysis, even if it is rather difficult to second-guess Farage. While it is true that his party could damage the Tories, following its decline in the polls, there is probably less danger of that than there has been. There is even a possibility that support for the Brexit party could collapse.

Apparently, we will know of Farage's intentions today when he announces his plans in Hartlepool, but even if he agrees to stand down most of his candidates, it will make very little difference to Johnson's own declared plans. This is the point the legacy media seems to be missing. With or without Farage, Johnson seems to be heading for disaster.

On the other hand, Corbyn is more of an unknown quantity than even his policy ambiguities would suggest. He has said he will pursue a renegotiation if his party is elected to power, but he has been very thin on the detail. Also, he has not attempted to convince us that he could force the EU to take part in new talks, so his policy could be still-born before it gets off the ground.

Should the EU refuse to entertain a renegotiation, we are truly in uncharted territory, as Corbyn has not given the slightest clue of how he would react. He hasn't even indicated that he is aware that there is a problem.

Once again the Telegraph pitches in, this time giving space to Liam Fox to write that it is clear that anything other than a Tory victory "will perpetuate the stalemate and dither that has characterised the painful political period since the referendum".

It is not too hard to agree with this, as there is a high level of uncertainty attendant on a Corbyn victory. But that puts us, the voters, in an invidious position. We either go with Johnson who will most certainly lead us to disaster, or we choose Corbyn to take us to an uncertain destination, the outcome of which is difficult to predict, which will probably lead to disaster.

For those who are troubled by such prospects, a visit to Nick Cohen's latest column would confirm their worst fears.

He presents us with the choice in this election of #NeverCorbyn or #NeverBrexit, with the vote crossing party lines. Those who think Corbyn would be a disaster (which includes some high profile former Labour supporters) must vote for Johnson, even though they may loathe him and be unenthusiastic about Brexit. Those who believe that Brexit must be stopped at all costs are left to vote for Corbyn, even if they abhor his train-wreck policies.

According to Cohen, we must experience the horrors of either a Johnson or a Corbyn government before we have enough voters to turn against them, although that rather leaves the question hanging as to what alternative we would then choose.

This is where politics turns round to mock us. We are presented with extremely unattractive choices, with potential outcomes which no rational person would voluntarily accept. It is said that democracy is about choices, but there must be – and most certainly is – more to democracy than this.






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