Richard North, 19/07/2020  
 


Over the past week, I've posted three pieces dealing with aspects of TransEnd preparedness, including reviewing an article published by The Guardian based on an IOD study, reporting that "three out of four firms" are "unprepared for Brexit".

Now we come to the weekend and we have that paper's stablemate, The Observer retail essentially the same information, only this time recycled by a think-tank, in a glorious statement of the bleedin' obvious.

I suppose this reflects the flatness of the current Brexit-related agenda, where the only way of keeping the issue alive is to use the same factoids over and over again, each time adding a slightly different spin, to keep the punters entertained.

Bluntly, I don't think it's working. As I've observed before, there are only so many times that you can keep repeating the same stories before people walk away. Soon enough that's going to happen with Covid-19 as well, as the same diet of stories continues to spread endless confusion, combined with tedium.

But then, the politics of decline isn't very diverting. It might be news – of a sort - but the relentless nature of our national experience doesn't grab the imagination in the same way as the goings-on of a vibrant economy do.

It's a bit like my reading on the Second World War. One dutifully ploughs through the first bit when we're losing, but it doesn't really get interesting until the tide turns and we start zapping Jerry, or the Japs. Normandy is fascinating reading, as is the account of the battle of Kohima.

In some respects, though, Brexit is more like the First World War battles, where huge energy is expended on moving a few yards, in between long period of relative inactivity in the style of combat which became known as trench warfare.

The only certainty was that it had to end sometime, although no-one could say when or how. And that is much the same with Brexit the process. The transition may be ending on 31 December but that can't be the end of it. The situation that Johnson will leave us with will not be sustainable and it will have to be revisited.

In the meantime, the only thing to report will be the account of a nation in decline only, unlike the First World War (and the Second, for that matter), we can't guarantee that there will be an end. Nations do go into permanent decline – there is nothing in the rules that says a downturn has to be cyclical.

Of course, everything is relative. The very poor will stay poor, only there will probably be more of them. The very rich have a habit of getting richer, and they also tend to increase in numbers as well, although not at the same rate. It is those in the middle who get squeezed, although lifestyle adjustments can reduce the impact.

The big danger, as I see it is that we turn into a nation of introverts. When the economy is going down the pan and there is relatively little you can do about it, and when politics is no longer working, either at national or local level, people tend to shut down and lose interest.

Family, garden, hobbies and other personal preoccupations crowd out current affairs, as people realise that they have no ability to affect things outside their immediate circle.

This is the great tragedy of Brexit – supposedly the great renaissance of democracy where, as the slogan had it, we were going to take back control. The only people in control, though, are the political elites, and then only over those where they can offer patronage or rule by fear.

Even then, the government cannot control, especially as most Cabinet ministers (to borrow a phrase used by Nick Cohen) would have difficulty parking a car in an empty field – or clearing a blocked toilet.

Nick Cohen actually makes some interesting points about the way the Johnson administration works, pointing out that the "pathetically insecure narcissist" that is our prime minister requires the constant reinforcement of applause from his party.

"He’s an abject, hectoring, incompetent show-off", says one Conservative politician. "If you don't love him or can't fake a love for him, he will go for you", he says. Cohen, for his part, writes:
Frauds cannot stand the sight of honest men and women. They must surround themselves with counterfeits who reflect their dishonesty back at them. Britain has seen so many die during the Covid-19 pandemic, and will have a European deal that will kick a bleeding country when it's down, because Johnson forced competent and principled men and women out of the Conservative party or left them on the backbenches. He could not bear to be in their presence. And to be fair, they could not bear to be in his.
This is the man who is running Brexit, and it's no wonder we're heading for an ocean-going mess. It's the only thing it could ever be as long as he is in charge. Why anybody ever thought any different, I can't possibly imagine. We were domed from the moment he became prime minister.

Oddly enough, I've just bought a (second hand) copy of David Cameron's autobiography, For the Record. I need it for the revision of The Great Deception. It arrived yesterday and the first thing I did was look at some of the indexed entries on Johnson.

Cameron writes about how the pressure for a referendum was building, yet Michael Gove, "one of the more ardent Eurosceptics" on his team, "was surprisingly opposed to promising a referendum, principally on the grounds that other priorities were more important".

"Boris Johnson", he then writes, who was a Eurosceptic but never argued for leaving the EU, was now echoing the call for a referendum. But…
He seemed to have done almost no thinking about what sort of referendum, when it should be held, or what the government's view should be. Nevertheless, as a popular figure but in power a mayor of London, his support for a referendum – however inchoate – was a potentially dangerous development if we decided against holding one.
I do like that word "inchoate". It describes Johnson to perfection, and that's exactly the Brexit he is delivering.

As a sign of the times, we have currently a BBC report which has "safety experts" urging the UK government to exclude American cars from any post-Brexit trade deal. They say imported vehicles should meet British safety standards for accidents with pedestrians, cyclists and children.

Johnson, we are told, has indicated he expects cars to be included in any new transatlantic trade agreement. But safety campaigners point to a spike of pedestrian injuries and deaths in US road accidents. The increase is associated with a boom in large SUVs, which have been engineered to protect passengers but not pedestrians.

This is one of the many areas where there are essential differences between US and UK (i.e., EU) regulation. Whereas the EU fully subscribes to the UNECE WP.29 code, the US never signed up to the full code and, in any case, UNECE has not yet developed a full type approval system, so we rely on the EU code.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that the "inchoate" Johnson hasn't thought about this. And, in any event, his understanding of regulation and regulatory affairs, is terrifyingly slender.

David Ward, president of the Global New Car Assessment Programme, tells the BBC that "US crash standards are much lower for pedestrians... we simply can't let American vehicles into the UK if they don’t meet our standards". But a Department for Transport spokeswoman says that the government will decide its own safety regulations after Brexit.

If we break away from the EU/UNECE code (which is more attuned to crowded and (largely) narrower European roads), then not only will more people most likely die, but it will damage the car industry if it is required to adopt dual standards.

Such things, of course, should have been considered long ago, but this isn't the way Johnson works. He's the General, miles behind the front lines, living a life of luxury and totally unaware of what is going on - the donkey leading the lions.






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