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Brexit: the options are closing in

2017-07-12 07:16:17

While the cretin Johnson made a fool of himself in the Commons again, telling Brussels they can "go whistle" for their "extortionate" divorce bill, David Davis was trying to laugh off his intervention from of the House of Lords EU Committee.

That, at least, gave him something to do, as the rest amounted to not very much in a lacklustre appearance which leaves us none the wiser in our attempts to divine the government's true Brexit intentions.

Unlike virtually anyone else in the world, though, Davis believes the "technicalities" of negotiating a free trade deal can be completed within the remaining time, "if the political will is there". He thus relegates the transitional period to a matter of implementing what has been agreed essentially to allow the French, Belgians and the Dutch to catch up with their administration.

The Guardian catches some of this, the most accessible evidence that we haven't made this all up, just to portray the Brexit Secretary in a bad light.

"It will be quite tough to get customs in the right place in two years but it's doable with a bit of money, but to get the French customs in the same place in two years or the Belgian or the Dutch customs I think will be a different issue, that's why a transition period [is needed]", Davis said.

Doubtless, Mr Davis actually believes what he's saying, so confirming the many warnings we've been getting direct and indirect about our Brexit Secretary being almost totally detached from reality.

Sadly, the select committee gave him rather an easy time although that is par for the course. Parliamentarians in general have shown themselves to be all at sea. Even if they could work out the right questions to ask, it is unlikely that they would understand the answers assuming they were properly answered.

With Theresa May now a year in office, we are truly no further forward then when our new prime minister stood outside Parliament and declared "Brexit means Brexit". We didn't know what it meant then, and don't now.

From diverse sources, though, I get a sense of the mood changing, and not for the better. Pessimism stalks the land and more as more people now believe that the most likely Brexit scenario is that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. Whether this will be by accident or design is moot but the effect will be largely the same.

Within the last few days, the Financial Times had his Gideon Rachman do a piece outlining our options, which now seem to be distinctly unpromising.

These range from a limited trade deal where the UK is forced to accept the EU's terms, more or less in their entirety, to the "no deal" scenario. But the third humiliating outcome involves Britain realising that there is no good Brexit on offer. It abandons the whole idea and returns meekly to the EU fold.

Faced with that latter prospect, one can see the "ultras", having largely engineered the failure of the talks, pushing for a rapid, "no deal" exit. The effect of that will be to precipitate an economic depression of a scale similar to that of the 20s, if not worse. The resultant internal strife could take decades to heal and the economy a great deal longer.

The really scary thing about this is that, as you look at Davis and listen to his simplistic, comforting nostrums, there is not the slightest hint that he recognises the peril that confronts us. Either we have totally misread the situation, or we really are looking at a man who dwells in an alternate universe.

Such a mess has been made of Brexit so far though that it is difficult to see how it can be recovered. Perhaps our only workable option is to apply for an extension of time and press the reset button, starting over with the idea of implementing the Efta/EEA interim option.

Yet, even the idea of a time extension has been rejected by Davis, which means that the clock ticks on, with less than 21 months to go. Some time might be gained by the procedural device of "stopping the clock", but that usually only brings short-term relief.

Even if we now focus exclusively on the transition process assuming we can agree in principle the shape of the final settlement that is far from being a simple or speedy process. And the outcome, which will necessarily keep us partially in the EU, will itself be politically unacceptable to a large number of people.

The idea also of using the EEA for a short-term stopover is, on the other hand, an unlikely solution. Tailoring the EEA Agreement to fit the requirements of the UK would take most if not all of the time we have left, and we could not finalise the Article 50 settlement until we knew where we were going with the EEA.

And then of course, there is that very minor detail of re-joining Efta getting the agreement of all four existing members in the context of the UK government having shown no enthusiasm for membership. One cannot see Efta members responding positively to being treated as a second-rate option.

Even though the advantages of continued Single Market participation are evident and well-expressed here, the opportunity is slipping away in a miasma of delusion and ignorance.

What too few people seem to understand here is that it is possible for nations to go into a spiral of decline from which there is no recovery. Of the great empires of the past, we can look to Greece, Rome, Spain and even Austria and Hungary. Where are they now in the global league?

Therefore, while Brexit represents a huge opportunity, there is always the downside. And while we have been living with managed decline ever since the First World War, there is no indication that we can survive the effects of a bodged Brexit. Smaller perturbations have cause greater damage, so blind optimism is not going to save us.

The writing is on the wall. The banks are leading the exodus, and the rest will follow. Altogether, the only result we have seen from May's ascension to prime minister is, one-by-one, for our options to close in. Another year of this and, I suspect, we will know our fate.

Sadly, I think we already know it. All we're really doing is waiting for the confirmation. As a nation it seems, we can survive anything except Tory incompetence.