Saturday, 12 August 2017


Brexit won't happen

My party's leader, Vince Cable, has said Brexit won't happen.  He may well be right and here's why.  What I say below is taken from the media, particularly lectures to Gresham College by Helen Kennedy and Vernon Bogdanor

Three issues need to be settled before the EU is even prepared to start talking about post-Brexit arrangements.    These are the rights of citizens, the Brexit bill and the Irish border.  I used to think that the first of these was the easiest to settle but Kennedy’s lecture has made me realise that, because the EU is insisting on no detriment to citizens and families and the continued jurisdiction of a supra-national court – in effect, the ECJ –  the UK has very little room for manoeuvre.  Secondly, as for the exit bill, BoJo has said that the EU can ‘go whistle’. On this occasion, he may actually be speaking for the Cabinet because any exit payment is very unattractive but, of course, if the UK refuses to pay what the EU deems the right figure, that makes it impossible to have an organised departure on time, making it imperative the UK has a transitional deal.  Thirdly, the Republic of Ireland is committed to an open border because, as Kennedy points out, it dropped its constitutional claim to the North as part of the Good Friday Agreement.  The RoI will veto any deal which rows back from the Agreement, with the support of the rest of the EU, as the national parliaments will have a voice in the acceptability of the exit deal.  It’s worth mentioning that the exit deal will also have to be agreed by the UK Parliament, where ideological nationalists are in a minority in both Houses but particularly the Lords. 

The Cabinet already recognises that Brexit negotiations will not have been finalised by March 2019 and that a transitional deal will be necessary.  However, it looks like even an agreement on the Brexit deal, let alone fresh arrangements with the EU, is unachievable.  If there is a three year transitional deal from March 2019 that will take us into the next General Election, after which the most likely outcome is that the transitional deal will solidify into a permanent arrangement entailing a continued economic relationship with the EU but weakened political influence. The Chancellor and the International Trade Secretary agree that the government wants to ensure "there will not be a cliff-edge when we leave the EU" (Philip Hammond and Liam Fox in post-Brexit deal call: BBC 13/8/17) but a comprehensive post-Brexit trade deal will take decades to negotiate and will depend on the goodwill of the EU and its constituent members, not on what suits the Brexiteers, who continue to fail to realise that Johnny Foreigner has his own voters.  In other words, a lot of inertia will attach to a transitional deal.

 One consolation for Remainers such as me is that Brexit will probably be achieved to the extent that we will withdraw from the European Parliament, which means that the UKIP MEPs will lose their cushy numbers. I hope they lose the pensions too but if they do they can always go to the ECJ. That would be ironic.

Another possibility is that by March 2022 all but the most fanatical Brexiteers will have realised the whole thing is a farce and there will be a referendum on rejecting whatever deal has been struck by then and we will formally revert to the status quo.  That, hopefully, will be framed in such a way that we don't get another stupid result.  A second referendum does not seems a possibility at the moment though the less progress is made with the talks and the more the underlying realities strike home, the more likely it becomes.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation hails Brexit

Meanwhile, I react with incredulity, indeed anger, to Emma Stone, Director of Policy & Research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who in the latest Friends Quarterly assures us that Brexit gives the UK an unprecedented opportunity to forge a new long-term deal to solve poverty in a generation. This sounds at best naive and at worst like a slogan to be found in the mouth of the most ardent English nationalist. On 1 August William Hague, a former Foreign Secretary, said Brexit has the potential to become the "greatest economic, diplomatic and constitutional muddle in the modern history of the UK, with unknowable consequences for the country, the government and the Brexit project itself".  This actually, sounds like an understatement, because there is no question of 'potential' about it. Similarly, former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband has described the outcome of last year's referendum as an "unparalleled act of economic self-harm" (BBC 13 August 2017).  Dr Stone, however, seems to know better.

The anti-poverty lobby must surely understand that Brexit is thoroughly bad news for the UK and particularly for the poor, but let me remind Dr Stone of the reasons. Firstly it has led to a fall in the pound and a rise in inflation for basic goods such as food. Secondly it has undermined confidence and the potential for economic growth and job creation. Thirdly, it has diverted human and economic resources towards solving the conundrums which Brexit poses and away from the issues that really matter, such as poverty and climate change. At best, Brexit will result in a messy version of the status quo but in any event any beneficiaries will not be the poor.

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