It has been a fairly grim week Brexit-wise with the HoC again putting fantasy over reality. I have to admit to being so depressed by the whole saga I have found it difficult to put pen to paper. Fortunately three of my favourite commentators, Prof Chris Grey, Ian Dunt and Prof Simon-Wren Lewis have written excellent pieces. Indeed Chris Grey has written two this week Brexit: bewilderment, dismay and shame, and the more optimistic Brexiters are finally being forced to face reality, both well worth reading in full. A brief extract of the former:
In fact, I was wrong to say that bewilderment and dismay are the only feelings to be had about what is happening. There is also shame. The shame not so much of being a member of a country where such political oafery exists – all countries have their share of that, after all – but of one whose entire political class has brought us to this. I don’t (just) mean Brexit, I mean a country made so weak and incompetent that it is reduced to begging the friends it has reviled for non-existent solutions to problems of its own making, for fear of fantasists, charlatans, numbskulls and thugs.
Some light relief can be had by categorising the various players into the four options, though some fit more than one category.
The latter Chris Grey piece is a bit more hopeful:
The EU is doing what the UK has failed to do:
In this sense the EU is doing what the UK collectively – its politics and media, more particularly – has signally failed to do: insist that however much Brexiters dislike them facts are facts and will not yield to any amount of rhetoric or be changed by any amount of ‘true faith’. Instead, Brexiters have been pandered to by a media that either trumpets their lies or fails to challenge them, sometimes by treating them as ‘equivalent’ to any other beliefs.
I can’t say I am so hopeful. As David Alan Green commented on twitter, where Orwell got it wrong was that it isn’t necessary to alter the historical record as people believe what they want to believe. True faith trumps reality.
There is also the sovereignty argument, which seems extremely seductive. I have never understood this believing that EU membership amplifies rather than reduces sovereignty. Gary Younge explores this in an interesting Guardian piece So, poorer Brexiters voted to be worse off? There’s nothing wrong in that.
This segues nicely into Prof Simon Wren-Lewis’s Why the UK cannot see that Brexit is utterly, utterly stupid and New Statesman article. An extract:
If you talk to almost anyone overseas, except those at the right wing extreme (like Trump) or part of a tiny minority of the left, their reaction to Brexit is similar to the former Prime Minister of Finland. What the UK is doing is utterly, utterly stupid. An act of self harm with no point, no upside. Now sometimes outside opinion is based on incomplete or biased information and should be discounted, but on Brexit it is spot on. So why are so many people in the UK unable to see what outsiders can see quite clearly.
This is of course a theme that Wren-Lewis looked at in “The Lies we were told”, book and blog post. Where he looks not only at Brexit but “austerity” and the 2015 GE. The common theme he argues is the pernicious nature of the right wing press and the BBC not doing its job.
Ian Dunt does not pull his punches on the Malthouse Compromise which has brought the Tory party together (but possibly just for a few days)
But there is a problem with the compromise: it is a useless pile of ERG sex fantasies, dressed up in nonsense legalese to hide its blushes. It would not get the support of the EU, it cannot be done in time, it does not solve the problems it claims to, it contains no new ideas, it is legally and strategically unsound, grossly misleading and full of lies about WTO laws its authors have not fully understood.
In summary therefore it has not been a good week Brexit-wise.
How not to make Friends and Influence People – Germany and Ireland
The UK now wants the removal of the hated Backstop. What seems to be forgotten was that the initial EU proposal was for a NI only backstop. The NI economy is tiny – less than 2% of the UK economy and poses very little threat. The UK as the Brexiters continue telling us is the 5th largest economy in the world and the EU was very reluctant to extend it to the entire UK.
May however insisted that it was a necessary and sufficient condition for the UK to agree to the Withdrawal Agreement. Ireland was very supportive behind the scenes, and feels a sense of betrayal. Sabine Weyand in a rare public appearance (which I would urge everyone to watch in full) describes the rejection of the backstop as “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” She is vastly more diplomatic than Ian Dunt but very clearly said all the technology alternatives to the Backstop had been forensically examined over months and shown not to work.
If there is to be movement however I would suggest a charm offensive to both the Irish who would have to agree to any change to the backstop and Germany as the most powerful member of the EU (though German influence is not as all powerful as many in the UK believe). Trust also is key – and it is in very short supply. Sadly the exact opposite seems to be happening.
Germany seems to be getting the lions share of hostility. Continuous and escalating references to the 2nd world war – fabricated history and gratuitous insults. What is deeply depressing is that the Germans admire the English very much. Even May is going to “Battle for Britain and Northern Ireland.” (By NI she means the DUP as the backstop is highly popular in NI). Low points were the ripping up of the letter from Airbus’s CEO by Mark Francois proclaiming “My father Reginald Francois was a D-Day veteran he never submitted to bullying by any German, neither will his son” and Kawczynski claiming the UK got no Marshall Plan aid unlike Germany. In truth the UK got considerably more Marshall Plan aid than Germany, but what is depressing is despite the fact that he has been repeatedly shown to be incorrect he refused to retract. One from the Newt Gingrich school “It doesn’t matter whats true – just what people believe to be true.”
Ireland being accused of Anglophobia, where the exact opposite is the case. The Irish do not hate the English.
Many years ago when I was a lecturer in Leeds Poly one of my English colleagues said his grandfather was an electrical engineer who worked at a telegraph station in the Wexford region of Ireland in the early 20th cent. He said very often the equipment would be vandalised, but invariably the next day people would come around with presents of bread, fish etc. apologising and stating “we love you, it is the UK government and system we hate.”
I think that sums it up nicely. The Irish love Britain but hate Brexit and the Brexiters. There is near complete consensus across political and civic society that Brexit is a bad thing and that backstop is necessary. There are only a handful that think otherwise but of course the BBC goes out of its way to seek out Ray Bassett or Ruth Dudley Edwards who represent possibly 5% of the population at best. Indeed as I said before the only Irish person I know who voted for Brexit (and is an Irish Republican) did so on the basis that it would harm England.
What happen’s next?
There is near consensus in Ireland that the backstop is necessary across all political parties and with the public in general. The probability of the Irish backing down is near zero. There is a higher probability that cracks will occur in the EU, but I would still say the probability is very low. Despite frantic efforts by the UK to roll Ireland over during the past few years, solidarity has been rock solid. The condescending tone the BBC seems to take when interviewing Irish politicians is also only going to strengthen resolve.
From the perspective of the EU outcomes in order of favourability are:
- No Brexit
- An EEA/Norway style solution.
- Current Brexit deal
- No deal
- A deal either threathens the integrity of the Single Market or prioritise a leaving state over an existing member (e.g. Ireland).
My feelers however tell me that the EU is getting so fed up with the UK that option one may no longer be as favoured as it once was.
From the Irish one long term dream is a United Ireland, but as argued previously it would be better if Northern Ireland had more time to heal. As in common with many recent opinion polls (see also the OFOCNI one) the December Lucid Talk one as shown in Fig 1. shows a substantial majority for a UI in the case of a hard Brexit (a 13% margin).
From the report: “There were 643,000 Protestants aged 16 and over in 1990; in 2017 this figure has decreased, to 612,000. Over this period, the number of Catholics increased by 165,000, or 38%, from 440,000 to 605,000. The number of people aged 16 and over classified as ‘other/non-determined’ has more than trebled from 63,000 to 245,000 between 1990 and 2017″
These figures are from two years ago and there were only 7000 more people over 16 self-identifying as Protestant rather than Catholic.
Bangordub breaks down the age cohorts further we can see the following:
|16 – 24||45%||33%|
|16 – 59||43%||38%|
Only in the over 60s is there a Protestant majority. Other data shows school age children were 51% Catholic and 37% Protestant at the last census in 2011 and the demographics are going to look even more stark in 2021.
Of course the correlation between being Catholic and Nationalist and Protestant and Unionist is not 100% but it is around 95%. Every effort should be being made by sensible Unionists to keep the status quo within the EU. Possibly the DUP are not sensible.
From both the Irish and EU perspective “No Deal” is preferable to ditching the backstop. May surely knows this and is running down the clock. The most the UK is likely to get are some further non legally binding assurances. Indeed even if the EU caves in on the Backstop, and reopens the Withdrwal Agreement the Brexiter Ultras will always want more. The disaster capitalists and those supporting a Singapore on Thames economy want “No Deal”. I still hope the UK stays in the EU. Sadly the betting odds seem to favour May’s deal with very minor tweaks being the most likely option.