Richard North, 01/01/2018  
 


Beyond the personal level, it is extraordinarily difficult to wish anyone a Happy New Year when we confront the growing disaster that is Brexit.

Even my predilection for getting things wrong didn't work. Last year, I went out of my way to predict a disaster in the expectation that our brilliant politicians and diplomats would sweep all before them and come up with a scintillating plans, bringing home a shiny new Brexit of which everyone could be thoroughly proud.

Instead of that, we got a year of progress from Mrs May, which – in Orwellian terms – means precisely the opposite.

According to the prime minister's New Year message, in January last, she "set out our objectives for the Brexit negotiations, and in the months since we have pursued them with steady purpose".

"In March", she then tells us, "we triggered Article 50, putting the decision of the British people into action. In December we reached agreement on the first phase of negotiations with our EU partners" and "Next year we will move on to the vital issues of trade and security, and I am determined that we will keep up our progress in 2018".

The fatuity of this message is way beyond comment. Having destroyed any chance of a rational Brexit, with her precipitate and unthinking commitment to leaving the Single Market, and then having totally failed to get the measure of the negotiations, our prime minister is now asserting that "most people just want the government to get on and deliver a good Brexit, and that's exactly what we are doing".

In actuality, she's doing nothing of the sort. She has not only kicked the can down the road but – as we observed earlier – the whole cannery. With no agreement on any of the issues on the table – which themselves only comprise a fraction of the outstanding issues – all Mrs May has managed to do is buy time in the most expensive way possible, effectively extending our EU membership to the end of 2020 with her "vassal state" transition.

With the deluded Mrs May also committed to a "free trade agreement", which she believes will be agreed by the end of March 2019, we face a period of unprecedented uncertainty. The UK, notionally at least, will be pursuing a bespoke agreement for Brexit while the EU negotiators insist on a basic arrangement that will only afford minimal market access.

Before we even get to this point, though, there are the residual – and as yet unresolved – phase one issues to deal with, with the Irish border looming high on the agenda. Ireland still has the potential to scupper the talks, except that the 21-month "vassal state" transition also kicks border problems down the road.

Basically, then, the coming twelve months will be the year of delusion. UK officials will go through the charade of meaningless negotiations to agree by March a transition process that Mrs May seems unwilling to contest. We will then move on to discussion of a "framework relationship" and end up in October with a draft Article 50 agreement that must go through the "ratification" process.

By the end of this year, we will be looking forward to March 2019, when we will be able to greet our "Brexit in name only", and the hard work really starts. At the end of the year, though, nothing will have been resolved so the fiction can be maintained that we are making progress.

Between then and now we have for our entertainment a self-important but unknowing media which will continue to misreport developments, having already failed consistently to offer any sensible or informed analysis.

Thus, not only does the coming year offer us the delusions of our political masters, it promises endless tedium as we suffer the cacophony of untutored journalists and jaded pundits whose main contribution to the debate is to add to the noise.

There is no point in relying on anything from that quarter. The experience of 2011" told us that the commentariat can readily subscribe to a collective delusion. At the time, the fiction that Mr Cameron had blocked an EU treaty was never seriously challenged and survives to this day in the media record.

As of now, the media have largely bought into the Kool Aid, taking the government claims of us having moved to phase two at face value, despite the fact that we are still enmeshed in phase one issues and have no solutions to the Irish question – while the EU has shunted talks on our future relationship to April, making them dependent on resolving the outstanding phase one issues (and some that have not even been discussed).

Perhaps of even greater importance, the media is almost completely silent on the EU's "vassal state" transition proposals. It is still churning out stories which ignore their effect, while focusing on domestic politics which have very little relevance to the conduct of the Brexit negotiations.

Filtering the media noise in order to detect a coherent signal, therefore, will be one of our main tasks for the coming year, even if the eventual outcome may have more in common with confectionary than politics. We are looking to the making of a fudge of historic proportions.

That suggests that our hardest task will be trying to predict the unpredictable. If the actors were behaving rationally, one might be able to work out what was happening as the narrative unfolded. But when the situation is basically unresolvable, where the incompetents handling our negotiations go is anyone's guess.

I can see this becoming a theme for the year – watching our government making an unspeakable mess of Brexit with a sense of wonderment and despair, turned into a journey of discovery. Never in the field of human history, a famous man might have said, has so much depended on so few, to the detriment of so many – with such little expectation of success.

Yet, despite all that, I will wish all my readers a Happy New Year. As we watch the political train wreck unfold, there is no reason why we should not pursue personal happiness and fulfilment for ourselves, our nearest and dearest and our friends. We should not allow the incompetence of our political leaders to prevent us from doing that.

And once again, I must express my thanks to our readers, our supporters and our generous donors, who have not only helped me keep my head above water, but also kept Pete in the game. But for you, we would not be here.






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