Richard North, 23/12/2018  

Someone in Westminster seems at last to have woken up to the reality that MPs cannot stop the UK from leaving the EU without a deal if they fail to approve Theresa May's plan or an alternative.

That "someone" is Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, which is about as high as it needs to get, especially as she is saying that the Government will not "down tools" on preparations for a "no-deal" Brexit even if MPs succeed in a bid to force them to do so.

It really is extraordinary that any MPs think otherwise, but then the House of Commons is not the place to go for reality. But, if the message is getting through, then at least there will be less excuse for them thinking that there is an easy way out – that there will be no adverse consequences from voting down the May deal.

What would be useful now is for the Tory boys to take a rest from their inane drivel about a trouble-free "no deal" option, even if that is unlikely to happen. The meme is too heavily embedded in the "ultra" psyche, and their media lapdogs are not going to give up just yet, or at all.

The fight is not helped by trash like Liam Halligan who continues to spread his particular brand of misinformation about the "WTO option", arguing that most of Britain's existing trade is beyond the EU, "largely under WTO rules and outside formal free-trade agreements".

I've seen this point raised and debunked so many times that one can scarcely believe that Halligan has the nerve to raise it, but that's the thing about him. He's incorrigible, the classic Proverbs 26:11 man.

The point, of course, is that the UK is currently an EU Member State and thus all its trade with the rest of the world is conducted within the matrix of EU trade arrangements. And it's such a simple point that one stands in awe at the effrontery of a man who can treat his readers as if they were single-celled organisms.

Sadly, many of his readers behave as if they were single-celled organisms. Not only do they imbibe his garbage, they keep coming back for more. And if Halligan isn't the source, there are plenty of others prepared to sell the mythical benefits of a "no deal", without ever seriously arguing the case.

It really does seem as if we are moving away from rationality and into another dark era where dogma rules. Not for nothing did I recently find myself citing Jung, from his work, Civilisation in Transition. He wrote:
… it is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics, which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes. The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic danger.

Reason has proved itself completely powerless, precisely because its arguments have an effect only on the conscious mind and not on the unconscious. The greatest danger of all comes from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the conscious mind is stifled.
As long as "no dealers" can dismiss rational argument as "project fear", using this as the excuse to stop listening, it creates an impenetrable barrier, killing any prospect of debate. We end up as we are now with the factions polarised, shouting past each other with not the slightest attempt to engage.

Yet, for all that, it really does look as if we're seeing the living embodiment of the proverb, empty vessels make the most noise. Through the Telegraph and other media outlets, the tiny, unrepresentative faction of the ERG and their fellow travellers have seemingly dominated the debate but, when the chips are down, it is just noise.

Certainly, on the last Sunday before Christmas The Sunday Times is telling us that the prime minister's team is growing in confidence that Mrs May will get her Brexit deal through parliament next month.

This newspaper has been off the rails so often that one could hardly take this as much more than speculation, except that we are getting the same vibes. And not without reason did Mrs May delay the vote. So-called Brexiteers have come under pressure from their local Conservative Party associations and at least two rebels have been threatened with deselection by their constituency party chairmen after publicly voting to oust the prime minister.

The Christmas break is going to expose MPs to a lot of angry constituents and, as I have remarked before, there is far more support for Mrs May and her deal in the country at large than there is in the frenzied hothouse of Westminster. Not a few Tory MPs will return from the festivities with a degree of clarity which they have hitherto lacked.

Speculation is also swirling about a possible move by the EU, with the belief that we will see the Commission coming up with a form of words that makes it look as if concessions have been given on the Irish backstop. This has always been on the cards, saved as a last-minute development that will enable the DUP and the Rees-Moggites to save face and back the prime minister.

We may yet see that "Chamberlain moment" after Mrs May has dashed over to Brussels and returned waving her piece of paper, bringing "peace in our time" to the Conservative Party. Even if it just delays the fratricide amongst the Tories, it might be just enough to get Mrs May through her vote – possibly with a little help from Labour MPs.

Of course, it is never going to be that straightforward, so we will have to tolerate a few parliamentary games before the MPs finally settle down and give the prime minister what she needs.

The turning point, though, will not be the theatricals. It will come silently as the evidence accumulates on the adverse effects of a "no deal", when enough MPs are finally convinced that this course of action would be economic suicide, drowning out the prattling "ultras".

Latest of the drips of water on stone is a report on the response of credit insurers to the growing uncertainties of Brexit. The role of credit insurance in big business is absolutely pivotal for, unless the insurers approve, businesses are limited in the amount of credit they can allow their customers, as any bad debt will be irrecoverable.

In the frame is the food industry. We are told that Atradius, one of the biggest credit insurers, is warning that a "no-deal" scenario "would pose a material threat" to Britain's meat industry. It is also understood to have removed cover for a range of food businesses, including a bakery and a dairy company in recent weeks. Euler Hermes, another leading insurer, is apparently reducing cover and tightening terms to the food industry.

I'm not sure whether The Sunday Times, the source of the report, has quite got the full flavour of the issue, as the debtor chain works from top to bottom. Most at risk are the primary producers, who can be heavily exposed if their buyers go insolvent and can't pay their invoices.

Then, the businesses in the middle – the wholesalers, the hauliers and logistics companies, and the processors, are all at risk if their major retail customers go belly-up and stop paying their bills. What could happen here is that the supermarkets, which are notoriously late payers, could simply cut off payments to their suppliers if their shelves are empty and they are unable to restock.

The point that emerges is that credit insurance is a major lubricant of business and if the insurers start throwing wobblies, that is going to have an impact long before we actually see the effects of a "no deal" Brexit.

This underlines that fact that the real killer is the continuing uncertainty and we are getting to the point of no return – which will arrive well before Brexit day. If we don't see a resolution of the Withdrawal Agreement by next month, the MPs might as well not bother. Most of the damage will already be done.

So, while Carl Bildt is arguing that it is decision time for Europe, it is even more so the case for the UK. The Christmas break will only give us a temporary respite. We need to use it to good effect.

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