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Brexit: the end of May (not)

2019-05-17 08:45:17

After May comes June, but May will still be there. But, if she fails to get her deal through parliament, she'll resign. And if she gets it, she'll also resign, only a little later. Either way, she'll stay in office until a replacement is found, which could have her opening the conference and then standing down as her successor is announced.

Since the money is on parliament rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement, the resignation will probably comes sooner rather than later, even if it makes little practical difference.

Some sources think there could be a short, sharp contest with the new leader in place before the recess. But so many Tory MPs want a shot at her job that the selection process can hardly be quick. Thus, as the hours drain away towards a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, the party is doing exactly what Donald Tusk warned against wasting time that should be devoted to resolving the Brexit crisis.

I really don't know what future historians will make of this, but there is no reason why they should be charitable about a political party which is ducking the big issues and frittering away time on a leadership contest that will resolve very little indeed.

This also means that the political news during the summer will be largely devoted to the leadership soap opera. Never slow to chase after distractions, rather in the manner of an over-excited dog chasing cars, the media will happily ignore the details of the Brexit debate and devote endless space and time to speculating on who is to wear the crown.

As always, the Oaf as darling of the media will get more than his fair share of attention, although not a few pundits are suggesting that the appeal of the former foreign secretary is fading.

On the other side of the divide, we will doubtless have remainer factions pursuing their equally tedious attempts to reverse the Brexit vote, with ever more talk of a referendum or even revocation. This will add to the general air of ennui, while the nation switches off and hopefully is able to enjoy some reasonable weather over the holiday period.

Once the summer is over if the conference proves to be the cut-off the new leader will have precisely 29 days to resolve Brexit, if the certain disaster of departing without a deal is to be avoided or not, as the case may be. But, with nothing to offer but more of the same, we are still looking at departure on 31 October.

Meanwhile, still in May, Channel 4 has done a hatchet job on Farage's new toy, asking about the generosity of Arron Banks who has expended 450,000 in setting up "Ni-gel" in his luxury house in Chelsea, and jetting him off to the United States to meet Mr Trump.

This was during a period when, in addition to his 9,000 a month income from the European Parliament, topped up by an extra 30,000 declared in media appearances three times more in a month than the EUReferendum.com empire makes in a year a sum which had the "man of the people" complaining that he was "53, separated and skint" and that "there's no money in politics". He needs to try blogging.

One thus gets from this some marginal entertainment from seeing the importunate Matt Frei door-stepping the hapless Farage who, with a face like a fried egg, tries to ward off not altogether successfully a barrage of hostile questions.

As one might expect, this theme is picked up enthusiastically by the Guardian, with a detailed story which will undoubtedly keep its readers happy but will have no effect whatsoever on Farage's supporters.

Needless to say, this is another distraction, taking us away from exploring Brexit issues, although one has to say that the funding of prominent (and any) politicians is a legitimate matter of public interest. One only wishes that the media would be just as inquisitive about the sources of funding for the "Peoples' vote" campaign.

At least one need not be concerned over the fate of Change UK and, if Farage is getting worked up about the treatment he is being given, he should perhaps devote some time to reading the ubiquitous John Crace and his account of that party's election rally in Bath.

Writes Crace, covering the event "was like intruding on a private grief". A recent opinion poll put Change UK on two percent and, in a pointed barb, Crace observed that it wasn't so clear "whether that figure had been rounded up or down".

Just five minutes before its major EU election rally in the Remain heartlands of Bath was about to start, he told his readers, "there were still plenty of seats available in the cricket pavilion where it was being held. And there were only 32 chairs to start with. A few late stragglers helped fill the room, but the media still well outnumbered supporters".

Remorselessly, Crace continues: "Change UK is dying before it even learned to walk. Its MPs know it. Its candidates know it. The public knows it. Change UK never really wanted to change anything. What it wanted most of all was for things to stay the same. For the UK to remain in the EU and for the extremes of both the Tory and Labour parties to shut up and go away".

With the remain parties most interested in squabbling amongst themselves, he concludes, the Brexit party is getting a free pass, adding: "Farage must be pissing himself".

The said Farage might be even more inclined to micturition at another offering from the paywall-free Guardian, headlined, "Majority of Europeans 'expect end of EU within 20 years".

This is according to a YouGov survey, commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), which has 58 percent of people in France believing the EU is very likely or fairly likely to fall apart within 20 years, second only to Slovakia (66 percent).

Of the 14 countries polled by YouGov constituting more than 70 percent of the seats of the European parliament it was only in Sweden (44 percent), Denmark (41 percent) and Spain (40 percent) that the proportion predicting implosion dipped below a majority.

One wonders to what extent the "colleagues" share these feelings. There is certainly something rather frenetic about their newly-coined slogan, "Strength in Unity", as if they were trying to convince themselves of something that was by no means a true reflection of the state of the art.

To a certain extent, the UK has done le projet a favour, creating a unifying force. Without Brexit, the stresses within Member States might be much more evident, and we would be seeing much less "unity" and a lot more squabbling. Like Farage and his money, they doth protest too much.

One significant thing to come out of the survey, though, is a widespread feeling that, even though le projet is doomed, 92 percent of voters thought they would lose out if the EU collapsed. They feared losing unity on security and defence and "valued being part of a bloc that could counter the US and China, amid growing economic uncertainty and the parlous nature of the transatlantic relationship".

This is something of an important dimension to Brexit, and one much neglected in the broader sweep of publicity about the EU. The UK is by no means the only country undergoing a crisis of confidence, and there are real world issues outside the realm of European politics which need more attention than they are getting.

The Ebola epidemic in the DRC, for instance, could have a long reach, where we suddenly have to confront primeval forces of nature that have little respect for the posturing of politicians.

And that is the ultimate tragedy of Brexit. Something which should have been settled expeditiously and efficiently is dragging on, to the extent that other pressing issues are on hold. But this cannot last. Sooner, rather than later, the real world will demand attention and that may well be before May is out.