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Brexit: downfall

2019-05-25 08:38:00

Well, the deed is done, the prime minister bowing out with an admission of failure, and pledging to resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday 7 June "so that a successor can be chosen".

In truth, though, she's been a dead woman walking ever since the Lancaster House speech on 17 January 2017, when she set out her government's negotiating objectives for exiting the EU, under the title of a "Plan for Britain".

Unwittingly (she can hardly have done it deliberately) she set herself up for the fall, excluding the UK from the Single Market and thereby creating the conditions where her eventual nemesis, the Irish "backstop", emerged. This was the inevitable consequence of her decision and one which was to lead directly to her downfall. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is a story we've already told and, even on the day, we knew it for what it was a complete disaster which I labelled a "car-crash plan", only to upgrade it to a "Jumbo-jet crash". From thereon there was no way she could succeed, so it was only a matter of time before she was making that dreadful, lonely walk to the lectern outside Number 10. The only surprising thing is that she lasted so long.

But now that she is on her way out, nothing is solved. The Withdrawal Agreement document still stands, together with the integral Irish backstop, which isn't going to go away. Upon the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement rests our entry to the transitional period, which will keep us away from the cliff edge while the government negotiates the future relationship.

Without the Withdrawal Agreement as we've been told so often by the "colleagues" there will be no transitional period and we drop out of the EU without a deal, into the no-man's land of the "WTO option", which is nothing more than a recipe for chaos and economic ruin.

Changing the prime minister isn't going to change the facts on the ground. A new leader might have delusions about going to Brussels and renegotiating the deal, but that isn't going to happen, even if the Oaf thinks he can walk on water assuming he gets the poisoned chalice.

Thus, any new prime minister will still have to confront a recalcitrant, dysfunctional parliament which has long since failed to work out which way is up. He (or she) will still have to present the Withdrawal Agreement to the House and get it ratified, if a no-deal exit is to be avoided. And, if Mrs May could not get the MP collective to move, there is little hope that her successor will fare any better.

The Oaf, however, has kicked off the leadership race by declaring that we will leave the EU on 31 October, "deal or no deal", despite suggesting that he could try to renegotiate a better deal with Brussels before pressing ahead with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Of course, it takes no talent at all to go down the no-deal route. This, after all, is still the default option so all he would have to do is about the only thing he is any good at precisely nothing. Dealing with the aftermath, however, would tax the skills of an organisational genius, demanding a level of competence that the Oaf would surely fail to demonstrate, bringing his tenure in No 10 to an end faster than Mrs May has achieved.

Necessarily, that assumes that the Oaf would take the crown and, although he is firm favourite in this obscene contest, the front runner doesn't always win. In fact, during the 2016 contest from which Mrs May emerged as leader, the Oaf was very much the bookies' favourite, only for him to drop out of the contest before it had started.

In 2005, David Davis was favourite for the crown, but it was outsider David Cameron, on the basis of a single speech at the Conservative Party conference, who was first past the line. Heseltine was the firm favourite in the 1990 contest but it was John Major who went on to become leader. And, going back to 1975, the eventual winner, Margaret Thatcher, was not even a runner when Heath came under fire for losing the previous October election.

That the Oaf is even a contestant in this current race, however, says much for the deterioration of British politics. That a serial plagiarist, a known liar, thief, bully and thug with a record of incompetence in office can be presented as a serious candidate for the highest political office in the land has to rank as one of the lowest points in British political history.

The worst of it is that, for the duration of the contest, we are likely to see the suspension of any serious politics even if it has been some time since we have seen the likes of any serious political debate about Brexit. But it is unlikely that we will get anything noteworthy from any of the candidates.

In a way, there is nothing very much any of them can actually do. Mrs May not only boxed herself into a corner, she also closed down all the options for an orderly exit bar one, the universally unpopular Withdrawal Agreement. No candidate is going to prosper by advocating more of the same, or by admitting that any new prime minister is going to be in exactly the same position that Mrs May found herself in.

Any honest debate would have to concede that the options are so limited that the only thing a successor should be able to do, in order to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit, is follow exactly in the footsteps of Mrs May which would then raise questions as to why she was forced out of office. Hence, the very last thing we are going to see over the next few weeks is an honest debate.

There are still those, for instance, who assert that a no-deal exit would simply give way to a series of "pragmatic mini-deals" with Brussels.

Doubtless, the EU will act to protect its interests but its actions so far have been to implement a series of unilateral measures which, where they provide some relief for the UK, do so only because it is in the interests of EU Member States and on the basis of reciprocity. Such measures can hardly provide the conditions for frictionless trade that UK companies need, or put us back in control when all we are doing is reacting to EU initiatives, the nature of which we learn only when they have been published.

One can see, though, the dishonesty and self-deception pervading such arguments when the current author of the claims still calls in aid Article XXIV of the GATT, despite its assumed application having been comprehensively debunked.

It doesn't help either that Brussels is in the midst of its electoral cycle, as well as replacing its Commission president and renewing the Commission. As it winds down for the summer, it is the very worst time for a new prime minister to seek new terms from the EU. The "colleagues" have more pressing matters to deal with, and are not without their own problems.

The idea that the Commission is then going to drop everything and focus on the needs of the UK is beyond absurd. The UK will be way down the queue in the list of things the Commission has to do, and the UK government will find it hard to get the attention of European policy-makers.

Yet still we see the UK-centric assumption that the EU will immediately launch a series of complex negotiations for the benefit of a UK which will have walked away from the political declaration as well as the Withdrawal Agreement. The arrogance of such an assumption speaks for itself.

It is nevertheless the case that some of the more lurid scare stories have been overblown, but there cannot be any dispute that the UK leaving without a deal will place us at a grave disadvantage with full consequences emerging only after the event. Blind optimism and disregard for the implications of a no-deal exit do nobody any favours.

Despite this, we are going to be forced to endure the endless prattling of vacuous, self-seeking pundits, all for no political gain whatsoever, just for the dubious benefit of seeing a different face at Number 10. And then, in early October, when the conference season is done, we will start all over again, with exactly the same agenda, with the same unresolved issues on the table.

But, as the Westminster bubble devotes itself to its own private agenda, the real world continues to exert its own influences. Soon enough they will find that getting rid of Mrs May has achieved nothing at all of any consequence.