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Brexit: party games

2018-12-12 09:43:07

We're back playing games again, not that we've ever stopped. But today might be the day when Mrs May's numbers are up, all 48 of them. It was supposed to have happened a while back but the rebellion fizzled out. Now it is back on the agenda again or not, depending on whether the Party really wants to rid itself of Mrs May.

We are led to believe that this "miracle" is brought to us by Owen Paterson who has signed the final letter. Amongst, his complaints, he has May repeatedly saying "no deal is better than a bad deal", even though it is clear her objective was to secure a deal at any cost.

One senior Brexiteer claims that Mr Paterson lining up with the rebels was a "big moment" after the mutiny embarrassingly failed to gain traction before. "We have had some false starts, but this looks like the green light", he said.

Now it's down to Sir Graham Brady to give Mrs May the official word, which he is expected to do after PMQs. If this happens, we're on a well-trodden path to a leadership contest, but the destination is far from certain. We could end up with a new leader but the outcome could be a strengthened leader, immune from further challenge for a year.

Mrs May can stay in office if she even gets a majority of one, but as Margaret Thatcher found to her cost she needs a resounding victory, otherwise it will be virtually impossible for her to survive. There could be a vote as early as next week and if Mrs May loses, that will leave the way open for a full-blown leadership contest during the Christmas holidays just what we really need to keep us entertained.

I suppose if there was going to be a time for this, the Christmas period is the least worst. Most of the country will be shut down, as indeed will Brussels, so there will be little political momentum lost. And, of course, if Mrs May wins, she could be back with renewed vigour, ready to see off all comers.

However, if this is the least-worst time, we still need it like a hole in the head. At very best, a leadership contest is a distraction. At worst, we could end up with an unreconstructed "ultra" knuckle-dragger, although the "no deal" outcome remains a possibility whatever happens.

For the moment though, we can kiss goodbye to rationality as sheer politics take over and the issues are consigned to the back seat. Just when we needed people absolutely focused, the Westminster bubble is set to take time out, and indulge itself.

Half of me wants to shut up shop right now and do what even some of my most intensely political friends are doing hunkering down and waiting until it is all over. There is no sense to be had until this is over, and not a lot to be had anyway if the wrong people emerge.

But, for the life of me, I cannot think of any of the potential candidates as people I would choose for the post of prime minister. If pressed, all I could do is produce a ranking of those whom I would like least, although the person at the bottom of my list would come as no surprise.

With the European Council at the end of the week, though, this development can only weaken Mrs May's stature and add massively to the uncertainty. Small wonder, therefore, that Brussels is warning member states to step up no deal preparations.

These developments come just as "haulage bosses are upping the ante on the effects of a "no deal" scenario on goods movements through Dover and Calais. Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), asserts that Government plans for customs checks at Dover are "so impractical" it would take eight hours to clear an average lorry carrying food and goods from Calais.

This figure comes from a rather elastic view of a "consignment", with the suggestion that one lorry could carry up to 8,000 consignments, each of which would need a separate customs declaration form, each of which would take ten minutes to fill in. That would take 170 people eight hours to process, we are told.

Even if you took the average trailer which has 400 consignments per delivery, that would take nine people eight hours to process, says Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive.

Generally, however, a consignment is taken to be one batch dispatched from the same person to a single recipient (consignee). There can be many different product types in one consignment. Thus, the idea that the hauliers will be burdened to that extent is somewhat over-egged.

Much of the report is incoherent anyway, with the news that there would be temporary border inspection posts (BIPs) for food controls in place for April and recruitment had begun for the first batch of 250 customs officials. Yet, it is veterinary officials who will be carrying out the work, not customs officials.

In the event of the withdrawal agreement being ratified, the BIPs won't be needed anyway, while the "no deal" scenario means that no foodstuff of animal origin can be exported to the EU for the foreseeable future which again means that BIPs won't be needed.

All we can reliably deduce is that there are going to be problems and delays, something which we knew already. And those who wish to deny that, are going to deny it, come what may, branding it "project fear".

With such an erosion of accuracy in reporting, facts now are a tradable commodity, and you bring to the table those which best suit your case. Thus we had the charlatan Dominic Lawson yesterday blethering about the "Norway option", asserting that a Norwegian government official had written that during the past 20 years, his government had incorporated more than 10,000 EU rules into the EEA agreement.

Last time I checked, though, of the 21,178 EU laws currently in force, only 5,779 had been incorporated into the EEA Agreement and were in force. That, incidentally, amounted to 27 percent of EU law.

Entertainingly, Lawson addresses the authors of "Norway plus", declaring that he "won't accuse them of lying, only of asserting the opposite of the truth", while Nick Boles accuses Lawson of producing "another ill-informed hatchet job". No mention is made of Boles's gofer, who gets his facts so egregiously wrong.

Even if we could get the players to focus on the facts, therefore, it would be to no avail. Not only would they get them wrong; they would accuse their opposite sides of making the mistakes. If we could afford to walk away and say "a pox on all your parties", we would do so.

As long as they are playing their games, though, they are doing no one any favours, making the next few weeks a turgid exercise in applied tedium. We will be glad when it's over.