Back in 2017, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, told us that No Deal was better than a Bad Deal. May triggered Article 50 and set the clock ticking. She ruled out membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. This created the Irish border problem, which she was unable to solve. Thus the prospect of a “Bad Deal” or even “No Deal” (which no-one had voted for) was born. Brexit had moved from national disaster to horror show.
Most commentators agree that No Deal is an outcome that should be avoided at all costs. It would leave the country with:
- no EU space, military or security agreements,
- no agreement for the Financial Services sector to continue practising in Europe,
- tariffs on our trade with Europe massively increasing consumer prices and business costs,
- unreliable and costly transport delays,
- loads of extra and costly bureaucracy,
- no protective legislation for ongoing Human Rights, Health, Food, Agricultural, Environmental and Safety standards,
- limited rights for EU citizens in UK and for UK citizens in EU.
All this would result in reduced business and personal opportunities, factory closures and increased unemployment.
The uncertainty of Brexit negotiations
As Joerg Hofmann, CEO of the London Electric Vehicle Company said recently (Magazine of the Royal Automobile Club October 2020): “We have to assume that they (i.e. the Government), will be rational. After all, more than 60 percent of the UK’s automotive production is exported to Europe. Slap a 10% duty on that and you will kill the sector”.
After the Parliamentary battles in autumn 2019 to try and rule out No Deal, which failed, we had the general election. We learned that there was an “oven-ready” Deal, and it just needed “20 minutes in the oven”. Of course that was the revised Withdrawal Deal, which left Northern Ireland in the Customs Union. Negotiations for the trade deal were still to come.
But in 2020, the prospect of No Deal reared its head again and this has continued to feature since. In late October we were told that although the Government really wanted a Deal, the EU were being intransigent and that anyway leaving the EU on Australian (i.e. No Deal) terms offered the UK a very prosperous outcome. The UK Government pretended indifference. The EU negotiator was told not to bother turning up for any more negotiations.
We are now within two months of the end of the Transition Period. The Government is still apparently in two minds as to whether we exit with or without a Deal. This reflects the two factions in the Conservative Party, the One Nation group and the Hard Right. The Government maintains that it is trying for a Deal but that if the EU doesn’t compromise, it is more than happy to accept a No Deal. An extraordinary and entirely self-harming way of doing diplomacy with our ‘friends and allies’.
The Prime Minister has provided no leadership in creating conditions for the Good Deal that is vitally in the best interests of our country The Government appears to have no strategy, apart from securing an American trade deal, which now looks less likely and would cause enormous political problems for the Government. Johnson berates the EU for intransigence. He explains how very prosperous the UK would be when following the rules of his so-called Australia (No) Deal.
Is this uncertainty due to Johnson’s inability to present bad news?
This dithering is par for the course with Johnson. We know he dislikes presenting bad news, and is happiest presenting good news. Every announcement he makes has to be embellished, even bad news becomes something reasonable, unavoidable or eminently sensible. Bad news is hidden beneath some fresh target or upbeat announcement such as “Operation Moonshot” or a world-beating app. All these announcements are delivered with a Union Jack in the background or from a factory or medical ward floor. All very juvenile, transparent, irresponsible and devoid of seriousness.
Theresa May correctly described Johnson as not a serious politician. At least she got something right. What we are witnessing now almost amounts to a child with a new toy, enjoying the limelight, enjoying the power of his own indecision. A last-minute merchant, hoping for something to turn up. The country waits on the whim of this one man-child.
In 2014, Johnson understood that and said “nobody serious wants to leave the EU” (Anne Applebaum, ‘Twilight of Democracy’, 2020). In 2016 he wrote his two columns for The Telegraph newspaper, one in favour of Brexit and one in favour of Remain. It is unlikely that he was in two minds. More likely he made his choice on personal, opportunistic grounds. The “two articles” ploy shows that there is no intellectual basis for Leave. There is only an emotional one, or in Johnson’s case, an opportunistic one.
Johnson is happy to make untrue statements (like Turkey is joining the EU) and approaches serious national debate as if he were still at the Oxford Union.
Johnson has shown he is ruthless. He refused to sack Cummings for his trips to Durham and sacked 30 conservative MPs who wanted to remove No Deal.
Is UK losing vital democratic controls?
We are in danger of slipping into an elective dictatorship. There are supposed to be checks and balances in the British Constitution to prevent this degree of concentration and centralisation of power. But they have all been nullified. The Civil Service is cowed by the threat of sacking if it speaks out of line. Parliament is neutered by all the Tory MPs who unquestioningly vote for the Government or get sacked from the party. The Cabinet appear to be a bunch of ultra-loyalists and yes-men who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, or would be sacked if they did. The Brexit negotiator does as he is told.
Strangely the School Meals issue has shown where the Government’s vulnerability lies and that is ‘optics’. The taunts about ‘letting kids go hungry’ has galvanized the Government into hurried back-pedalling. Perhaps there is a lesson here for opposition if the Government elects for a No Deal outcome.
So where does that leave us?
Today Johnson is waiting for the USA election results before making up his mind. This Prime Minister, chosen by the Tory Party for his perceived ability to win an election, is in fact one of the least qualified, experienced or able to succeed in that office. His track record shows how completely unsuited to carrying the responsibilities of that office he is. Many in the Tory Party knew that, but they still they went ahead and they now carry a heavy burden of guilt for doing so.
Is the government really acting in the country’s interests? While awaiting the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we are all suspended in an unreasonable, unnecessary and intolerable limbo. Johnson warns that there is a very little time, but this was his choice, since he declined the option in June of extending the talks. UK businesses and the UK population are left desperate for information, desperate for certainty, and desperate for a Good Deal. Surely this is no way to run a country?