The Brexit Endgame
People keep asking me what the hell’s going on and I have no idea.
As far as I can work out, it’s like this:
Theresa May is still trying to get her party to accept Chequers, which they won’t. Most of the reasons why they won’t are basically sound: it’s a terrible deal; the EU have already rejected it, so it’s also a non-issue; it’s a hard Brexit without being a buccaneering Brexit, so it pleases no one.
The Tory Brexit clique on the other hand are now advocating No Deal. Boris Johnson is preaching it to the unfaithful, and Dominic Raab recently said we might have to “pursue” it. That rather over-states the case. No Deal is the default. You have to pursue it in roughly the same way that you have to pursue malaria in a mosquito-infested swamp. No Deal is Tory right-wing manna from Heaven: it effectively entails a lurch into a low tax, low infrastructure, low standards, zero hours mode where the NHS is sold off and we become a new-Victorian freewheeling hypercapitalist bullshit state. Even getting voted out after a No Deal would be fine. Let Jeremy Corbyn pick through the rubble for a few months, why not? The nation would be reframed, the Overton Window would become a triumphal arch for Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Labour Party meanwhile is nowhere. Conference composited a Brexit motion that might allow for various positions if you drilled down but certainly didn’t either commit the party to anything or embarrass the leadership. This fruit salad was duly passed, John McDonnell immediately demonstrated it didn’t mean anything to him, Keir Starmer ad libbed a Remain-friendly reply, and Corbyn settled the whole thing – by which I mean further complicated it – by offering to support May if she could do a series of things which she obviously can’t but which even if she did wouldn’t meet the Six Tests which are supposedly definitive of Labour policy. Simon Wren-Lewis (https://mainlymacro.blogspot.com/) has a great piece unpacking the motion and Corbyn’s speech, but to my eye that whole discussion takes place several layers down in the text and thus for rhetorical (and therefore practical) purposes does not exist. What matters is what is said aloud, not what is implied. In other words, no one – from the lowliest new member to the lofty inner circle around the leader – knows what Labour policy on Brexit will actually be. Corbyn has only said that he’d get better terms than May. May hasn’t actually got any terms, but what it comes down to is that Corbyn apparently thinks – as he has occasionally seemed to suggest in the past – that he can get full SM participation and a FoM waiver, and he can’t, but he won’t know that for sure unless and until he’s elected and allowed to try. Labour’s focus is on winning an election, seemingly to the exclusion of the single largest issue any election would have to be fought around, and it would in any case require an act of self-destruction from the Conservative Party and the DUP to allow an election at this moment. In the meantime the Labour position is unknown and unknowable. It’s the Tory show to make or break, and boy are they breaking it.
About the only positive aspect to the whole thing – and it is bad in just every imaginable way – is that increasingly it’s obvious that a People’s Vote would have to be a straight choice. If Chequers is dead (and it is, absolutely, dead as a doornail) and May’s internal enemies are running with No Deal, then that’s the text: No Deal or Remain. I’ll take those odds – but in order to get a second (third) referendum, we’d almost certainly have to apply for an Article 50 extension from the EU. Otherwise, time will run out – and then, in Brexit Britain, the mosquito-infested swamp comes to you.
Edited 12:15pm to add:
Theresa May enters to Dancing Queen. The obvious shortcomings of this decision to one side, the lyrics do, in fact, explain everything.