Brexit: Rewind the film
I was reading a novel the other day set in Aberdeen around the time of the Scottish independence referendum.
At one point, the narrator – a supporter of independence – was berating her colleagues into voting, telling them how great an independent Scotland would be and how they should stick two fingers up at Westminster and their parochial attitude to the Scots.
This got me thinking about how the Brexit referendum was treated in the UK and how both the majority of remain and leave voters concentrated on a very narrow set of criteria to decide their allegiance.
It was also a product of an ingrained view of Brussels that had been seen in news bulletins with Nigel Farage stood up in the European Parliament berating the profligacy of his MEP colleagues.
He was viewed as a buffoon or a saviour – depending on your point of view.
What has happened between June 29, 2016 and now has been a soap opera of the most sordid variety. As we have reached a pivotal point in the process, maybe it is an opportune time to review what has happened and how things could have been done differently.
The poison chalice
First and foremost, many people forget that David Cameron stood for election in 2015 on an almost single platform of a promise to hold a binding election on EY membership if he were elected.
The fact that Labour, at that time, were deemed unelectable following a series of gaffes from Ed Miliband is, in the grand scheme of things, neither here nor there.
In 2010 the Conservatives won 306 seats, yet in 2015 they won 330, sufficient for a working majority of 10.
So, there was support before the referendum. There was no sign of a protest vote since the Lib Dems were the victims of the protest vote over their abysmal performance in Government.
If we consider the referendum campaign it was muddled at best and the reasoning is clear. To allow cross party campaigns simply meant that once the result was clear, mayhem would ensue. Whoever was in Government following a leave vote would be handed a poison chalice.
It is testament to the way Parliament works that they would not look to take outside advice or appoint an independent Brexit commission to handle the entire process in a more business-like and therefore efficient manner.
The lull before the lull
What happened between the referendum and the triggering of article fifty is hard to say. There was obviously plenty of dithering as the Prime Minister struggled to get to grips with a set of demands that the U.K. would make to the EU as it prepared to leave.
The delay allows the EU to “get in first” and hand a series of demands to the U.K before they would discussing the future relationship and access to the single market.
The jockeying for position that was the result of the horse trading that allowed leavers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox to become ministers left Theresa May in such a weak position.
Yet, the weaker she appears, the more stubborn she becomes.
Boris Johnson has become the poster boy (a clear miscast) for stirring up discontent within Cabinet. His “Go Whistle” comment in Parliament in July summed up how he is sufficiently fireproof to be able to have his say.
Once article fifty was triggered on March 29th, you would have expected, following a nine-month hiatus, that the negotiating team would be ready to go and “all fired up”. Instead the initiative was handed to the EU by accepting the three demands without question where had they been rejected or at least questioned the negotiations could have got off on a more even, balanced basis. Instead Messrs Barnier, Tusk and Juncker have been able to dictate terms and play mind games making ambiguous comments to stoke hope where none exists.
Whose idea was the election?
When Theresa May announced the election in June, I must admit I was stunned.
Of course, she was advised to go to the country by pollsters and advisors who have since “left the building”. It is hard to imagine, with the benefit of hindsight what was expected be achieved.
It can only be assumed that there was a concern that remain members of the Government simply were too many and too unpredictable for the Cabinet to be sure of being able to deliver.
Thinking back now, there was always a nagging doubt that the DUP agreement would come back to bite someone. It seems now that having to decide on how the border was going to be dealt with, which was the Government knew was one of the terms to be agreed prior to completion of phase one.
It was obvious there was a conflict that was going to grow into something significant.
The Pivotal Moment
I read recently that Nomura’s analysts attach a 70% chance of a deal being struck that will enable the EU Heads of Government Summit on December 14/15 and approve the start of stage two of the talks.
I may not be as prestigious as a Nomura analyst, but I wouldn’t give a deal any chance without a major climbdown, concession or financial incentive.
If the DUP hold their hand out for cash as they did following the election in June and some halfway house, where the U.K.’s borders start at the mainland, is agreed, then the Scots, maybe the Welsh and possibly even the London assembly are going to be looking for a similar deal.
As I write, May has been given 72 hours to provide a solution. Now If I was Boris, I know what my response would be, and I would be reaching for the Acme Thunderer.