Hope deferred indefinitely.

I may be writing this slightly too soon*, but it appears we have reached the final deadline to agree a trade deal with the EU, and failed. Failed despite the fact that the EU has, throughout the negotiations, been offering us really very good deals. Failed, perhaps, primarily because Boris Johnson used the opportunity of a face to face meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, to slag off other European countries and bluster, instead of doing what the country desperately needs and giving up the sticking points – fish, for goodness sake, which represent 0.1% of GDP, and some half-baked notion of sovereignty which thinks you can get all the benefits of a market without committing to obey it’s rules.

We are, it seems, going to crash out of the Single Market on January 1st without any trade deal at all with our most important and nearest trading partners, the remaining 27 EU countries. And, of course, without any trade deal with most of the rest of the world, because our trade with them was under EU agreements, which will also end.

And there’s a little bit of me which is happy, despite the probability that we will be facing shortages of food and medicines (among a vast number of other things – the shortage of medicines means that a few of my friends will quite likely die as a result of this – and I might as well) and a blow to our economy which will permanently set us back as a trading nation. I calculate that, instead of being 5th in the G7, recently slipped from 4th as a result of the pending Brexit, we’ll be hard pressed to stay a member at all… and I might worry about staying in the G20. OK, I know Rees-Mogg thinks that in 50 years we’ll see a benefit from it (and that that will be worth it!) but we will have wrecked large sections of industry and, perhaps most importantly, the City of London, which loses its access to Europe. That, in turn, means that government revenues will nose-dive (less economic activity, less tax revenue) and I confidently expect that the “austerity” of 2005 onwards will look like a slight inconvenience in comparison with what is to come.

So how can I possibly be happy?

Well, to start with, any deal which might remotely have emerged other than the fantasy I’ve occasionally had that the government would turn round and say “OK, we can’t do a bare bones deal which is any good, let’s do a ‘Norway’ deal” (which would have had most of the advantages of EU membership without any say in what the rules were), such a deal would have been only slightly less awful than the “no deal Brexit” which is going to happen. Granted, that “slightly less” would have possibly halved the negative effects on the economy. However, no deal means that opposition parties will not be put in the position of being called out for voting against a deal (and so voting for no deal) if they don’t support whatever was negotiated. Johnson and the Conservatives will be unequivocally responsible for the disaster, and it will be far easier to “make them own it” and set up the opposition to try to do something positive in the years to come.

Secondly, the period of ups and downs, with a deal being slightly more likely one day then not likely the next is over. A bare bones deal might have been absolute garbage compared with what we used to have as a full EU member, but it was something, and produced a level of hope beyond its real value. Raising and dashing hope time after time is soul-destroying; “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick”, and eventually one can prefer not to have the hope rather than have it demolished for the 100th time.

But there are other reasons to think there might just be some good come out of this.

Firstly, although I very much fear the results of removing a large amount of our tax base with the demise of the City, what the City actually does is to a great extent not productive – it’s gambling on movements in shares and commodity prices and on whether risks will materialise – and this does not translate into real things. If we are, as I suspect, heading for a collapse of the whole world system of financialised free market capitalism, to cure ourselves of dependence on this earlier rather than later could, just possibly, be worthwhile, even if it is extremely painful. It would probably be more painful later…

Secondly, with ecological crisis looming, I question whether trade over long distances is something we can actually afford. Transport contributes very large amounts of CO2 to global totals, and while we seem on the verge of ditching petrol-driven cars here in favour of electric, I see no corresponding moves to make goods vehicles more carbon-friendly, far less ships or aircraft. Again, the correction would be painful – but it may be one we are going to have to make anyhow. We could be forced to make and grow the stuff we want to use and eat, instead of importing it – assuming, that is, that anyone still has the money to start enterprises of that kind.

Lastly, although I absolutely don’t want this to happen, things might get so bad that the government is removed by force, by some form of popular uprising – and that would remove the awful prospect of four more years of Tory rule, and the threat of various measures which are calculated to destroy our democracy; removing the power of parliament to bring the government to account, for instance (which they have already voted away in respect of trade deals); removing the power of the courts to ensure that the government abides by the constitution (yes, there is one, even if it’s unwritten, largely conventional and can always be overruled by parliament) as was seen when Boris sought to stop parliament sitting; removing human rights; ending devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… the list could go on. It might even give us things like a more sensible voting system and an upper chamber which had actual power to hamper a runaway government like this one, rather than just slowing it down slightly.

[“Taking back control”, it seems, is something this government is doing – from parliament, from the devolved governments, from the courts and from the people, not from the EU, where if anything we have let go of some control.]

Actually, in the case of major civil unrest, I would expect that the Conservatives would ditch Johnson and his ERG cronies and try very hard to get a sensible trade deal (much more than the minimal one we’re currently not getting), as well as doing a U-turn on things like reducing the power of parliament and the courts. It would, of course, not be a “Brexit deal” any more, just a trade deal with our nearest neighbours. I think that in order to get there, Johnson and pretty much all of his current cabinet would have to go (and I would shed no tears if any or all of them never held office again), because they are poison from the point of view of the rest of the EU.

Though, were I the EU, I might insist that we first established ourselves a written constitution which parliament and government couldn’t ignore, and a PR system of voting. They do, after all, have “stable government” as one of their criteria for membership – maybe also for a comprehensive free trade agreement and customs union? Personally, I’d like to rejoin outright, but that might be a bridge too far for the electorate at the moment; even if something like two thirds think leaving the EU was a mistake, the figure would be significantly lower for a move to rejoin.

  • It turns out I was, as we have yet another extension of talks. I am not allowing myself hope…

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