Tuesday, March 14, 2017

And now, the end is near, and as we face the final curtain...

The votes took place, the Lords conceded... And then the murders began...

But seriously (and apologies to readers, but I felt that I ought to test a theory that's doing the rounds), we have reached the point of no return. Well, actually, we haven't, but that's another story. Let's just assume that we have for the time being. What happens next?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceOf course, Theresa May formally notifies the invocation of Article 50 and negotiations for our departure commence. The EU Council meets to consider its negotiating stance, bringing together the divergent views of twenty-seven nations, all with their own red lines or issues of principle, whilst the European Parliament considers what it will or will not compromise on.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom negotiating position is a mystery. This is either because they're keeping their cards very close to their chest or, more likely, because they aren't able to agree on what it is. After all, is the priority sovereignty, or immigration, or what?

For the likes of Daniel Hannan and Tim Montgomerie, it's all about sovereignty, the freedom to determine our own destiny in a global economy. People like Daniel and Tim are keen for us to make new trading arrangements and escape the sclerotic bureaucracy that is the European Union. They've been pretty clear that an accommodation with the European Union in terms of trade would be preferable, the so-called Norway model. The problem is that they appear to be in a minority on the Brexit side.

For Nigel Farage and his mates, it's about English Nationalism. Frankly, he knows that the Scots and Northern Irish don't give a hoot for his narrow-minded view of the world. And given that the major urban centres weren't keen on Brexit, and that UKIP do relatively badly in areas with a high ethnic minority population, his anti-metropolitan elite schtick appeals to people who gain little tangible benefit from the global economy. Some of them are wrong about that, but in any event, just because you don't gain anything doesn't mean that you've lost something. But they're convinced that everything will be better if we raise the drawbridge and send the foreigners home. There are lots of people out there who think like that, a lot of them in areas that traditionally vote Conservative. For them, sovereignty is immersed in the immigration issue.

So, how does Theresa cater for both sets of demands? A series of lobby groups - farmers, financial sector, health care, hospitality - are all seeking special arrangements to allow migrants for their businesses, probably in excess of her stated target of 100,000, whilst a bunch of people with votes want her to send them all home.

There is talk of deals with Australia, Canada and New Zealand which, if concluded, would probably means death to swathes of our agricultural sector given their ability to produce food more cheaply than we can - land is cheap and plentiful, and they have economies of scale that we simply can't match. A cynic would suggest that the emphasis on countries that are overwhelming white is not an accident, but nevertheless...

And it seems to be being forgotten that, whist trade deals for manufactured goods are relatively straightforward, trade in services, which makes up much more of our trade, is much more difficult to negotiate. There are influential professional lobbies that aren't keen on competition, and it's much easier to erect barriers both legal and cultural.

This is not going to be easy. And the negotiators for the other side know that. They have time on their side, and a set of core principles that must be defended if the European Union is to survive intact. And we have... confusion and a divided nation.

There is no sign of compromise on this side of the Channel - the "winners" are sour in their victory, the "losers" despairing in their sense of loss and angry that the lies told during the campaign have gone mostly unpunished. And when the choice offered is so increasingly binary, compromise is rather less likely than sullen silence.

So, Brexiteers. You wanted it and now you've got it. Come back and let me know when you've decided what "it" is...

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