Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Brexit – British Government Up Shit Creek without a Paddle

The news today of a leaked memo written by consultants at Deloitte, who it appears were or are working on the government’s Brexit strategy, such that it is, reveals what we all suspected. The government is divided and completely in the dark about how to handle our exit from the European Union (EU).

It has been noticeable, from public comments made by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the more hawkish members of the cabinet, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis, that there is deep disagreement amongst ministers. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, the memo also says, is acting like a medieval monarch and taking decisions herself, where no cabinet consensus can be found. The memo labels this as ‘unsustainable,’ which sounds about right. At some point, there will probably be resignations or sackings of one side or the other in the dispute.

The government has been quick to dismiss the memo, as not officially from Whitehall, but it is pretty clear what is going on, or not going on, as the government stumbles around hoping for the best, in the absence of a thought through plan for Brexit negotiations, or at least a realistic one anyway.

A civil service union, the First Division Association (FDA), which represents top civil servants such as departmental permanent secretaries, has echoed this situation, saying that the government wants ‘Brexit on the cheap.’ The civil service has endured something like 80,000 job losses since 2010, and the government’s pre Brexit plan was to cut another 80,000 civil service jobs in the current Parliament. 

With over 40 years of EU legislation to unpick, the FDA is not indulging in hype when they say that Brexit is the biggest challenge for the civil service since the second world-war. It is a massive operation, and will require resourcing if it is to be successfully delivered.

But even if the staffing resources are made available, to make a proper job of Brexit, it will probably require more than two years to sort through everything. Which begs the question, why is there such a rush to trigger Article 50, which puts a two year time limit on negotiations? Surely it would be wiser to strike an interim agreement, for say five years, by exiting the EU and joining the European Free Trade Association? I’m not saying this will satisfy those most determined to break free, whether we have a good deal or not, but it does buy us some time.

It would meet the requirements of ‘leaving the EU,’ so would be perfectly in line with the Brexit result, and would likely secure widespread agreement in Parliament. It is just the sensible thing to do.

But sensible is not what this government is. They seem determined to rush into this reckless act of risking that we get no deal at all with the EU, and have to fall back on WTO trade rules, which will mean tariffs on British exports, varying between 10% and 20%, dependent on the industries involved.

Plans are afoot, to rush an Act of Parliament through, to trigger Article 50, with such tight wording that it will be difficult, if not impossible for MPs to table amendments to it.

All of this against a backdrop of a possible trade war between the US and China, where such small fry as the UK will be trampled in the process. The more I see of the government’s non strategy, the more I think they are going to use this Brexit vote in a very political way. To discredit the opposition as ‘undemocratic’ and then turn the UK into a country that tries to attract big business, by cutting corporation tax to something like 5% or even less. And use ordinary tax payers money to compensate companies for any trade tariffs that do become applicable.

Is this what people voted for when they voted for Brexit? I very much doubt it is, but will they even notice in their fervour for stopping eastern European migrants coming to the UK?

This really is the biggest political fiasco that I can ever remember.

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