Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Tory Government in Chaos Blames Everyone Else for the Chaos

A mere nineteen months on from the European Union (EU) referendum, the Tory government is to attempt to come to an agreement among themselves on Britain’s future arrangements with the EU, once we leave the organisation. Meetings are being held tomorrow and Thursday of the Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit. That it has taken so long to attempt this is in itself a shocking indictment of our rulers, but I have no confidence that we will be any the wiser after these meetings.

The latest instalment in this long running debacle concerns the European customs union, and whether or not Britain will still be in it, or something very similar to it, when we leave the EU. A Downing Street spokesperson said at the weekend that Britain definitely will not be in ‘the’ or ‘a’ customs union with the EU, but did add that a customs ‘arrangement’ was something else entirely. All of this dancing on the head of a pin is of course to try and keep the Tory party together, which is descending into open civil war.

This was preceded by the Brexit minister, Steve Baker, calling into question his own department’s assessments on the likely impact of different scenarios for the economy after we leave the EU, none of which were as good as remaining. He was later forced to apologise. But arch-Brexiteer, Jacob Rees Mogg went further, claiming that the ‘figures were fiddled,’ which drew stinging criticism from former senior civil servants. They are only filling a vacuum where the political leadership ought to be. This whole thing can’t be done without the civil service either, so insulting them is likely to make matters worse.

And this was preceded by the prime minister, Theresa May saying that EU nationals would have no right to stay in the UK if they come during the transition period after we formally leave the EU in March 2019. The EU has made it clear all along that there will be no transition deal if all of the normal rules are not followed. Another example of the prime minister and the government saying they want something from the EU, that the EU are unwilling to concede.

First it was the EU, then the judges, then the Governor of the Bank of England’s fault, and now it is the civil service. The Tories blame everyone for the government’s own incompetence in handling this process. 

Getting back to the customs union; staying in it is the only realistic way to avoid having border controls on the island of Ireland, with the resultant danger this would pose to the Northern Ireland peace process. Even this might not be possible without remaining in the European single market as well.

Turkey is in a customs union with the EU, but not the EU or single market, but this does not cover agricultural products, which is covered by a separate bilateral agreement. The EU can export to Turkey tariff-free, while maintaining tariffs on Turkish goods. Turkey can make trade deals with other nations, but is bound by customs union rules.

This type of arrangement might speed up importing and exporting of some goods (but not services), from delays that border checks between the UK and EU would involve, but it might not keep the border in Ireland open. The EU would run the risk of food imports getting into the EU via Ireland, which may not meet it standards, particularly from the US. Brexit is incredibly complex, but the number one priority must be not doing anything that threatens the snail like progress on the peace process in Northern Ireland. For obvious reasons.

I fully expect the outcome of this week’s sub-committee meeting to be Theresa May making a speech beginning with the words ‘let me be clear’ and going on to say something which is anything but. A retreat into the magical thinking of everything will be OK in the end because the EU will give us what we want, once we make our minds up what that is. Regardless of what the EU continues to rule out.

It seems to be the only way to please both wings of the Tory party is to play this game of pretend, but at some stage hard choices will have to be made by the government, and at this point it is likely May will be removed from office by Tory MPs, which in turn could lead to her replacement losing a vote in Parliament which brings down the government. This would inevitably lead to a general election, where the Labour Party will have to come clean on its own intentions. The country can then decide which approach it wants.

This looks to me to be the only way we will get ourselves out of this dreadful situation we in are in now. From start to finish, this whole thing has been about the Tories, not anything or anybody else. The blame game has to stop, so the country can get on with its life. We need a change of government, sooner rather than later.

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