Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Like an Italian tank at El Alamein, Mrs May has several reverse gears that she’s applying. Her much trumped ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is starting to sound profane. She was never in a strong position, either in Europe or as Prime Minister, and now has a distinct lameness in her gait.
The EU, which always held all the negotiation cards, is digging in. Talks are going nowhere as attitudes harden. The 2019 deadline is fast approaching without any movement. Mrs May’s much-trumpeted speech in Florence proved a non-event. Except for one hint; she let slip a tacit threat to the Brexiteers. Transition arrangements could stall the whole process.
In short, Brexit does not go ahead. Now, that will infuriate the Brexit headbangers. Rational debate has never been their strong point. Brexiteers came to the issue motivated by protest and frustrations. Thus, Mrs May can get away with masking her true intentions.
Yet, the question remains whether Mrs May can remain in power. Her enemies at home are circling. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are in an unstated alliance that has Mrs May in a pincer movement. They came coming in from the right and left flanks.
Johnson, the British Foreign Minister, is in full maverick mode issuing his own agenda. Within the last two weeks, he has twice gone off message in what is a clear challenge to Mrs May. He’s calculated she is so weak that his position is safe. And in any case, should she fire him, he’d become the locus of an alternative agenda.
Johnson has a Churchillian complex. His grandstanding ways are direct from Winston’s playbook. Unfortunately, Johnson lacks the gravitas of Churchill. He alternates between playing the clown with occasional bursts of rationality. Uttering colonial poems in a Myanmar temple is indicative of his poor judgment. Under all this, he is an unapologetic opportunist. He wants to be Prime Minister. Although he doesn’t want the blame for the coming Brexit mess. Thus, Boris is playing a sniping game. He keeps his profile high, whilst stepping back from the final push.
Joining Boris on the right flank is rather odd posh-boy MP Jacob Rees Mogg. His honesty and straightforward manner have earned him a cult status. The Brits always had a soft spot for toffs who use big words whilst pontificating. I suppose its part of the class culture and our forelock-touching ways. In recent weeks Mogg’s rock-star standing has slipped a tad as his more extreme views emerge. As a devout Catholic, he’s damaged his brand by letting slip distasteful sentiments. His attitudes towards the poor and women are medieval. Nonetheless, he appears to be an undeclared candidate for Mrs May’s job.
Coming in from the other flank is Corbyn. The old lefty is enjoying a good run with his rebranded Labour Party ahead in the polls. He’s managed to keep the young voters onside with promises on education, zero-hour contracts and other reforms. How he intends to pay for this doesn’t bear scrutiny. He and his mates have never been good with numbers. Much of his current popularity is a response to the god-awful Tories fiscal policies. The National Health Service and other public services are in a permanent state of crisis. It’s debatable whether Labour plans will stand up to serious scrutiny. But for the moment they have the momentum.
All this confusion and uncertainty is bad for business. Sterling is already down 15%. Credit ratings are slipping. Compared with remaining in the EU, there will be higher trade costs with the rest of Europe. That accounts for about half of all U.K. trade. In turn, this will mean lower trade and foreign investment. Ultimately this reduces average U.K. incomes. Brexit’s supposed benefits such as less immigration and trade deals with non-EU countries, do little to offset these losses. It seems that voters were not aware of these issues at the time of the vote. Who misled them? Boris can accept some blame for that.
The economic experts are clear. The bottom line is simple to comprehend. Under all likely scenarios, Brexit will make Britain poorer. Delaying Brexit with a transition allows more time for the U.K. to come to its senses. Don’t forget it was the older folks who voted out, thus with the passage of time that cohort reduces. Then rational heads may prevail before more harm gets done.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.