All in all and taking one thing with another and looking at things in the round and pondering on the reports from the two camps – Brexit and Remain – and making all due allowance for possible contributing factors like the repercussions of the attempted murders in Salisbury and the war of words in the Labour Party about whether or not the party is rife with anti-Semitism and, if yes, why, and what did Kim and Xi discuss in their clandestine meeting and how clever of the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping, to arrange for his term of office to be converted into a lifetime appointment and what, if anything, happened between Mr Trump and Stormy Daniels, and, in the case of the last item, does anyone really care – let us see where we have got to, and where we are headed for, Brexit wise.
“So who would you trust – A manic burnt-out Blair preaching doom or a rejuvenated Theresa May in touch with the people and urging unity?”
Daily Mail headline on March 30, 2018
Well – since you ask, Mr Dacre – I would trust Mr Blair.
“Our Ruling Class is ashamed to be British – That was Orwell’s view of the appeasers in WW2. The same accusation applies to Remainers who still think they can stop Brexit.”
Headline in The Daily Mail on March 31, 2018 alongside photos of a beaming Tony Blair, a grim faced Nick Clegg and a determined David Cameron, our former rulers thought to be ashamed of being British by Leo McKinistry and doubtless by the indefatigable Paul Dacre.
For my part I hope that the doughty trio of Remainers are right and that Brexit will be stopped in its tracks.
Let us make a start by looking at Brexit developments, or, rather, at voids where developments might have been expected since my last Brexit blog in mid-February.
- Are we in a Brexit phony war and, if yes, when and how will it explode into action?
- Is a rejuvenated Theresa May on the crest of a wave that is about to carry her to a triumphant Brexit outcome?
- The media are teeming with reports purporting to be based on reliable inside information as to what is going on. Which opinions are based on reliable inside information and which opinions are just chin music?
Before we address those questions, there was also a welcome breaking of ranks in the Labour Party when Owen Smith outlined the case for a second referendum – on the debit side Mr Smith was promptly sacked from the Shadow cabinet by Mr Corbyn – a case of one step forward, one step back.
From my remote position on the margin of the outskirts of the periphery – it seems to me that Mrs May has strengthened both her own position and the prospects for a smooth Brexit in recent weeks.
Brexiteers are claiming that significant progress has been made in the various discussions between HMG – for HMG read Mrs May and Mr Davis – on the one hand and the EU negotiating team – Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker – on the other hand. It has been reported that some obstacles to Brexit have been overcome, and that the way is now clear for some detailed negotiations on terms and conditions between the two parties.
EU leaders have been filmed embracing Mrs May – not with notable warmth but a kiss is still a kiss -after some sessions, and the Brexiteers have a collective spring in their collective step.
Notes on possible problems ahead.
“One strand is evident amongst those who believe that leaving the single market and customs union can make us better off economically.
“It will not.
“Making trade with by far our biggest, richest and closest trading partner more expensive will not have net economic benefit.”
Paul Johnson, The Times. March 19, 2018.
Calm, clear, measured words from the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and an accomplished numbers man – a rarity in the Brexit turmoil.
There was an entertaining if uninformative spat between two Tories from the toff end of the party, namely Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of the Brexit camp, and Lord Patten, a Tory big beast from yesteryear, and a passionate Remainer. Lord Patten wondered what Rees-Mogg would like to be when he grows up – many of us would like to know the answer to that question – and Rees-Mogg opined that Lord Patten did not want democracy in the United Kingdom.
I suspect that Lord Patten is more than capable of looking after himself but I also suspect that some in the Brexit camp think that the Brexiteers should appoint Rees-Mogg a minder with the qualities of Jeeves to ensure that the imbecilities articulated so beautifully by this relic are not allowed to damage the Brexit cause.
The same point applies to BoJo only more so. Scarcely a day goes by without Boris Johnson making waves – he is evidently resolved to make himself into a UK version of Donald Trump, with the added incentive that the alarming excursions of Mr Trump into the social media seem to strengthen rather than erode his position and his prospects.
Both Trump and BoJo personify the old truism that you can fool some of the people some of the time.
A word about the Salisbury Poisonings
To some extent Brexit has been squeezed out of the headlines by the events in Salisbury on Sunday, March 4, 2018 when the ex Russian spy Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a deadly nerve chemical.
There was an immediate and widespread assumption that the Russians were responsible, to be more precise that the crime was planned in and by The Kremlin, quite possibly on the personal authorisation of Mr Putin or that Russia had lost control of some nerve gas and that rogue elements had used it on Mr Skripal.
In both cases the Russian state would bear a heavy responsibility.
I thought at the time and have continued to think since that one or other of these explanations might well prove to be correct but I also had and have some sympathy with the argument put forward by the Russian foreign office that the UK should both complete its investigation and then allow the Russians the time specified in the relevant protocols to respond to the charges, if any.
Things did not work out along the lines requested by the Kremlin. The Russia guilty view quickly gathered momentum, and the outcome was a rapid and significant reduction in the numbers of officials employed by Russia in its UK embassy and the Russian embassies of its many allies on the one hand and a roughly similar cut in the number of officials employed by these many countries in their respective embassies in Russia.
The thought occurred to me that the sequence of events indicated a degree of over manning in the espionage sector but what of that.
One matter arising as the crisis escalated intrigued me. The various affluent Russian oligarchs who had moved to London following the break up of the Soviet Union were deemed to be undesirables and a clamour arose in the media for their malign influence to be curbed. These oligarchs had not come here empty handed – being Russians of the thrifty type they had brought their huge fortunes with them , and had used these fortunes to buy influence in the old fashioned way.
As I recall much of this influx would have taken place under the nose of Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London – I do not recall that he opposed the oligarchs when he was in a position to do something about it – but then – that’s BoJo!
Another and much more important consequence of the Salisbury crime was that Mrs May was able to persuade her NATO allies to support her as she successfully pointed the finger at the Kremlin. This resulted in the mutual scaling up of tensions and the mutual scaling down of diplomatic head counts and this in turn led to a significant increase in her popularity.
I suspect that this latter bubble will burst once the hard Brexit negotiations get under way.
A word about Mr Corbyn – in theory and given the precarious position of Mrs May in the House of Commons – Mr Corbyn should be in a position to make a significant input into the Brexit debate in the next few months.
In practice two issues appear to be handicapping him.
- Can he move on from his Wilkins Micawber stance – that of waiting for something to turn up. Mr Owen Smith has shown him the way but Mr Corbyn seems reluctant to deal with the absurd “ the people have spoken“ position. Why not allow the people to have second thoughts?
- Mr Corbyn has also been perceived as struggling to cope with the charges of anti Semitism – is he guilty or not guilty?
It seems to me that the instances quoted as illustrating that Labour is an anti-semitic party range from the clearly guilty to reasonable points about the regrettable behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories.
Mr Corbyn has been in politics long enough to recognise the odious nature of the crime of denying that some 6 million Jews were murdered in the second world war, and long enough to grasp that suggesting that the Holocaust did not happen is rubbing salt into very painful wounds.
“ When British forces entered the so called convalescent camp at Belsen is 1945 they found a scene of indescribable horror.: the wasted bodies of 50,000 human beings who had died from starvation and disease… Only a century before all Ireland was a Belsen. Nearly two million Irish people died of starvation and fever within five year; another million fled bearing disease to Liverpool and the New World.”
Opening words of “Genocide” – an essay by Professor A.J.P. Taylor.
As one who is partly of Irish descent I would not take kindly – even after an interval of 170 years – to reading that the Irish famine did not happen.
Those seeking explanations for continuing Irish obduracy down the years would do well to bear the actions of Sir Charles Trevelyan and his Whitehall colleagues in the 1840s in mind.
Back to Brexit
As the two protagonists edge gingerly forward into uncharted territory – who are the key players?
- For HMG – Mrs May, Mr Davis and, more unpredictably, Mr Johnson
- UK opinion movers and shakers – Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch
- The EU first team – Messrs Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Barnier and Mr Tusk
- The Remainers – Mr Blair, Mr Owen Smith , Anna Soubry, Mr George Soros and Sir Martin Sorrell. I include the Holdenforth in this latter group on the shaky grounds that the addition a few paupers to the remain group would work wonders for diversity.
What happens next in the negotiations?
“A successful Brexit will crucially depend on negotiating speedy bilateral agreements with big economies. The precedents are not good: success will take compromise.”
Times leader, April 3, 2018
The leading article is not exactly brimming with confidence that the outcome will be satisfactory, and it ends with the old standby that “the best may prove the enemy of the good“.
The Times explains its own concerns and reservations: here are the concerns and reservations of Holdenforth in no particular order.
1. It is unfortunate that the next phase in what are bound to be difficult negotiations will coincide with the outbreak of an uncompromising trade war between the USA and China – not a good start.
2. The worsening row between “The West” and Russia over the attempted murders in Salisbury has further poisoned and polarised global politics – again the timing is unfortunate.
3. The 27 countries that, as things stand, plan to remain in the EU, have enough problems of their own without making matters worse by bowing to the collective tantrums of the UK, starting with the absurd Cameron decision to hold a referendum. I suspect that the 27 will not wish to make any significant concessions and they will not wish to be seen to be making any significant concessions- after all the 27 as a group hold the stronger cards.
4. Accordingly, this blog predicts that the EU stance will be inflexible although couched in courteous language.
If this does turn out to be the case, then Mrs May may well have to opt for a “no deal” outcome rather than a “bad deal” outcome.
What happens then?
We could be heading for a degree of turbulence that will make the proceedings experienced to date seem positively tranquil.
What happens next in Westminster?
Holdenforth still sees only three possibilities:
1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. Not impossible but not very likely.
2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility – but – as noted – Mr Corbyn and his party are not exactly clear as to their policy. A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland.
3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.
Which of our two plausible two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPs?
Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.
This leaves the only realistic option of lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.
- There are currently 314 Tory Mps in the Commons
- 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.
To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick. Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?
Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!
We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.
There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.
Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.
Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised Remainers adopt an approach along the following lines.
The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:
- Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May .
- An intent to reverse the events of recent years and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.
- The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years.
Let us close on an eye watering issue from down under…
Senior Australian cricketers have been found guilty of ball tampering and have paid a heavy price for their sharp practices
Just a thought – how would you like to have your balls sand papered?
I have to confess that the very thought of it made my eyes water.