by Frank Schnittger
Sun Nov 10th, 2019 at 04:02:49 PM EST
In all the sturm und drang around a no deal or a Boris deal Brexit, it is easy to forget that this is just the prologue. All the Brexit deal does is settle some outstanding details arising out of the UK's departure: It does very little to decide the shape of the future relationship between Great Britain and the EU.
I use the term "Great Britain" advisedly, because the one aspect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK that has been decided in the deal is that N. Ireland, will remain, for all practical purposes, in the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) - whatever Boris Johnson might say otherwise.
But for the rest of the UK, aka Great Britain, all options are still on the table - all the way from a no deal trade war, through trading rules dictated by WTO Treaties, to Canada+++ or Norway---; whatever that may mean. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it's all about the marketing: His slightly reheated and amended version of May's deal is suddenly acceptable to the hoards of hard-line ERG Brexiteers who voted against her original version three times.
But one of the consequences of the repeated extensions of the A.50 notification period has been to run down the clock on the Transition Period, which was intended to enable the UK and EU to negotiate the terms of their future trading (and other) relationships. Now only 11 months separate the latest Brexit date - Jan 31st. - and the proposed end of the transition at the end of 2020, and Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will not seek a further extension to the Transition Period.
Chris Johns is inclined to take him at his word on that, while believing little else Johnson says. So we could be faced, in a little more than 12 months time, with a hard no deal Brexit after all, everywhere except in N. Ireland. Apparently no one in the EU believes it will be possible to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal in 11 months, and I am inclined to believe them on that.
Indeed, perhaps that is why so many hard Brexiteer "no-dealers" are prepared to go along with Johnson's deal: They will get want what they want in a little over a year in any case.
So why might they think this would be a good idea? As Chris Johns also notes, this will be the first time anyone has tried to negotiate a trade deal which actually increases rather than reduces barriers to trade. And why would even disaster capitalists want that?
My guess has always been that the Brexiteers real intent is to create a situation where, in their view, the EU will be forced to give them all they want - the benefits of free trade - without the costs of EU membership and all the political compromises entailed by that.
Absent a deal, the EU will be forced to erect trade barriers with the UK - harming their own economic interests, to some extent - with the Brexiteers claiming all the while that they will be erecting no barriers a all - as Boris Johnson said in his "rambling" speech in a safely unionist part of Northern Ireland.
No doubt the Brexiteers are gambling that, faced with such a choice, the EU will baulk and effectively give in by allowing free trade to continue, effectively extending the Transition period indefinitely, which will then be the path of least resistance.
All this talk by Barnier et al of not allowing dumping, of maintaining a level playing field, of not allowing the UK to undercut EU workers rights and consumer and environmental standards is regarded by Brexiteers as so much guff. Another version of "the EU needs us more than we need them".
And this is where I think they are terribly mistaken. If the absence of a trade deal had resulted in a hard border in Ireland, the EU would, indeed, have been in a quandary. Now that that danger has been effectively taken off the table, not so much. The EU can impose tariffs on UK exports with alacrity, and even justify them by reference to the loss of the UK contribution to the EU budget.
But for Johnson all of this is just so much speculation. In his mind this election is about "getting Brexit done" by January 31st., if not before. What happens after that is a problem for another day. His time frames do not extend beyond the imminent general election and his return to 10 Downing St. with an overall majority. After that it will be bluff and bluster all over again.
You would think that after 3 years of humiliation at the negotiating table, some Brexiteers would start re-evaluating their strategy and their tactics. But for them it isn't really about the economics of economic integration and free trade. It's about winning a power struggle within Great Britain, and particularly within England, before it is to late - far away from those interfering socialists in the Brussels bureaucracy.
I am reminded of the Catholic Church in Ireland having its political allies insert a clause in the Irish constitution banning abortion, and defeating a proposal to liberalise the constitutional ban on divorce in the 1980's. Both were illegal in Ireland at the time in any case, but the point was to prevent some future "liberal" government from legislating for them. We all know how that turned out...
The Catholic Church was seeking to legislate for eternity by ensuring the Irish constitution reflected Roman Catholic dogma and which their faithful could be relied on to safeguard for ever. But Boris Johnson's deal cannot legislate for Brexiternity, indeed the real negotiations will only be beginning in 2020, and you would need 20/20 vision to figure out where those will end up.
My guess: not in a good place for Great Britain. It will be plucky little England against the massed hordes of Brussels bureaucrats in the fevered imaginations of Brexiteers still trying to relive the glories of World War II and with President Trump expected to come to the rescue... Good luck with that.