by Frank Schnittger
Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 11:36:48 AM EST
To some extent we are all operating in the dark when it comes to predicting how various actors - primarily governments - will act in particular circumstances. We all have to make assumptions to reduce the number of potential variables, but it might be a useful exercise to make those assumptions explicit to see where our foundational expectations differ.
My assumptions about the guiding principles of the key actors look something like this:
1. Boris' UK
1.1 The EU is a fundamentally weak and unprincipled body which can be counted on to fold and compromise at the last minute. Therefore you have to start from a bold and principled position to put the fear of God in them. When faced with the sure and certain prospect of significant damage to key sectors such as the car industry Merkel will fold. She is increasingly weak, politically, and the German economy (and particularly the car industry) is already in deep trouble.
1.2 The priority now, for the UK Government, is to put the fear of God into all MPs that the UK is heading for a general election. That will make them less inclined to support a vote of no confidence, particularly those in marginal constituencies or those with a Leave majority.
1.3 To win that election the Tories have to destroy the Brexit party as a viable alternative so we have to steal their clothes and allow no daylight between their position and ours. We can be magnanimous and offer Farage or his surrogates cabinet positions, but the priority now is to destroy the Brexit party as an electoral force and alternative for Leave voters.
1.4 Therefore Remainers have to be ruthlessly marginalised, from the Cabinet, the wider government, and in Parliament itself. They are such a weak-kneed bunch and probably won't be able to get their act together in time to force a general election prior to Oct.31st. in any case. Thank God for Corbyn making it impossible for them to unite around an alternative PM.
1.5 The Tories must have "delivered on Brexit" before the next General election if they are not going to be destroyed at the polls for having failed to deliver on the mandate of the referendum and the 2017 general election. The precise form that Brexit takes is a secondary consideration, and for the political class to worry about. Our base just wants us out of the EU and thinks we should have done it an age ago. But better late than never.
1.6 Ideally the general election should take place immediately after Oct 31st. to the sound of "Land of Hope and Glory" and before the practical difficulties of Brexit have had a chance to sap the national spirit. Once Brexit has actually happened Johnson's "can do optimism" will trump Corbyn's loser negativism every time. Nobody trusts Corbyn to lead Britain through a crisis. Boris is a wartime leader and has assembled a war cabinet.
2. The EU
2.1 Brexit began as an unnecessary and regrettable distraction from our key task of managing the EU through the Euro crisis, regional inequalities, an economic slowdown, and Trump's challenge to our place in the world order. We had hoped the UK would change its mind once faced with the realities of what Brexit would actually look like, but regrettably this doesn't look likely to happen now.
2.2 Our primary objective in the Brexit negotiations was damage limitation, and we succeeded rather well in doing so. The British side to the negotiations were unbelievably incompetent, and perhaps we succeeded rather too well in consequence. But the bottom line is that it remains the only basis for an orderly Brexit that we can unanimously stand over.
2.3 However far from persuading the UK of the folly of Brexit, they have simply doubled down on every mistake and become ever more extreme in their demands, to the point now where they are openly taking Trump's side in what could well become an existential battle between the US and the EU. This is to be avoided if at all possible.
2.4 However the UK demand now is essentially that we endure the consequences of the worst sort of no deal Brexit or else risk the integrity of the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) and sell Ireland down the river. This would be a fatal blow to our claim that pooling sovereignty strengthens all and that we are a Union of equals within a legal order.
2.5 Our best chance of avoiding either of these very damaging options is to prevaricate and delay: Johnson's majority is far from stable, and Trump is facing an election next year in the context of a slowing economy and a social order in crisis. Hopefully he will be too distracted to open up another front against the EU and is relying on Johnson to do the heavy lifting for him. It is hard to see how picking a fight with Ireland and Europe would be a winning electoral strategy for Trump.
2.6 The problem is we are no longer in control of the process. If Johnson persists in his no deal madness there is nothing we can do to stop him. We can't give another A. 50 extension if the British government doesn't ask for it.
2.7 Increasingly Boris' hardline supporters are saying that even removing the Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement wouldn't persuade them to support the deal. They want a no deal Brexit and don't seem to care about the economic consequences. Perhaps they believe they can force us to allow them de facto access to the CUSM without regulatory alignment or compliance of any kind. This is an existential issue for us.
2.8 At least this latter hardline stance makes it easier for us to maintain our internal solidarity. We are all agreed the CUSM must be protected at all costs. Varadker is coming under increasing pressure to compromise on the backstop back home, as a no deal Brexit would create a hard customs border in Ireland in any case, but that pressure becomes marginalised if everyone realises the backstop is no longer the key issue. Basically the hard line Brexiters seem to believe their best chance of a prosperous political and economic future lies in aligning themselves with Trump and destroying the EU as a whole.
2.9 So if a no deal Brexit actually happens we will be in a fight for our continued existence. We will have to take an absolutely hard line and block all inspection free imports from the UK on the grounds that we will no longer have any trade deal or mutually recognised systems to ensure regulatory compliance. It will be almost akin to all out trade war, the sharper the better, in the hope that this will persuade to UK of the folly of its position and provoke a change of government in the UK.
2.10 Our best hope, in that scenario, is that a new government, not dependent on hard line Brexiteers and the DUP is formed sooner rather than later and agrees the Withdrawal agreement with a N. Ireland only Backstop, essentially retaining N. Ireland in the CUSM in line with the democratically expressed wishes of its people. We therefore have to make the outcome of a no deal Brexit as terrible as possible, as otherwise that entirely unsatisfactory situation could drag on for years.
2.11 As disastrous as this may seem, it could be the making of the EU. We will have protected our core markets, institutions and members and demonstrated to all and sundry that we are a force to be reckoned with and a potential adversary not to be trifled with. Regrettably, it often takes a war to forge the identity and cohesion of a nation. Hopefully we can limit our conflict with the UK and USA to a localised trade war and in so doing show all our citizens just how powerful a force we can be collectively in the interests of all our members.
The UK has made a big mistake in making this about not only the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, but about the peace and prosperity and continued existence of the EU as a whole.