Brexit – Infighting, Summer Recess, Plotting, Breakdown then EURef2
By Graham Vanbergen: The Brexit saga is now becoming something of a soap opera. It is clear that the infighting for top spot in the Tory camp has not settled weeks after Theresa May’s disastrous election gamble. And not only is this particular Game of Thrones arena brutal, it’s also pretty ugly and extremely dangerous for UK plc too.
Ding-ding: Round One – infighting
Top former civil servants have lined up to warn Theresa May that squabbling cabinet ministers with unrealistic expectations and an overburdened administration risk chaos in Brexit negotiations.
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond is now in the ring punching back at critics as infighting rivals attempt to sabotage his Brexit plans. Scotland’s Brexit minister has weighed in with the constitutional crisis that the Repeal Bill will bring and a whole host of reports emerge that Brexit chaos will bring food shortages, drug supply problems, a shortage of one million chefs by 2029 and no-one will be overseeing Britain’s nuclear energy facilities.
Tim Shipman – Political Editor of the Sunday Times, tweeted (amongst other things) that allies of David Davis are claiming that Philip May wants his wife, Theresa to stand down. Friends of May say this is a ‘black ops’ campaign. Frankly, they should grow up. The immediate future of 65 million people and the generations who will have to suffer this historical debacle is at stake, not the political fortunes of individuals, of whom none had the foresight to see that Brexit would ever happen in the first place.
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It is almost summer recess for the politicians – time to let their hair down, go on holiday, get photographed displaying their overburdened cardiovascular systems with beer bellies cliff hanging multi-coloured Speedos and enjoying the fruits of their labour (no pun intended).
And yet, Brexit has presented itself as the biggest peacetime challenge that the UK has ever faced, according to business leaders, political commentators, the media and many politicians themselves – but by the time they return, one quarter of the time to negotiate the terms and conditions of our exit from the European Union will have vaporised. You would think, in these most uncertain and extraordinary of times, some would be in the office working for Britain’s national interest.
By September, reports of rising inflation and lost purchasing power in the average household will be rife. The credit squeeze that is already being quietly implemented by the banks, in expectation of a bad EU deal will be affecting the economy.
One thing though will be absolutely clear. The electorate will be thoroughly fed up with the political back-stabbing and juvenile media frenzy whilst these non-negotiations continue to perplex business leaders and our neighbours in the EU27.
There will be nothing else in the news other than the fallout from Brexit as the deadline continues to draw ever closer. The things that matter that is the crisis of every day life for millions in Britain, such as Theresa May’s now forgotten ‘just about managing’ does not go away though. Day-to-day issues such as health, education, policing and the wider economy will be sidelined.
Ding-ding: Round two, the contenders step up the fight
Strutting around the ring is another separate but connected punch-up in waiting. Labour, under Corbyn has been emboldened by its unexpected election success. Will Labour vote down the Repeal Bill in a bid to further destabilise the government whilst fighting off Blairites and centrists in its own ranks. I suspect, that Labour will keep the lid on its own problems and keep punching away at Theresa May, knowing the electorate will blame her and the Tories for the mess this is turning out to be. Corbyn will just keep jabbing as he has so successfully been doing.
In the meantime, business lobbyists haven’t got their teeth into the Brexit negotiations yet, nor have the charities, special interest or citizen rights groups – mainly because they have no idea what deal the government is playing for, but then, nor does the government itself. But the gloves strings are being tightened, mouth-guards at the ready.
As the summer recess comes to an end the political planning and plotting will take shape.
From the FT (Paywall) Conservatives Fear descent into chaotic leadership battle: “Some speculate Mr Davis might be given a “coronation” as the leadership candidate best placed to deliver Brexit, but few Tory MPs believe that a transfer of power would be anything other than brutal and protracted. “There won’t be a coronation while Andrea Leadsom is alive,” sighs one Conservative MP, referring to the ambitious leader of the Commons who made a short-lived bid for the Conservative leadership against Mrs May last year.
Meanwhile, Tory MPs recount how other potential contenders are suddenly clearing their diaries to spend more time with colleagues. “[Chancellor] Philip Hammond had drinks the other night in his office,” says one Tory MP. “It’s not like him.”
Some MPs argue Mr Hammond might act as a stopgap leader — perhaps serving for two years to deliver Brexit before standing aside — but the idea of the Conservatives fielding three prime ministers in a single parliament is seen as bizarre by many. “What would be the point of Philip Hammond?” says one Tory MP. “It’s like deciding you want to change your Volvo and you come back from the garage with…another Volvo.”
All this confirms that not a single Conservative politician stands head above shoulders to face a defiant European Union whose current aims are obviously to stem any idea of further exits from the club. This is confirmed by recent betting odds – the line-up is depressing.
Public sentiment will decline even further as we draw closer to a Christmas defined by a lack of shoppers and yet more high street chains going bust. What is left of trust in the political process, already at an all time low, will evaporate. Anger will replace frustration as the soap opera of political infighting takes centre stage and the peoples lot is sidelined further.
I’ve said for some time now that the reason why many of the electorate voted for Brexit, was simply that they felt there was no other choice. They were fed up with a system that had effectively left them behind for decades whilst they saw the few being made rich beyond their wildest dreams. Exactly the same happened when Theresa May expected a huge majority – and lost. Many voters simply didn’t want what they has been offered before – lies.
In the meantime, the mudslinging has already started, demonstrating that this is going to be one long round of slugging it out toe-to-toe.
Audacious briefings will become more frequent and as each day passes, Theresa May continues to see her role as PM eroded as cabinet ministers exploit the power void by publicly announcing their own agenda. One Conservative minster quoted in the FT recently said “there is no plan, no strategy, no direction.”
The reasons why Theresa May has a job right now is three fold. First, the Tory grandees who make the decisions right now, know that any alternatives to take May’s place are worse. The second, is that another leadership contest would simply bring another fight over Europe and third, who would want the role of PM with no mandate whilst inheriting a party in disintegration mode.
Round three – uppercuts
If May survives the summer recess, the Conservative party conference in Manchester will kick off with some new tests. Boris Johnson and Andre Leadsom have both made blatant attempts to show their punching power to the electorate already, just wait until they have a place to speak their minds.
Former chancellor George Osborne, who is clearly using his new role as editor of the Evening Standard to punch Mrs May from underneath, is, at the same time goading David Davis to go for the top job. Osborne has no interest in the welfare of the Conservative party or the country. He will continue to use his ‘insider’ influence to wear down an already embattled leader.
But this is nothing in comparison to what fight the Brexit negotiations will bring – and we will all have to endure it. For months on end.
The knockout round?
October 20th is the date to have concluded the so-called ‘divorce settlement’. “It would be nice to know what this is going to look like” – confided a government insider. The two leaders of the EU – Merkel (assuming she gets re-elected in September) and French president Emmanuel Macron will want answers.
Philip Hammond is pushing for a transition term during which time Britain would retain quite close ties to the EU – or a soft Brexit first. In the meantime, each piece of legislation being proposed to the House of Commons will be endlessly fought over as Theresa May has no real majority to lean on.
The breakdown in cabinet discipline is already prevalent, what is to come, will be worse. And there is already a hint that negotiations might fail. A “good deal or no deal.”
Britain has already been warned of the consequences. Michel Barnier said a chaotic exit would lead to “total uncertainty” for citizens, breakdowns in trade links for consumers and chaos for businesses amongst other catastrophes awaiting us in this uncertainty.
And let’s not forget what the first round of negotiations are about. Reaching a settlement on the U.K.’s financial obligations to the EU is up first – already a political battleground, and then on to resolving the immediate issues related to the divorce, including border issues, such as with Ireland and Gibraltar! You can imagine the headlines right now.
And then, all of a sudden, out comes the news that sentiment towards a second EU referendum is gaining credibility. From Political Betting: “On the one hand public opinion is still against the concept of another vote on Brexit. However, the gap is now 7 points as opposed to 19 in December. The trend is clear – support for another vote is growing.”
All in all, with ‘no plan, no strategy and no direction’ – this is not going to end well and anything could happen.