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Sunday, 29 October 2017

Brexit Buffoons and the WTO

Nobody who voted, either way, can claim to have understood the full implications of a 'Remain' or of a 'Leave' vote in the 2016 Referendum on Britain's place in the European Union.

It is almost certain that the great proponents of Remain - Cameron, Clegg and scaremaster Osborne - had no idea in advance how they would interpret, then implement, the Leave vote that occurred. Cameron ran away from responsibility:and even a gold-plated palace would not be a sufficient environment in which to write the exculpatory memoirs from which he hopes to make a pile of pennies. The fact that he has bought a sort of gypsy caravan, reminiscent of certain dead children's writers, for the purpose displays his ability to compound folly with ever-deeper illusion. Since the guilty men and their followers [and their mentors] had put the question to the nation, they should at the very least have had transparent contingent plans. They evidently did not. Nor did the civil service have anything like an adequate plan for what would happen after Cameron ran away, Clegg went into obscurity with his party, and Osborne's toxicity with the electorate was recognised by the new prime minister [of whose judgement and capabilities Osborne had been a vigorous critic when they had sat together in cabinet]. Evening Standard editor Osborne has been intermittently sensible in his comments on the Brexit situation, but he remains so much in the public mind as the author of the twin disasters of the Cameron era - austerity, and 'operation fear' in the Brexit campaign - that his political resuscitation is most improbable.

The prominent 'leavers' - who were far fewer than the high-profile 'remainers' - appear to have undertaken even less preparation than the remainers to meet the contingency that their side would actually win. The clownish assertion - written on their battle bus - that the net amount someone had calculated on a chewing-gum packet as the net annual payment made by the UK to Brussels would instantly be available to allocate to the National Health Service, resonated with a population that was all too aware that osbornian austerity was depriving family and friends of treatment that could be available. Whether the sum was in any way valid as an arithmetical calculation or an allocable fund did not count with those who used it. It was merely one  of a few desperate claims that they made to align themselves with a population that was disgusted by the failed political class and utterly unconvinced by the econocratic arguments that underpinned austerity. Boris Johnson became a more popular buffoon, becoming recognised outside greater London. Michael Gove surprised people with his articulateness: only to earn buffoon status for himself by his last-minute, half-cock, ill-considered decision to stand for the party leadership after Cameron scuttled away [thereby sparing the party from the embarrassment of having Johnson as their leader].

Mrs May began her period as prime minister well, with conciliatory speeches and the dismissal of Osborne; since which she has got everything wrong that was within her power to influence. She called an election unnecessarily then threw it away. She activated the withdrawal procedure with the EU before she had any clear plan. But from the start she made clear her utter incomprehension what she was dealing with, when she said 'Brexit means brexit': while everybody knows that the word itself is totally meaningless. While she has struggled, with a group of spectacularly inadequate ministers, to define what Brexit might mean the country has drifted towards the disaster of leaving the EU with no interim deal that will keep the UK effectively [under deep make-up] within the European Economic Area.

This has created a field day for the couple of dozen Tory MPs who appear really to believe - in their enfeebled minds - that the World Trade Organisation [WTO's] tariff regime will enable Britain to survive as 'the fifth-largest economy in the world'. The whole point is, that it is NOT tariffs but REGULATIONS that are used by all countries and economic communities to keep out unwelcome competition. Inside the European carapace the UK necessarily conform to the rules, and thus its trade with other  EU members states can move freely. To loose that benefit, with the block that sends and receives about half of Britain's imports and exports, would be irreplaceable. The assumption that German motor manufacturers and French wine growers will 'see us right' is infantile. Professor Minford's calculations of the 'benefit' for Britain of trading on WTO terms with the global community - including the EU - are agonisingly bereft of any allowance for the predominant pattern of restrictions on trade, that would be tightened against an innovative economy such as the UK if we were adrift in the world and thus are extremely dangerous. But those are the argument to which the headbangers adhere: because they have nothing else. Yet they hold the government in awe; and are increasing their power to ruin the country. I will have to return to this topic in the coming days, as the argument gets more fraught approaching the deadline for the next meeting of EU heads of government.

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