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Thursday, 5 October 2017

What Brexit? What Price?

The future of Mrs May as the Prime Minister is being much discussed this morning, while her distress in delivering her conference speech yesterday was so awfully exposed on television and excessively discussed on all the media almost as soon as the coughing began. She was 'escorted' from the platform by her husband, and one could pause to ask how she would have been able to walk without his immense support. The scene was one of extreme [and most unfortunate] personal stress, exacerbated by the security failure that allowed the 'prankster' - as the media all-too-quickly dubbed him - to hand her a sheet of paper. Boris Johnson could have secured his future as leader by grabbing the man by the collar and frogmarching him towards the exit, but in the stress of the moment he merely [weakly] tried to wave him away.

The whole episode was sad.

But it was also shameful.

If Mrs May and Mr Hammond have agreed to spend £2 billion on more social housing [of what kinds, where, when?] they must have an idea how much they are going to offer to the European Union in the next round of Brexit talks. Mrs May should have told us. Just as she should have made her 'Florence speech' in the House of Commons last spring, she should have regarded her speech yesterday as the very final chance to share her thinking with the electorate on the uppermost issue of the day. The reaction of the EU Commission, Council and Parliament to the imprecision of the Florence proposition should, surely, have impressed even on Johnson and David Davis [though perhaps not yet on Liam Fox] the understanding that waffle never had its day, and is now deeply irritant to the rest of the European Union.

It is legitimate to say that resolving the question of the Irish border is inseparable from the resolution of the question what sort of economic border it is going to be; which can only be decided when the question of Britain's membership of the European Economic Area is determined. But the Irish question would be much easier to set aside until a later stage in negotiations if the British government would clearly articulate its hopes in that area.

On the other two questions that the EU insist must be close to resolution before the wider issue of trade is discussed, the answers must be simple. Davis has implied his acceptance of the two-year transitional period, Johnson has specifically agreed to his version of that, and Philip Hammond has advocated it consistently and strongly.

For two years after March, 2019, the existing rights of EU citizens in the UK will remain as they are, with the European Court as the ultimate arbiter. After March 2021 a new relationship must be agreed; and here Mrs May - as a 'failed' Home Secretary - apparently has a serious hang-up. The UK has been willing to make laws which allow US courts to require the extradition of British citizens to the United States to stand trial for alleged offences committed while the Brit [usually, but not always, a geeky young male who has developed perverse software or algorithms] was safely located back home; usually in the back bedroom. This has always seemed to me to be an amazing concession, which puts the British courts in the role of part of the supply chain to the US Justice System. Surely, something similar can be devised for EU citizens in the UK, and for UK citizens in the EU, after we leave the political union?

This then leaves the most basic issue. Does Brexit automatically mean that the UK MUST leave the single market, and must leave the customs union, and must leave all the agreements on drugs, nuclear control, civil aviation,. research co-operation and a long catalogue of other working agreements whose abrogation would desperately hurt the UK [and which would take decades to replace, once abandoned]? These issues were not specified in the referendum question, which referred solely and specifically to membership of 'the European Union'. The extreme Brexiteers who have taken up the negative position are relatively few in number; and for that very reason, as empty vessels, they are making most noise. They will be opposed massively in the House of Lords; but the Commons is the forum in which the debate will be focused in the end. And here one man can ruin the country on his own: Jeremy Corbyn has been viscerally against the 'club of capitalist states'  for decades; and although his party has adopted a sensible stance, he could undermine it on the basis of his antediluvian Marxism. He must be corralled.

Meanwhile, Mrs May's total failure of leadership is now apparent to all. Let the agony end, soon.

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