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Friday, 10 November 2017

Mrs May: Deadline or Deadbeat?

Theresa May has announced her intention to confirm March 2019 as the date on which the UK will leave the European Union; and has indicated an intention somehow to establish that date in law.

On the same day, a spokesperson for the European Union has said that unless there is to be a 'hard border' in Northern Ireland [which no party in Ireland will accept; and which the British state cannot afford to enforce] Northern Ireland must remain under EU jurisdiction permanently: regardless of what arrangement will apply to the rest of the UK. The Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes in the Commons keep Mrs May in power, thus faces a huge dilemma. The one thing that can deprive them of their majority mandate in Ulster would be for them to be seen on the island of Ireland as the group who  would vote to enforce a hard frontier. However the DUP may decide that dilemma, there is a bigger one facing the UK government.

Can any UK government [Tory, Labour, fragile coalition - LibLab - or 'grand' coalition of three or more parties] contemplate bearing the cost or the odium of renewed conflict in Northern Ireland? This is an intractable question, to which I have drawn attention on previous occasions. The headbanging Brexiteers have put Ireland into the 'too difficult' file, as they busily fantasize about trade deals with countries that have no particular interest in doing Britain a good turn. Ireland has been a determining factor in British politics for centuries: and it is worth remembering that whenever the British think they have found an answer to 'the Irish question' the Irish change the question.

By a vote of 52% to 48% the UK population voted in favour of ceasing to be a member of the European Union: without any deep understanding of the implications of that question. Now that the ramifications of just a few of the implications are becoming clear, the proportion of the literate classes [especially of the civil service, which would have to administer Brexit Britain] that favours Brexit has declined rapidly.

Millions of people - including me - voted 'out' in genuine opposition to the ever-closer union of a corrupt political dictatorship [masquerading behind a facade of democratic institutions]; we also wanted to cock a snook at the British political class [represented by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne] who were the principal advocates of Remain and of austerity. None of us wanted to ruin the country economically. Some 'out' voters accepted assurances that that the world was open for free-trade deals on WTO terms. Some - me included - believed that, in the unlikely event of the 'outs' winning the vote, a continuance of the [Liberal-supported] government that had given us the referendum would negotiate terms that enabled stable economic life to continue. Nobody expected David Cameron to be such an utter coward as he proved to be. Nobody much minded what happened to Osborne: as he has demonstrated, he could move on to adopt half a dozen lucrative careers at once. On the day of the referendum nobody contemplated Mrs May being the prime minister; and we could not have conceived that she would place herself in thrall to people who actually would be prepared to see the British economy dismembered: starting with the crown jewels in the City of London.

Today, in the Silent Ceremony at Guildhall, a new Lord Mayor of the City will be installed. By the end of his year, the die will have been cast as to whether Britain will survive [and thrive] as an economy in association with the European Union, though with greater facilities for trade with the rest of the world.

Yesterday's two announcements - Mrs May's 'firm deadline' for leaving the EU, and the EU's comments on Ireland - are incompatible and will almost certainly ensure that no kind of Brexit happens in March 2019. Meanwhile, Mrs May's government looks increasingly unlikely to survive even to March 2018. The Tories will implode, even if the DUP do not simply repudiate their voting pact. Mrs May's chances of winning a by-election, even in the leafy home counties, are vanishingly small. Politics has become far too exciting; and that is before the inevitable mass movement against economic suicide begins to capture the headlines.

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