ABHI Membership

ABHI Brexit Update: After the Clock is Ticking (Backwards)

Greetings one and all! I trust you have summered well thus far. It has been the conspicuous wealth of the Costa Smeralda, and, of course, the rugged beauty of the Wild West of Cornwall for us. Very well fed we have been too. Our favourite old Penwithian haunts in particular, delivered in some style. As, I have to say, did Paul Bristow, Steve Bridges and Joe Gatewood, who have been keeping you informed and entertained in equal measure these past few weeks. I do hope you enjoyed their musings as much as I did.

Not, alas, affording anything like the same level of satisfaction have been our cricketers. It is as if the Australians have taken umbrage at the mugging of their antipodean neighbours by England in the final of the shorter form World Cup, and now that proper stuff has started, they are exacting savage vengeance.

One commentator has suggested it is all rather retro and I tend to agree. Much of my earlier life featured drubbing after drubbing handed out by the men in Baggy Greens, with the odd, glorious exception courtesy of a Freddie or an Iron Bottom. Much of my earlier life also featured Conservative administrations arguing amongst themselves about Europe. As you know, I am a big fan of virtually the entirety of BBC Radio 4’s output, but the programme “The Long View” is becoming the increasingly poignant jewel in the station’s crown. Nothing under the sun is new.

Speaking of which, in what I suppose is an understandable if not particularly original move, Boris has bought himself a Brexit countdown clock. I saw a picture of James Cleverly in front of the thing the other day, grinning and pointing at it as if it were anticipating nothing of more significance than the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Perhaps that was the Tory Party Chairman’s own nod to unwelcome nostalgia. What is baffling me a bit about it is that it is set to stop at 11pm on 31st October. Maybe Boris is sending a subliminal message to himself to get the job done on time, or maybe he is thinking of using the moment to announce his resignation live on Newsnight after he and his mates have turned over the Westminster Arms and the private room at the back of Shepherd’s during a Bullingdon Club reunion.

If you have been spending too much time, that is any time at all, digesting the nonsense from the drooling, baying, desperate for bad news pack that is our press corps, you would be convinced that the clock was counting down to no deal. Even a simple statement of fact from the EU that there is already a Withdrawal Agreement in place is being taken as evidence that Europe itself wants a no deal. It is keeping Michael Gove, a man I just cannot take seriously, happy at least. He is blaming the Europeans. What he is blaming the Europeans for I am not clear about, but he is blaming the Europeans all the same. Matt, still, although I am not sure how happy he is about it, Health Secretary, Hancock, is on record as saying that he does not believe that Parliament is able to stop a no deal. I have to say I do not agree with our young friend entirely there. One of the things we have learnt in all of this is that the fact we do not have a written Constitution means that nobody, by definition, is an expert on our Constitution. Things have happened that could not have been anticipated. Parliamentary instruments, that not even the Government knew existed, have been used to thwart the Government. Despite all sorts of skullduggery to unseat him, John Bercow remains in the Speaker’s Chair and he remains a fiercely outspoken guardian of parliamentary democracy. The previous Prime Minister gave the impression at times during the past year or so that she was indestructible, it could be that Speaker Bercow actually is. He has started flexing his muscles about no deal as have the courts. Parliament remains overwhelmingly opposed to no deal, perhaps more so than ever. One thing I can be absolutely certain of is that if the Government attempts to impose its will, the response of the House will be spectacular, and it will be sustained.

Another thing you might be convinced of is that a General Election is imminent. It was a subject that Paul Bristow considered from this seat last month, and many commentators, much better placed than I, believe that the Government is gearing up for just that eventuality. On the other hand, Bristow and other Tory Party insiders I have spoken with, tell me that Boris is in permanent campaigning mode, it is just how he operates. It might be easy, therefore, to overestimate the significance of Dominic Cummings and Lynton Crosby in Downing Street. Gaining and maintaining power is also so deeply embedded into the Tory DNA, that I do not believe Boris would choose to go to the Polls. The next Election, whenever it comes, is one the Tories could well lose, so why take the risk? He has also said that there will not be an election, although granted, Johnson is not a man about whom the phrase “My word is my bond,” readily springs to mind.

It is also more interesting, and potentially humorous, than that. Johnson is not exactly sat on a stonking majority in what was, until relatively recently, Lib Dem territory. It is quite easy, is it not, in the current climate to imagine a loose, informal, pro-Europe alliance deciding to pick and choose where it concentrates its resources come election time. If Labour and the Greens were to stand aside in Uxbridge, where, shock horror, Boris has lied to his constituents about support for developments at Heathrow, the Blonde one may well have his work cut out. The same is true down here in spades my ‘ansomes. Britain’s poorest county has now twice returned six Tory MPs, four of them with majorities in the low thousands, one of them with just 312. The absence of candidates for Labour diehards and Green idealists to vote for would have the Lib Dems believing they could win most, if not all Cornish seats, and return the county to the political hue it has enjoyed for long periods since the time of Gladstone. Imagine then Labour has a free run in Scotland, where the Tories have an improbable 12 seats, and the world starts to look like a different place.

But, I hear you say, Boris may not get to choose, which is certainly true. The parlous majority he inherited after Theresa May’s disastrous decision to call a snap election in 2017, has reduced to just one following the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Boris may have secured the overwhelming support of the 101 year-olds in the leadership contest, but he is far form universally popular in his own Parliamentary Party. Remember the Scottish Conservatives and “Operation Arse?” There is also now a large cohort of disgruntled ex-Ministers, sacked or unwilling to sign oaths of allegiance to their leader in blood. A vote of no confidence will happen early next term, and, whilst Jeremy Corbyn may not be the man to lead some sort of unity Government, the maneuvering and negotiating has already started. A number of very high-profile Conservative MPs have also committed to voting against the Government if it looks set to follow the path to a no deal exit. Brace yourselves for quite a ride in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, we at ABHI Towers have been busy with our colleagues in DHSC and elsewhere considering the bolstering of contingency plans, and there is plenty for you to look at. To support existing plans ensuring the continuity of supply of medical devices after the UK leaves the EU, a new service has been announced that will deliver urgent products into the country. Members will also receive a communication from the DHSC next week as part of a refresh to the key data that Government needs around stock levels, re-routing and trader readiness. On the latter, members remain advised to prepare for the immediate new border and customs arrangements in the event of no deal. An update on the expected changes to export and import procedures will be provided by the DHSC, Border Delivery Group and HMRC during a webinar at 10:00 on 21st August.

Register to attend the webinar here.

Alongside all other information which is captured on our dedicated Brexit webpage, two government portals have been reviewed and refreshed with the latest advice for companies:

You should also get 9th October absolutely inked into your diaries. We have teamed up with our friends at Cameron McKenna to take a close look at the situation we find ourselves in at that time. Officials from relevant Departments will be giving us the latest advice and we will hear about some hot off the press research from the wonderful Nuffield Trust. Book early!

Finally, to complete this week’s history repeats theme, and, in what might be mistaken as satire, news that the Chancellor will mint a commemorative 50 pence piece to mark Brexit. It is good to know Her Majesty’s Treasury is clear on the priorities for our country at this time. For those of us who can remember the appearance of the 1973 original, a series of hands joined in friendship, unity and strength, it is enough to make you cry. It really is.