ABHI Brexit Update: So Much for the Amusing Aside
This time last year it was no more than an amusing aside. What if Brexit was delayed sufficiently to necessitate our participation in the European Parliament elections? I am not sure, when I reported a few months ago that the Electoral Commission was making the necessary arrangements, that I took it particularly seriously. And, if I am being totally honest, even last week, when I used the fact that polling cards had been issued to indicate to an American audience that anything could happen, I was still not entirely convinced. But on Tuesday, a weary looking, de-facto Deputy PM, David Lidington, confirmed it. Three years after we had voted to leave the EU, we would be taking part in those European elections. If any of you put a tenner on that in the summer of 2016, you can buy me a pint.
My sympathies are with those charged with organising the thing. No chance to put the feet up after last week’s local elections, it is cap in hand to the bank of schools, libraries, Church halls and, in my case, a Fishermen’s Mission, that act as polling stations. As well as the inconvenience, there is the cost. Ordinarily, and had we not all lost our minds, the European elections would have taken place on the same day as the local ones. You can stick that on the Brexit bill along with all the costs you have endured and the £50 million written off last week, when contracts to supply additional ferry capacity in the event of a no deal exit were cancelled. I am not sure what the running total is, but it will be eye-watering and does not include the opportunity cost associated with all the energy and resource expended on this rather than the day job.
So, it is election fever. Kind off. Yesterday three of the major Political Parties launched their manifestos. Labour’s event saw much political dancing from Jeremy Corbyn, who remains, steadfastly, on the fence, his tactics seemingly to sit back and watch the Conservatives rip themselves apart. The SNP came out firmly as one of the Remain supporting parties, their intent being to stop Brexit. Leader Nicola Sturgeon talked, rather ominously I thought, about two referendums, the first being the so called “Peoples vote” to ratify any deal. Subsequently, if the UK does actually leave the EU, then the SNP will push for another ballot on Scottish independence. As I have said before, there is more to Brexit than what happens between Dover and Calais. As you might have guessed I would say, it is a massive hats off from me to Vince Cable and the Lib Dems who have, rather magnificently, entitled their manifesto “Bollocks to Brexit.” Maybe it is Vince caring less as he gets (even) older, and he does not anticipate doing particularly well given the number of pro Remain parties, but it must surely cement his place as a living National Treasure. This is comedy gold, deserves a standing ovation and probably eclipses even Monty Python’s Kevin Phillips Bong. And, if for no other reason than we all seem to be playing this one for laughs, I think you can guess where my pencil might be headed.
Conspicuous in its absence of launching anything was the Conservative Party. The word is they are not going to bother. Well why would they? How on earth could they possibly agree anything between themselves anyway? There is also some obvious Tory spin. Why would they need a manifesto when the PM believes she can get a deal passed in the coming weeks such that our newly elected MEPs will not need to take their seats in July. Now imagine she can pull that off. We vote to leave a Parliament in 2016 but in 2019 we have still not worked out how to do it. Then we elect people to serve in that Parliament, but, before they get the chance, we finally work out how to leave and it has all been a waste of time. I really hope that our elected representatives are at least a bit embarrassed at the prospect. We have, I am afraid, lost any right to ridicule you know who.
Military historians will tell you about the perils of fighting battles on more than one front. It tends not to end well. Such is the plight of the two main Party leaders as they try and come up with the deal that will precipitate the rather ridiculous set of circumstances outlined above. The PM is wrestling with Labour for compromises that will allow Her Majesty’s Opposition to support a deal. The problem is that one of the compromises Labour is seeking is to stay in the, or a, customs union. Any movement in that direction would threaten a fatal split in the Tory Party, as it is not something that Leavers would countenance. There is talk of staying in the Customs Union until the next General Election, which would then effectively become a referendum on future arrangements. Few think that is actually workable and many Blues also find the prospect of doing any sort of deal with the Reds highly distasteful. There is also the question of her leadership, over which hangs a very big question mark. She has got through this week having avoided a showdown with the 1922 Committee who are demanding a timetable for her promised departure. That particular pleasure awaits her next week. It seems that the PM wants to hang on until the autumn to see Brexit through. How amenable the ’22 will be to that and how realisable her ambition would be in the face of another major humiliation on 23rd May remains to be seen.
Jeremy Corbyn has his own woes. If he can get to making a stance on anything that looks like a compromise, he is facing a groundswell of demand from his own MPs for a second referendum, now being called a “confirmatory” one, in any event. You can imagine how well that would go down with Mrs Brexit means Brexit, and many Reds also find the prospect of doing any sort of deal with the Blues highly distasteful. There have always, of course, been questions over his own leadership. Should Labour’s risible performance at the Polls last week be repeated in two week’s time, he may face an additional set of problems.
And thus, the impasse continues. The only levity I can offer comes with an obvious wheelbarrow full of irony. As I have suggested before, you have to love Jean-Claude Juncker. On being named “European leader of the year,” the European Commission President quipped that the honour had come so late in his career it was “at the point of autopsy.” If you did not laugh…