It has been a truly shitty passage of time recently in the UK with the Manchester massacre followed by London Bridge and now the dreadful events at Grenfell Tower where the death toll is likely to exceed both the previous events. The result of the General Election was not great either but regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the result, my instinct is to trust the gut reaction of the British electorate.
If politics is the ‘art of the possible’ then perhaps Theresa May and the Tory Party should grasp the point that handled rather better than their general election campaign was, she may well have have been dealt a very strong hand and might be best advised to rule as a minority government.
Often, the England ODI Team were guilty of this in their cricket semi final against Pakistan yesterday, people can “think themselves out of a victory”. Of course any party wants an outright majority so that they can drive their programs through Parliament and the opposition can’t do anything about it but that is “normal politics” what about times like these which clearly aren’t “normal” ?
I think it was during the Clinton era that that funny phrase came to the fore that “The public has spoken but it may take some time to determine what they said !” In reality they probably said many things but the one thing they did not say was that they had changed their mind over Brexit because they knew Theresa May’s direction of travel on that subject and could have stopped the whole thing dead via tactical voting if that is what they wanted and Brexit is the biggest thing that this Parliament will have to deal with. There is something else which I touched on in my previous piece written on the Friday morning of the 9th, the public will punish anybody who forces a fourth election in 2 years upon them and that is an important consideration for all parties.
Although Corbyn did far better than anyone expected, he still didn’t do anything like enough and despite lots of unintended help from the Tories, to get close to being Prime Minister, there is an awful lot more work for Labour to do before it is seen seriously as an alternative government in waiting. Also as a party they do have their own internal troubles and that won’t go away anytime soon so it will occur to them that assisting in bringing down a minority government in the middle of delicate negotiations with the EU unless some “grand and obvious principle” is at stake would not be smart.
Given the situation in Northern Ireland, it is right and good that Theresa May should talk to all parties there if only to get the Assembly back on track but she shouldn’t worry too much with striking a deal with the DUP and may be better off not doing so. This particularly as people could level accusations of bias in what is always a complex political environment made more so because of the impact of Brexit on the cross border economy of Ireland. Whilst Theresa May has great ambitions for right of centre liberal social policies on her watch, those can wait instead she needs to focus on Brexit where being a minority government offers some big advantages.
There is a Jewish joke that involves Rachel who is married to Isaac and they live next door to Jacob, a banker. One evening Isaac is very restless and clearly brooding on something, Rachel asks him what is the matter, he says: “ I borrowed some money from Jacob and have to pay it back tomorrow but I can’t, I don’t have the cash, I don’t know what to do. Rachel thinks for a moment, goes to a side window and opens it calling out “Jacob !” He replies, “What can I do for you Rachael ?”
Rachel says, “You know the money Isaac owes you ?”
“Yes” says Jacob.
“Well he hasn’t got it !” She then slams the window shut.
Isaac looks at his wife in horror, “What have you done, how does this solve anything ?”
She says, “ It’s his problem now, let him worry about it, you come to bed and get some rest”.
It is not a silly story, there is a big truth within it and it very much applies to the Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Refer to “Higher Authority”
Obviously not reaching a free trade agreement with the EU would be bad for the UK and as time is of the essence a NO DEAL would be bad for both sides causing lots of economic harm all round. Already the main EU Negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier is fretting that he “Can’t negotiate alone…” and time is running out as any agreement has to be ratified by all 27 and the European Parliament plus the UK will exit the EU on 19th March 2019 deal or no deal.
Because she no longer has a majority, Theresa May can and should include Parliament throughout the negotiations which whilst it will delay things, via open debates in the House, a genuine British consensus can be reached on all the key elements of the deal. One illogical point is the EU’s stance that the UK must “Settle What it Owes, Deal with the status of EU/Brit citizens post separation and also deal with the issue of Ireland BEFORE there can be any discussions of trade deals.”
This is something that should be debated on the floor of the House the moment a ‘Bill’ of any kind is presented to the British team in Brussels, the counter proposal should come from a vote in the Commons. Every major step during the negotiations should be subject to this and “signed off” by the House so that all are engaged in the process and equally own the final outcome. But there is another major reason for doing this which is to put pressure back on the EU itself who’s main problem lies in losing the UK’s budget contributions each year which frankly all it comes down to for the majority of them.
For all the talk of the “Principles of the EU” the simple truth is that losing Britain’s contributions puts the EU in a major bind, those who like Britain are contributors, don’t want their contributions put up and equally, those who get money from the EU Budget, don’t want what they get reduced. This is where all the nonsense comes from over “What the UK owes”. Obviously the UK even though in terms of participation and being consulted by the EU is already effectively ceasing to be a member state today, will continue making its lawful contributions to the EU right up to March 19th 2019 but if the EU wants to still get something after that date then they have to give the UK something worthwhile in return.
More than this and as business both sides of the Channel like certainty, they need to offer a positive outline deal upfront or face these negotiations as being dead in the water from day one. I am not hopeful of this because they have failed to deal sensibly with the issue of expats to date. It is not that they could announce a specific deal but as a token could easily have issued a joint declaration with the UK Government that a “Deal will be done” which would have reassured most people.
A Decision for the House
The EU wants to dangle the carrot of a trade deal “sometime in the future”. Their principle would be to drag negotiations on for 4 or 5 years after the UK has left the EU, requiring the UK to keep making Budget contributions in order “To keep the structures of trade open” but in effect shoving the UK into a “Norway Deal” where the UK has no voice but keeps paying. This cannot be allowed to happen under any circumstances.
The House needs to be fully informed, this situation debated and a decision made as early as possible and definitely this year that the UK won’t play by these rules. The reason we cannot allow this to happen is that as far as trade is concerned, it would be a death by a thousand cuts, we would be far better off deciding to trade on WTO rules upfront and vote on it now. For all the groans and moans, doom mongering and a wearing of sack cloth and ashes, businesses both here and abroad will know exactly where they stand and can plan accordingly with some degree of certainty.
This decision is in line with what “Rachel” would approve of, “Let them worry !”
However the key point is that we must protect our own economy. Sure there will be businesses who move abroad, some current trade sectors may die on us but the point is, it will also impact EU businesses because the UK has always been a far better EU citizen in terms of sustaining EU jobs by buying goods and services from others than some countries like Germany who think trade is a one way thing and only in their favour.