Securing the exit endgame

There are too many metaphors, which brings endless amusement, but the words of Thomas Hobbes must come to mind at every step:

To these Uses, there are also foure correspondent Abuses. First, when men register their thoughts wrong, by the inconstancy of the signification of their words; by which they register for their conceptions, that which they never conceived; and so deceive themselves. Secondly, when they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others.

Word-games must stop and straight talk be turned to action.

The time is passing swiftly and two breeds of beast are bellowing in the herd: the hell-bent opponents of Brexit and those who accept it but are most fearful of a no-deal result. Both are panicking, because in just over two months, the clock stops ticking (mixed metaphors, sorry) and Britain is free of Brussels, with or without a transition arrangement and with or without a trade deal.

Exit Day (courtesy of Mrs May’s dithering) is now 31 October; the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg and began the Reformation: that date is celebrated across Protestant Europe as Reformation Day, and it should be introduced in the churches of Britain too. This metaphor was the start of an insightful article by ‘His Grace’ on the Cranmer blog this morning.

It should not be hard to fix the Withdrawal Agreement, dead as it may have been declared, but as far as the Eurocrats are concerned it is not dead but resting. The terms of Boris’s ‘Three Theses’ suggest a reformation of Mrs May’s agreement rather than burying it, but it needs fixing. The question then is how to persuade those in Europe to take him seriously.

Firstly, there is no single European mind: “Brussels” is a collection of bureaucrats, politicians out to grass and needy national politicians, each with their own ideas and their own sources of information, or misinformation, each with a greater or lesser understanding of how Britons think and how our political system operates, each with their own personal priorities and each with variant degrees of devotion to or cynicism towards to the Projet européen.

The hope is that the various powers in Brussels will see sense at the last minute, concede enough to allow Boris Johnson to sign something he might get through Parliament, and all breathe a sigh of relief and start taking about the long-term trade agreement presaged in the Political Declaration. If common sense governed, then this would follow easily. Common sense though is a particularly British phenomenon.

Those in their seats in Brussels may be afraid to step out of line publicly and be seen to let the side down. National leaders may be more pliable. Frau Merkel is looking shaky for one, but is unpredictable (not something frequently said about German leaders). The Italian government, to the extent Italy has a government, is an enigma even to itself. When you get to Austria Hungary and thereabouts you realise how diverse the backlot of Europe is, and how easy it is for smaller countries to take their lead from the larger.

One key would be cracking the unconvincing unity of the main parties in Eire. They at least have British common sense, which one would hope will surface when they see they are about to bring about that which they most want to avoid.

Whom they listen to is crucial. If it is the likes of Elmar Brok, spouting on Newsnight last night, the position is hopeless: they do not believe Boris after all he used to write about them in The Telegraph, they think he really wants a no-deal hard Brexit and that he would be overturned by the House of Commons anyway. For giving Brussels that impression so as to shut their ears, Members of the House should be shut in the pillory for months (that need not be a metaphor). Herr Brok sounded honest and plain-speaking: he genuinely believes he position he set out.

Brok also repeated the figures, long since discredited, for the effect of a no-deal Brexit as an argument that Britain must concede. One good point he made though was that the Backstop wording was a British proposal; it is indeed written in Mrs May’s voice. The point though is that it was rejected and its author was rejected, defenestrated as they say in Prague, albeit metaphorically.

That is just one voice though. Others must surely be more worried by the coming European recession. Even a temporary arrangement to carry both sides over will help their economies (which presupposes that they care about their economies).

Westminster is another game.

See also:

Books

Accidental spies; useful idiots

It is how it begins, with a friendly conversation in a quiet corner. The deeper conversations which follow are of a pattern familiar to those who may come knocking on your door earlier than you expect:

“I am pleased to meet you, as you have always understood our country and have tried to correct certain misconceptions voiced by your colleagues in Parliament and outside. As you are a member of the ‘Friends of…’ group, I think I may call you a friend. Goodwill in relations between Britain and our country would be of great advantage to both of our nations and to the world, as you understand.”

“It is frustrating that some even in your own party take a negative view of our country. I have never understood it. It is good to know that we have friends. The concerns of others about certain domestic and foreign policies of ours should not sour what should be a partnership of nations with so much in common, when we should be working together. When you yourself are in government, I hope we will. The current opposition must stem from an unfortunate prejudice as they do not apply the same standards to other countries far further from their ideas. I have long appreciated that you take the wider view.”

“Perhaps you could tell me which of your colleagues opposes our country’s policies: then we could tailor our message better. Talk to them. What are their concerns, and who is briefing them against us?”

“Such a treasure of information you have provided. Perhaps we might engage you in a professional capacity as a consultant? Your contacts in the upper reaches of the government machine may provide information that we, with our limited understanding of British political culture, fail to grasp.”

“Your services have been invaluable, and your skills as a researcher impeccable – you might also though be able to tickle some more information from ministers with a question or two in the House, within your professional role? I have taken the liberty of writing a list of possible subjects…”

Well, sir – you have become a paid intelligence agent of a foreign power.

Treason, stupidity, recklessness or hypocrisy?

Or possibly all four.  Is there any evidence from signal intercepts that any members of Parliament have been taking instructions from a foreign power, whether the European Commission or a member state government?  Is there any evidence of paid collusion?  Voluntary collusion might be even worse.

There a more dangerous possibility, which I sincerely hope is untrue, but it is becoming an unavoidable conclusion.

Out across the Channel, the European negotiators are laughing.  With little effort from themselves, the British establishment appears to have torn itself apart, and even if it is a minority of the Conservative Party trying to stop Brexit, that is enough when allied with the Liberal Democrats openly trying to stop it and Labour just voting down anything Tory.  They can foresee a reversal, and end to Brexit, and a chance to swallow Britain into ever-closer union.  The actions of Parliamentarians must be seen in that light, and their logic judged by it, and this is where the worry surfaces.

Today, anti-Brexit MPs and those claiming to oppose only a no-deal outcome combined with Labour apparently to prevent a prorogation or suspension of Parliament, and with a view to forcing through emergency legislation to block Brexit from happening without a deal – but since the House has always voted against the deal put before it, that it essentially to block Brexit entirely. This evening it was revealed that leading anti-Brexit MPs are even planning to have the Commons order the Queen to bypass her own Government and ask for a Brexit extension, or cancellation, in person. That is astounding.

These Remainiac plans could not succeed, but they give a message to the European Commission to play hardball:  they will give no concession, because if they present an unacceptable deal they will not face the cliff-edge but the Commons will delay and possibly cancel Brexit.  If those playing games in the Commons were to belt up and leave the Government to it, the Commission would probably crumble at the last minutes, but now they need not.  They can be very few, if any, instances in history, of a powerful faction in the House of Commons actively conspiring with a foreign power to undermine the British Government and harm British interests; at least not since the Civil War.

The extreme rebels, with Grieve and Gyimah and Bebb and others, have at every step said that they oppose no-deal but at every step have voted for no deal and have at every step made no deal more likely.

This then brings me to the horrible conclusion. The reports from the Commons are that the Tory rebels believe that Boris Johnson actually wants a no-deal outcome. There is no way any sane man could come to that conclusion. In this Brexit debate though, sanity has been driven out of the window: ‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome is real.  I have to conclude, painfully, that members of the House of Commons once respected have lost their sanity.

See also

Books

Has the hour of the SDP come at last?

It is the political party which refused to die. Is this now the time for the SDP to rise again?

Jumping before they were pushed, six Labour MPs have announced they will not stand at the new General Election, and the thing about this sextet is that they are all Momentum targets, and several are consistent Brexiteers: Kate Hoey, Stephen Pound, Stephen Twigg, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, not a consistent party, but consistently the more level-headed on Labour’s benches.

There stands in the wings the Social Democratic Party.  The original SDP, as those with long memories or short history books will recall, was founded by a “Gang of Four” in 1981, splitting from the Labour Party over its increasingly lunatic left-wing stance.  Even Kinnock’s Labour was moderate though compared with the Militant Tendency snapping at t its grassroots, and that Militant Tendency has transformed into Momentum.  The foundation of the SDP has been spoken of as a model for a breakaway from Labour’s frequent descents into madness, and a warning against it.

After just 2 years the Social Democratic Party threw in its lot with the Liberal Party and in 1988, having failed to cause an earthquake, it dissolved and merged with the Liberal Party to form the Social and Liberal Democrats, now the Liberal Democrats.  Not all came across:  David Owen, one of the Gang of Four, refounded the SDP, and it carried on for two years with Lord Owen, one of the original Gang of Four, before dissolving, but again some stalwarts refused to go, and there is still a Social Democratic Party today.

The remnant SDP is tiny, still holding to the Limehouse Declaration but, and this is crucial, they are a pro-Brexit party, glad to accept WTO terms if no better deal is available. Is this a destination for breakaway Labour MPs, as it was in the heady days of 1981?  The political landscape is different today, and the repulsiveness of Momentum’s Labour Party is like nothing seen before.  Something must break.

Several peers have broken off Labour too, over the rampant anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks rather than its self-destructive European policy.  They need no party to stay in Parliament and so can remain independent.  Those with political vim, Kate Hooey being a prime example, may want a vehicle that could bring them back to the Commons, or at least to challenge Labour’s assumed ownership of the working class. Good luck to them.

Oh,

In other news, Simon Franks (multimillion-pound entrepreneur and apparently a Eurofan etc) and his “United for Change” party / movement / vanity project was rumoured this week to be relaunching as “The United Party” (presumably after ChangeUK poisoned the waters on that name): still nothing official though. He would far from the first to launch a pro-EU party with fanfares and promises for the future. I lose track of the number there have been since 2016. If brevity is the soul of wit, these new Pro-EU parties are humour personified. Countdown to evaporation begins.

Books

Gyimah gymnastics

The MP behind the shortest, most hopeless membership bid has been back on the news: this morning on, Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Sam Gyimah announced that he would lead a conspiracy to undermine his own party and government to stop a no-deal, including unspecified legislative intervention – which is a realistic threat as we saw before, even is the resultant emergency Act of Parliament turned out to be a damp squib.

However listen to what else he said: he declared that he has consistently voted against ‘no deal’. That’s not actually true though, is it Sam?

In fact, he consistently voted against the Withdrawal Agreement, three times. In fact, he has consistently voted for no deal, on every binding vote: he only voted against in a non-binding motion and that rushed and effectively non-binding Act of Parliament.

Two things could have secured a deal, which Gyimah, Grieve and others claim to want: passing the Withdrawal Agreement, or allowing the Government the authority it needed to negotiate a better deal. Passing a motion to deprive the government of authority to walk away just handed the negotiation to Brussels and left Mrs May powerless to force any concession.

It was that recklessness too which drove Mrs May from office and opened the door for Boris Johnson: you are responsible, Sam.

In short, Mr Gyimah, Mr Grieve and others, your every action has been directed to ensuring that no deal can be reached. When the United Kingdom crashes out of the EU without a transition, you must take personal responsibility, and if your recklessness is such as to trigger a General Election before the party’s poll ratings have recovered, every Conservative seat will have a split vote with the Brexit Party, Mr Corbyn and Mr MacDonnell will waltz into Downing Street, and the resultant economic meltdown will make even the maddest of Project Fear projections seem as nothing. Then we will look to you, personally, to accept responsibility.