May’s Brexit Deal: The Pragmatic Approach

It’s becoming clear that May is playing a game with the future of the nation, our economy and business, and that is to hold the vote on her Brexit deal as late as possible. Downing Street confirmed a few days ago it would be after Christmas, likely in the New Year. What May is clearly hoping is that, by holding the vote as late as possible, she can essentially frighten MPs into backing it, many of whom are more opposed to no-deal than her agreement. Some MPs have accused May of self-interest, others of bungling. But what choice does she have? This is the only deal the EU will accept; that is clear enough. But MPs wont accept it. They are playing politics. They are the ones risking all our livelihoods. The game May is playing is not of her own making. Rather, it is the product of years of fantasy, lies and now a refusal to face reality. 

What will happen then, when May does put the deal to the Commons? It’s anyone’s guess. To my mind there are 3 main outcomes:

  • The deal, by a mixture of scaremongering, practical thinking and some pragmatism is begrudgingly accepted by the Commons
  • The deal is rejected by the opposition and unsatisfied Tory Backbenchers, May resigns and the country slips through a mixture of apathy and incapability into no-deal
  • The deal is rejected, parliament manages to organise itself and utilise Dominic Grieve’s amendment to in some way extend Article 50, and at this point a confidence vote in the Commons would probably be a reality

May, no doubt is hoping for the first of these to occur, and to be honest, for all my distain for the constitutional disgrace that is the current government, so am I. At this stage pragmatism should be paramount. Yes, May is a malignant spectre no one seems able to exorcize, but it is clear now more than ever that she is right on one count: her deal is the only deal. The EU will not give anymore, so accepting her agreement is the logical option. It is for this reason I would not advocate for my third outcome, because the problems would be identical no matter how long we extended Article 50 for. A General Election might change the arithmetic, but there is no guarantee.

But for god’s sake we must avoid no-deal at all costs. Business cannot afford it; people cannot afford in and nor can the nation. The total dismissal of the reports produced by The Treasury, Bank of England, IMF and countless other independent economic experts which forecast potentially devastating ‘short-term’ impacts of a no-deal, both “chaotic and severe” is frightening. The dismissal of such predictions, by people devoted to these subjects, by experts in the field, by Mark Carney whose duty it is to defend the economy is beyond naïve; its utter recklessness. All have predicted major economic strife should Britain leave the EU with no-deal, the loss of jobs, further wage squeezes and less funding for public services. And yet so many accuse them of scaremongering, of launching ‘project hysteria’. The leading Brexiteers are always first to rubbish the views of the experts: John Wittingdale called one report which forecast dangers for the economy “unduly negative… rushed, skewed and partisan”. These people are not interested in facts unless they support their position. A good analogy would be going to the doctor and being told your drinking habit was bad for your health, and then dismissing your doctor as “partisan” or “negative”, demanding a second opinion, and when that come back the same, dismissing all the opinions as “negative”; running a “fear campaign”… promptly drinking yourself to oblivion.

The reality of the situation is simple. The British economy, as the experts rightly point out is not prepared or strong enough to sustain a no-deal Brexit without significant damage. We lack the infrastructure, for instance, to make or supply the parts required by manufacturers in the auto or aerospace industries without imports, free of tariffs and checks, from the EU. Now, in the ‘long term’ this might become less of an issue, but how long before companies find it no longer economically viable to operate from the UK? Small business who rely on EU trade wont even have that long. Most work in the short term. So while one might argue the larger companies might ‘hang-on’ until a deal can be arranged, small businesses wont. Even those who don’t rely on EU trade will feel the pinch. Any recession will squeeze incomes and raise prices, and as people become more conscious of the money they don’t have, so the small and medium sized companies, whether they rely on the EU or not will suffer falling profits, with job losses the inevitable result. The argument of many on the hard-Brexit side, that a hit, however severe, to the economy would be a ‘short-term’ event and that Britain would pull through ‘in a couple of years’ may be true, but unfortunately, most businesses wont have that long in the event of no deal, and I suspect larger companies wont stomach higher costs and a weaker economy for as long as the Brexiteers hope.

The Brexiteers would ‘get our country back’, but what sort of country would they have? And at what cost? That is why I say, whatever your views on May and her infamous behaviour, realise that the ‘game’ she is playing is one she has been forced to take part in. The current impasse is the product of deep-seated ideological stances and intransigence by MPs. Back her deal. Principles are all well and good, but now is not the time for fine words. In 100 years time, our grandchildren will not remember the impassioned speeches against or for this agreement, only the result, because that is all that matters. Let us do the pragmatic thing, so that they may not look back at us with distain and regret; so that we may gift to them something more than hollow words, broken promises and a national disaster. Let us not leap into the dark.

‘A Leap in the Dark’ (Punch, 1867)




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