ANDREW FARRAN. Brexit: Reenter the Grand Old Duke of York.

The Grand Old Duke of York was said to have marched his troops right up the hill and then marched them down again. At least he is supposed to have had some (loyal) supporters.

Mrs May is in a somewhat a similar position with an unknown number of supporters. having decided at the last minute to put off the Commons ‘meaningful vote’ after categorically denying all along that she would do so.

A vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the present circumstances would bring down the pillars of the legislature upon everyone’s heads with no clear path to a solution. It is clear that the many views about Brexit cannot be reconciled and fashioned into a coherent whole as they reflect deep seated and varying prejudices, racial attitudes, nostalgia for dear old 19th century England, a general resentment about the outside world, and so on – so very far from keen, statesman-like eyes being fixed on the national interest.

Indicative of how mad the extreme regions have become was exhibited by the UK Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee, reporting that John Redwood, a former cabinet minister and a known intellectual of formidable academic achievements, had stated on TV that a no deal outcome was not to be worried about as it would save a £39 billion divorce fee. “We won’t be crashing out, we will be cashing in”. In other words, Toynbee commented, suicidal idiocy.

A milder criticism of Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement came from the former governor of the Bank of England, Lord King, when he observed: “ There are arguments for remaining in the EU and there are arguments for leaving the EU. But there is no case whatever for giving up the benefits of remaining without obtaining the benefits of leaving”.

As profound as that might seem it overlooks the one and only issue that has entrapped the negotiations through and through and which remain: how do you retain an open border between two territories (on the isle of Ireland) with different and separate trading and economic systems? As of now there is no way known to man or women for that solution. Nor Is there a clear line to be drawn in that regard.

Without a solution on that, all arguments for and against Brexit gain free reign and the longer they go on the more intense they become. While the European Court of Justice has given a way out of the impasse in one respect, namely that the UK’s invocation of Article 50 of the EU treaty can be revoked, thereby allowing a way for the UK to remain in the EU, that course taken unilaterally by the government would almost certainly provoke a massive adverse reaction by a large segment of the UK population, risking uprisings all around the country.

There is one rider attached to this by the ECJ, and that is that revocation should be preceded by a demonstrable democratic act, for instance a strong vote in favour in the Parliament or an expression of opinion by the people, in this case by a further referendum.

For now, the fact is that the UK will crash out of the EU on 29th March unless it has some agreement with the EU meanwhile, which could be the existing unpopular Withdrawal Agreement or a memorandum of understanding with the EU that the option of testing a revocation of Article 50 is to be put to the people at an early referendum and that existing arrangements and protocols should remain in force in the interim.

At the same time the UK should be giving thought to how WTO rules might apply to it if the vote goes the other way. As already noted in these pages, in that event the UK would have to apply to the WTO for membership in its own right as a separate state, and negotiate trade and customs schedules with the other WTO states in that regard – quite a time consuming process for which, after all this time in the EU, the UK is not well equipped to handle.

Perhaps in that negotiation it could reach an appropriate modus operandi with the EU over the Irish border, as unless their respective trade regimes were to essentially merge there would have to be a hard border in Ireland with all the negative consequences that implies.

Andrew Farran is a former diplomat, law academic and trade policy adviser.

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3 Responses to ANDREW FARRAN. Brexit: Reenter the Grand Old Duke of York.

  1. Peter Small says:

    The treatment Europe is handing out to May is exactly the same as they handed out to Greece, so elegantly told in Yanis Varoufakis book “Adults in the Room” “My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment”. Those who yield power in Europe will do what ever it takes to try and hold Europe together. But built as it is upon lie after lie Europe will finally blow and if May can get Britain out before that happens she will go down in history as another Churchill!

  2. Peter Small says:

    It would appear that the main issue is the border between Northern Ireland and the South. And everyone knows it is impossible for this to be a hard border. If you know the country the actual border literally goes through the middle of farmers fields. Sheep can graze in Southern Ireland in the morning and wonder into the North in the afternoon!
    There is no support that I know of, either in the North or the South for a hard border.
    So what is the solution? There is only one place for the border, the Irish Sea!
    The collection of tariffs on legitimate trade is not the problem. Its the movement of drugs, illicit items, firearms and people that determine the need for a hard border and it has to be the Irish Sea. Unfortunately Teresa May has a Parliament much like ours, full of members with little practical knowledge or ability other than the love of the “blood sport”, politics!

  3. Malcolm Crout says:

    I think the pundits have read this the wrong way. The final vote in the confidence motion was 200 to 117, which is a resounding victory for May over the recalcitrant rebel Tories.

    She is now in a position to put a deal to parliament without fear of losing her job, but I doubt the deal will go forward in present form. Another midnight flight to Brussels for another rejection by the EU elite will set the stage for May to profess frustration with the EU and start to prepare the UK for a crash out. Once those crash out wheels start turning, with May in a comparatively comfortable political position (for now) the EU Members will begin to understand they have as much, if not more, to lose than the UK. Economies are not going so well in the EU, unless you single out Germany, who has achieved surpluses at the expense of other less industrialised members. The rest are being supported by the ever changing rules of the monetary union only when it suits Brussels (and the IMF and Germany) to keep their fiscal ships floating. Macron has just taken the bit between the teeth to save his own neck, but I doubt Germany will want to finance the extra pension payments and foregone tax revenue from their surplus.

    Interestingly, while sterling has jumped around since Brexit was announced, it has been relatively strong compared to the dismal position of the Euro, which is being propped up on the austerity policies of Brussels which several members are resisting. The yellow vest movement in France and Belgium is spreading to other Members and don’t forget that Italy is at the point of currency capitulation, so the EU has more problems than the UK to resolve amongst their fractious membership. Investment in the UK is leaping ahead and those manufacturers who were planning an exit to other countries have done little to engage any meaningful progress in carrying out that strategy. It would seem the negative hubris has been promoted by the neoliberal hangers on, rather than those that will make the final decisions.

    People poke fun at May, but beneath that doddering public persona manufactured by the media is one tough politician. Don’t write her off yet. None of the predictions of doom about Brexit have transpired, and while a crash out will be messy, it can be managed because the UK has absolute control over sterling. The financial markets would have us believe otherwise, but the City dances to the tune of whomever issues Government Bonds and the last time I checked, that would be the BOE.

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