So there it is, in black and white. Вперед, к Cуверенитету comrades! Onwards, to sovereignty!
Today’s FT long read (€) on how the Brexit Deal was struck and what happens next is a remarkable piece of work, drawing together a series of disparate parts of the past 12 months of the Brexit story into one coherent and over-arching piece. It gives the overwhelming impression of a small cabal of politicians and appointees demanding such ideological purity from those around them, it was inevitable the Deal struck would be – from an economic and pragmatic point of view – a disaster.
The piece quotes an official close to UK Chief Negotiator Frost: “It was a very big philosophical principle we wanted to prove: that it was possible to have a free trade agreement without having to accept EU law. That was how we would be judged as negotiators.”
But perhaps even more damning: “Three people actively involved in lobbying government on behalf of industry told the Financial Times that chief executives who confronted ministers too overtly found that they were dropped off future conference calls. Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents the temperature-controlled haulage and logistics industry, says: “It was pretty clear we had to be complicit in the fallacy that these things could just work, or risk losing any influence we might have.””
This is something akin to late years of the Soviet Union – everything is fine! Our tractor production is increasing! And anyone who dares call into question the core orthodoxy is moved to the margins. In, and you’re compromised and of little use. Out, and you’re not heard.
I genuinely struggle to cope with the enormity of the dysfunction here. Would some more pragmatic solutions for registration of chemicals, or aviation safety, really have proven that problematic to get a Deal approved in the Commons? I doubt it. But the purest, most ideological outcome was pursued at all costs.
“But if these companies go they’ll not pay taxes, and so tax revenues will drop…?” Tim Pritlove asked me on the UKW Podcast this week. But UK politics is so far gone that an argument like that does not work.
So what is going on?
The scale of the problems is too deep and multifaceted to really examine in a blog post, but these are the sorts of questions I am asking myself.
It all starts with the opinion polls. The Conservatives are still 2% ahead of Labour – how the hell is that possible, given the Brexit mess and the highest COVID deaths per capita in the world? This is possibly routed in the general public… blaming a feckless public, rather than the Government, for the chaotic response. But when similar countries have fared better, how can the British population not have understood the deep dysfunction of their own government? And one of the main architects of big parts of the botched response – Rishi Sunak – is still feted as a success. Undecided voters see Johnson as “trustworthy” – so completely and totally opposite of reality. As Will Davies puts it, it’s as if the British population is incapable of engaging with policy any more.
And then there are a bunch of other questions in my head. Why did Frost rise so high? Rachel Sylvester’s piece gives some answers. His obvious bitterness is a driver, as it is for Gove. But who are these people in the Tory Party? Is this Colin Crouch’s post-democracy pursued to its logical conclusion? Or is it some misunderstanding of totalitarianism, as per Rafael Behr? Or is it the media and communication side – where UK media is so hollowed out, the population has no real understanding of what is happening to the country? Or is it the Peter Geoghegan thesis that UK democracy has been sold, and is therefore so corrupted, the right one? Maybe keeping some of your mates happy through backhanders in public procurement is enough to keep your hand on power?
1.3 million people have left the UK in the past 12 months – and that has barely caused a ripple in the UK public debate. When lockdown is done, and the economy rebounds somewhat, will these people return? Or has the pernicious anti-immigrant sentiment from Patel meant these people are gone for good? And with Northern Ireland more hit, practically, by Brexit than any other part of the UK (perhaps except Kent with its truck parks and smell of piss), what future for that part of the UK? Is there any serious effort in Westminster to try to keep Scotland in the UK – or does the Prime Minister just think he can wish that problem away – and risk a sort of Catalonia situation if he does? And meanwhile Labour sits there and asks for some more customs officials, votes for the Brexit Deal, and rejects a further referendum in Scotland.
British politics is completely and totally broken. Unmoored, dangerously so. Until we can work out the answers it’s Закрытый завод – воля народа! Closed Factory – Will of the People!