There are some good articles floating around out there in the bubble about May’s thinking on no deal – the press in Westminster are starting to focus at long last on the fact that the country could be irreparably changing in a few weeks’ time. The logic goes that May always saw no deal as catastrophe to be avoided at all costs but that now, due to a combination of having boxed herself in with the latest move to try and re-open the deal and the fact that polling and focus groups suggest the Tories would come out okay from a no deal Brexit, means that the prime minister is now seriously considering the possibility of just letting it happen.
I thought it would be interesting to imagine what would happen in the event of a no deal Brexit and further, what impact that would have on both major parties.
I can believe that both Tory voters and Tory floaters say that no deal Brexit would either be fine or even actively welcomed – and thus, the Tories would be electorally rewarded by these people. However, it’s more complicated than that. The vast majority of those who are within the Tory catchment do not believe that no deal will be negative in any meaningful sense – the polling on the topic supports this. If no deal happens, they will either be proven right or wrong on its immediate effects. If there is any sort of real disruption, I think the Tories could be in real trouble. Leavers who shouted that no deal would be no sweat will not en masse declare, “Well, I got that one wrong, bad on me.” This isn’t human nature. Instead, they will feel cheated and duped. Their anger will go many ways but it is inescapable that a lot of it will land on the party that inflicted it on them and convinced them it would be fine.
Having said that, Labour could be in much more trouble if no deal happens. Corbyn clearly thinks that in the event of no deal the British people will break out of their false consciousness, see the Tories as duplicitous and then demand socialism. The truth is, I think a no deal would split the party. For a start, a lot of Labour MPs will tell Corbyn in the next few weeks that if he doesn’t support a second referendum, a lot of them will be off. If a no deal happens, most of them will follow through. That alone will be a huge blow to Labour.
But even if the moderates get cold feet again in the short term, Labour are still doomed. No deal would further polarise the country into Remainers and Leavers, and Labour would end up in a similar situation to what befell them after the Scottish referendum. As Scottish politics became a battle between Nationalists and Unionists, Labour found themselves in neither camp. As a result, the Tories have been able to replace them as Scotland’s second party, while the SNP have knocked over Labour’s former Scottish empire pretty much completely. If politics really became about Remain/Leave as it is threatening to, Labour will be left in the same position, particularly if the pro-European bit of it splits off, which is likely to happen at some point.
What about other parties? Until the Lib Dems have a saleable leader and platform that makes sense beyond Brexit, their fortunes beyond local by-elections are unlikely to improve. Yet I can see the Greens getting more votes again, as well as localised parties like Plaid. All of that will eat into Labour’s vote share. I think Labour have a small window of opportunity to try and become the Remain party – one that Corbyn, a Brexiteer, will almost definitely spurn.
If there is any sort of real disruption, I think the Tories could be in real trouble. Leavers who shouted that no deal would be no sweat will not en masse declare, “Well, I got that one wrong, bad on me.” This isn’t human nature. Instead, they will feel cheated and duped.
Depends on how bad, and how long-lasting, the disruption is. It’s not human nature to declare that one was wrong, but neither is it human nature to cheerfully declare that one had the wool pulled over one’s eyes: after all, what does that say about one’s self-image? That one is a gullible fool?
So, a little bit of real disruption, that doesn’t last too long, and I think the Tories will be fine. Even no-deal-supporting Leavers have been careful to seed the idea that some resiliance might be required, all the reference to ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and so on. They have enough arse-covering that they can point to to be able to credibly say, ‘we warned you it wouldn’t be totally smooth sailing’, even if that’s not the way it was spun.
On the other hand if the disruption lasts longer, or turns really serious (I doubt it will, but if it does) then the Tories will suffer a backlash; less ‘we were duped, you said it would be fine and it’s not, you lied!’ and more ‘it could have been fine but thanks to your incompetence it’s not, you’re rubbish!’, but that’s hair-splitting and the effect will be the same: a massive hit to the party’s reputation for competence that will have long-term electoral consquences.
What interests me is, do you think there are many Conservative MPs who will resign the whip in the event of a no-deal exit? Soubry, Allen, Grieve? Or will they wait until they see who the leader’s going to be?
What makes you doubt that the disruption would not last long or that it would not turn really serious? There seem to have been a lot of reports on what will happen if no-deal arrives but very little on what would happen next. As far as I can see the only quick way out would be to do a U-turn and accept the rejected deal after all. That would be humiliating for the government and would discredit it in the eyes of many of its supporters.
Britain cannot be self sufficient. It cannot produce enough of a lot of the food and manufactured products it needs. It has to make its living to a large extent in the international market place. In the event of no-deal Brexit, a lot of Britain’s exports to the EU would lose their markets because of new tarrifs and other barriers. It would probably not be possible to sell a lot of them to other more distant markets. How would Britain earn enough to pay for the imports it needs? It takes years to negotiate trade deals and it would also take years to start producing new products to sell to new more distant markets.
What makes you doubt that the disruption would not last long or that it would not turn really serious?
Because we are a capitalist country and one of the many great things about capitalism is its resilience, as it routes around problems. Unlike the USSR, where the state directed how much of everything was to be made and where it was t be shipped to (and usually got it wrong), so that the collapse of the state meant that nothing got made, in the UK we allow people to do whatever they have an incentive to do, and those who solve the problems reap the rewards.
There is a lot of money to be made in, say, supplying food to people. Therefore the incentives to find ways to do so are great. So if there is any disruption in, say, the food supply due to a no-deal Brexit, there will be hundreds, thousands of people working to be the one who finds a way to circumvent the problems and get the food flowing, so that they can reap the rewards of doing so. One or more of them will manage it, and life will go on.
Same for pretty much everything else. People, when given enough incentives, always find a way.
Geoffrey Payne says
I do not think Labour will be damaged much if the pro European element splits off. The pro EU Labour supporters are largely based in the large cities and have in common with Jeremy Corbyn a strong anti Tory inclination which will propel them to vote Labour regardless. We saw that at the last general election. The Greens previously occupied a position to the left of Labour which now they can no longer do, so they are going nowhere. The pro European Labour MPs are either not very well known or are not very popular and under our voting system they will all be defeated. The SNP may do well if they are perceived to be doing a good job governing Scotland. Apart from that, even though a lot of people are unhappy with it, 2 party politics outside of Scotland and Northern Ireland seems entrenched. The opinion polls have barely changed since the last general election and it is hard to see them moving much until Brexit takes place, and then we need to see who gets the credit/blame for what happens next.
Apart from that, even though a lot of people are unhappy with it, 2 party politics outside of Scotland and Northern Ireland seems entrenched
Oh, two-party politics is just as entrenched in Scotland and Northern Ireland as in England. It’s just which two parties that differs.
I don’t think Leavers will admit they were fooled anymore than they’ll admit they were wrong – they’ll just gradually start to pretend they were always against Brexit.
The Iraq war was substantially more popular among the public and MPs than Brexit. Fifteen years later, and you could be forgiven for thinking the only person in the world who approved of it was Tony Blair.
Paul W says
The same could be said about Remainers.
After 29 March (or whenever), interest in European Union affairs will plumment and public attention will move on to the next big thing. That’s how it works. Indeed, the two main parties will have every incentive to move things along. Boredom is an underestimated factor in British politics.
Why did your conclusion “Whatever happens, Labour is doomed” not surprise me?
There would be a huge reaction against Brussels, since
the Leavers will, egged on by the tabloids, blame Europe, rather than themselves or the Tories. This is already happening. I do think there will be disruption if there is a No Deal, as too many companies are saying they will be hit, and surely they ought to know. If jobs go and food supplies change too much and or prices go up, then there may well be another “Chilcot” inquiry, in which case the Tories will definitely get it in the neck.