I would highly recommend, to my Remainer readers especially, reading Dominic Cummings blog, at least when he writes about Brexit. That may seem counterintuitive, but I do so because Cummings’ blog is like an oasis in a sea of Brexit insanity; he is now, sadly, one of the only Leavers who writes about leaving the EU without embedding huge dollops of mystical lunacy into every article. Disagree with him (I do), and recognise he has an agenda, but at least enjoy the fact that he understands what is actually going on with the negotiations in a way that seemingly no other pro-Brexit figure does at present.
In his latest entry, Dominic says that the government triggering Article 50 when they did was a colossal error of epoch defining proportions (I’m paraphrasing here). Basically, to have done so when the government a). had no real plan for what Brexit would look like, other than hoping the EU would panic and then just let Britain have any sort of a la carte deal it wanted b). hadn’t spoken to the EU sufficiently about those plans and thus knew what the two year timetable would roughly look like; and c). without having made any plans nor created any infrastructure for simply leaving the single market and the customs union if no deal could be struck, was one of the loopiest things any British government has ever done.
This gets to the heart of the matter: as soon as May triggered Article 50 when she did, a soft Brexit, or a never-ending transition, became inevitable. The talk of “let’s walk away with no deal” from certain quarters is all bluster now; it would unquestionably be a disaster, because the government has made no preparations whatsoever for such an event; Cummings is one of the few Leavers to recognise this point (in fact, he may well be the only one, come to think of it). This means the EU holds all the cards; it wants the UK to stay in everything, pretty much, and so I can’t see how that’s avoidable, unless the government suddenly decides that is a lot worse than just remaining in the EU (which it is), something that is very hard to see happening.
What I have found so odd about the negotiations to date is the bluster about breaking all the rules but without any of the rule breaking that would have, at least in theory, improved the UK’s negotiating position taken up. Triggering Article 50 was the quintessence of this. If you’re going to walk around saying you won’t pay a penny and will essentially default on what you owe to the supranational body of which you have been a member for over forty years, why bother to play their game and trigger Article 50 at all? Why not start trying to make trade deals and force the EU to take action? I mean, if you’re going to tip the board over anyhow, why not at least do stuff that helps you get to your stated destination instead of things that will impeded you?
The triggering of Article 50 is where historians will see the downfall of Brexit, I think. Would have been interesting to see how things could have been different, but we’ll never know.
I see the point, but on the other hand, if Article 50 hadn’t been triggered then, it’s hard to imagine that it would have been triggered by now, isn’t it? The same Remainer MPs, peers and officials who have been trying their best to stop Brexit would have been playing the same games, saying ‘We can’t trigger Article 50 until we’ve decided what we want and made preparations!’ while at the same time doing their best to make sure that no preparations were ever made and no decisions were ever taken.
Their goal, and I don’t see how they could have been stopped, would have been to push the Triggering of Article 50 back beyond a general election, and then claim that the general election exhausted the referendum mandate so that while of course in theory the new government was committed to leaving the EU as soon as possible, in practice there was lots of other stuff to be getting on with so we’ll get around to leaving the EU when we get around to it.
And that would be the position of the UK for the next 40-50 years, or until either the EU collapses under the weight of its own contradictions or a treaty change requires a new referendum under the 2011 Act and the puss-filled sore erupts all over again: drifting along as an EU member, in theory always on the cusp of leaving but with everyone, especially everyone in Brussels, knowing that in practice it was never going to happen.
(And, the UK would have lost all leverage in EU negotiations, because the only reason we got our special status, including al the rebates and opt-outs and whatnot, was because successive Prime Ministers could credibly claim, ‘My electorate won’t wear that!’. With the threat of leaving having been revealed to be nothing but an empty bluff, why would the EU give the UK a single concession ever again?)
So while the article’s right that the lack of preparations is criminal, I think it’s wrong to say that the mistake was triggering Article 50, because without that, I don’t think we’d ever leave the EU. Now at least we are going to leave; and while it might be a ‘soft’ leaving which leaves most of the ties in place, in practice it will be much easier for a new government to chip away at those ties form outside the EU.
For instance, even if we end up in a situation where we’re collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU, every time the EU brings in a new tariff the sore of ‘why are we doing this again?’ will be re-opened, the arguments about ‘government by fax’ will resurface, and eventually the pressure will be so great that we will have to diverge from the EU tariffs.
I think Cummings just has a massive bee in his bonnet about how the whole Westminster system has to be torn down and replaced, and he sees everything through that prism. He wanted to vote to leave the EU in order to have the system torn down; he’s sore that that didn’t happen. Leaving the EU, for him, was only ever a means to an end, and he hasn’t and won’t get that end, and he’s sore about it.
Paul W says
Great response by M.
In addition, we need to remember that the British government was under pressure from all sides by the start of 2017 to ‘get on with it’ and trigger the Article 50 process.
On the other hand, Cummings’ piece paints a poor picture of the Whitehall civil service. Just whose side are they on? Their own it seems – after all, the Men in Whitehall really do know what’s best for the rest of us, don’t they? Well, they have had seventy years of managing post-war decline and failure to prove it.
So Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit? Actually, it looks as though a One More Heave Brexit will be needed. Oh, and with a Whitehall clear-out to boot. The phrase ‘Drain that Swamp’ suddenly seems like a policy.
hello Nick, i wonder how long a name is allowed to be. Can it be really long? Can it be only a little long? Can it be this long? Or this long? Or is it this long? Or indeed is it even longer than that? Can... says
I will NOT read any of the dribble that most likely comes out of that man’s mouth. Gove’s former SpAd! Michael Gove is bad enough! Cummings is another bleeding league!
The chap who published lies about Lib Dem policies under the coalition.
I simply refuse to listen the complete and utter balderdash that most likely comes out of that silly man’s mouth.