Wednesday 27 November 2019

Electionwatch: the dangers of being bored - a warning from Pericles

Sitting on Boris Johnson’s desk in 10 Downing Street is supposed to be a bust of the ancient Greek statesman and orator Pericles, allegedly Johnson’s hero. Pericles once said: ‘Just because you’re not interested in politics, it doesn’t mean politics won’t be interested in you.’ Or as he might have put it if he was alive today: ‘Just because you’re bored with Brexit, it doesn’t mean Brexit has lost interest in you.’

The Brexiters have devoted enormous energy to trying to silence any debate about the merits of leaving the EU. Hardly surprising, because there are none. First, there was the ‘will of the people’. The referendum had ‘settled’ the issue and no questions must be asked. Now it’s: ‘I’m bored with Brexit. I just want it over.’ A foolish sentiment (see my post of 20 November) that Johnson and the Conservatives are exploiting ruthlessly.

But if Johnson ‘gets Brexit done’, only today we’ve had warnings that it could cut car manufacturing in the UK by more than a third, that the NHS could face a huge rise in the prices charged to it by American drugs companies as Brexit Britain scrabbles desperately for a trade deal with Trump, that investors and talented individuals are shunning the UK.

So you may be bored by Brexit, but if Johnson wins the election, Brexit will be very interested in you. Gobbling up your job, your public services, your rights and those of your children and grandchildren, your savings etc. Do vote wisely.

Monday 25 November 2019

Electionwatch: the great Brexit 'nothing to lose' illusion

‘No matter how bad things are,’ said the film star Kirk Douglas, ‘they can always be worse.’ And yet we are told that a lot of people voted for Brexit in 2016 because they believed their lives were so terrible, they couldn’t possibly be worse, so leaving the EU was worth a try.

A nanosecond’s reflection, of course, would have revealed that Kirk Douglas was right and they were wrong. Ever heard of Syria, Somalia, Ukraine? Are you homeless, or are you unable to get the medicine you need to keep you alive because of a no-deal Brexit? Have you got a job, do you use public services? If you really think you have nothing to lose, you may soon get a very rude awakening, because (apart from a few of the hyper-rich) those who voted most enthusiastically for Brexit are the ones most likely to be damaged by it.

What I find most striking about the 2019 General Election campaign is that with the UK taking the biggest decision it has faced in nearly half a century, there is virtually no discussion by the ‘major’ parties – Labour and Conservative – about the damage Brexit will inflict: how much poorer will it make us, how many people’s rights will be destroyed, how badly will public services be damaged, how much weaker will it make the UK, indeed, will the UK survive it? And the media also largely ignore these questions. No wonder the whole thing seems like an exercise in self-deception.

If you don’t care about the above questions. Fine. Sleepwalk into Brexit. If you do, you’d better start thinking about how you stop it. This election perhaps presents the best chance so far, but also probably, the last.  

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Electionwatch: the latest Great Brexit Lie

The whole Brexit project was and is based on lies, and one particular lie is now central to Boris Johnson’s campaign – that electing him as prime minister will ‘get Brexit done’ and that the country will then be able to forget about it.

Why anyone would believe anything Mr Johnson says is a mystery to me, but apparently some people do, so let everyone understand that the one thing a Tory win will not do is ‘get Brexit done’.

Let’s assume Johnson gets a majority. He then presumably brings his ‘deal’ back to parliament. It passed second reading once with a majority of 30, but with Brexit, the devil is in the detail. When the UK decided to join the EU nearly half a century ago, MPs gave approval by a much bigger majority – 112, but when the detail was voted on, the margin shrank to 8 votes, so Johnson is likely to be extremely vulnerable.

If MPs decide to do their job and read the legislation properly, there will be lots of amendments and, bearing in mind his ‘deal’ is even worse than Theresa May’s, on some of them Johnson is likely to be defeated – People’s Vote, giving MPs control over negotiations? Which, is why he pulled his ‘deal’ from parliamentary scrutiny in the first place.

That is obstacle one. But let’s assume Johnson clears that and gets his deal through parliament. Brexit done and dusted? No way. Far from being the end of anything, that is just the start of a long and complex negotiation of a new trade deal with the EU.

It took Canada seven years to reach agreement with the EU. Some people will tell you the UK can do a deal much quicker, but they tend to be the same people who promised that we would be able to have our cake and eat it, that the Withdrawal Agreement would be the easiest negotiation in history, that Brexit would make us richer not poorer etc, etc.

All their promises have turned out to be worthless. And the UK’s position is fatally weakened by the Brexiters’ inability to agree on what they want: no deal, May’s deal, Johnson’s deal, soft Brexit, hard Brexit. They fooled you once. Are you really going to fall for it again?

Far from ‘getting Brexit done’, uncertainty will rule for years with Johnson landing the UK with a whole new set of nail-biting cliff edges. 31 January - if we have not agreed a deal, we will have to ask for another extension or leave without a deal. If Johnson can negotiate that obstacle, the UK goes into a transition period. By 1 July, Johnson has to decide whether he wants to extend that beyond the current end date of 31 December 2020. If he agrees, and if the EU agrees, the next cliff edge comes on 31 December 2022. At every cliff edge, a disastrous no-deal with food, medicine and fuel shortages looms.

Meanwhile, Scotland, Northern Ireland and probably Wales will be determinedly fighting Johnson’s plan to take them out of the EU against their will.

There’s as much chance of a Johnson victory ‘getting Brexit done’ as there is of me playing centre forward for England. If you want to stop Brexit dominating our politics for the foreseeable future, the only way is to stop Brexit altogether.