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Britain’s Brexit meltdown: lions led by devious donkeys (and Hamlet wannabes)

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It is now clear that the staunch and sturdy British people, those true heirs to Britain’s ancient culture of determined independence and robust common-sense, are lions led by devious and feeble donkeys.

Mrs May’s faux-Brexit deal is so bad it has united against it both Brexiteer and Remainer MPs. The likely revolt is so large that the Prime Minister is being urged to postpone next week’s Commons “meaningful” vote for fear that the scale of the defeat may bring the government down.

So what is to be done? Ay, there’s the rub indeed. For while Remainers plot and scheme to reverse the referendum result, stick their collective thumb into the eye of the British people and betray the nation, Brexiteer MPs are auditioning for the part of Hamlet.

That’s because, like Shakespeare’s terminal procrastinator, they don’t have the gumption to do what has to be done. This is to throw out Mrs May and replace her with a leader who will follow the inescapable and democratic logic of honouring the referendum result: which means that, given the EU’s intransigence in refusing to agree terms on which Britain can leave the EU in practice as well as on paper, the UK must leave without a deal.

There is, as someone once said, no alternative. And yet we have been presented with the shocking, pathetic spectacle of hitherto leading parliamentary champions of Brexit now whimpering that they must get behind Mrs May’s deal because the most likely alternative is… no Brexit.

But Mrs May’s deal itself means no Brexit. The notion being peddled by these Brexit backsliders that, although “not perfect”, her deal will have to do just won’t do at all. Not only would it keep the UK tied up under ultimate EU control but, far worse even than that, the UK could find itself unable to leave the EU unless the EU allows it to do so: the ultimate and utter negation of sovereignty.

So these Brexiteer flakes are effectively lining up with Remainers, both Labour and Tory, who are now plotting to push “Norway” or other options on the basis that this would provide a “soft Brexit” or compromise which would get through the Commons.

But as has been said many times before, the terms “soft” and “hard” Brexit are meaningless. They have been coined by Remainers to pretend that being half-in, half-out of the EU is a form of Brexit – and that anyone who says it is not is a “hard” Brexiteer and can thus be safely ignored as an extremist.

But there’s no such thing as “soft” Brexit. There is only Brexit. Being half-out means remaining in. Just like Mrs May’s deal. Millions of voters can see that; and they are furious.

Other Brexiteers fantasise they can go back to Brussels and renegotiate the deal. But this is a total non-starter. The EU has made it clear it will not re-open negotiations. And you’d have to be on a different planet to think that after the way the EU has behaved it would ever offer anything to Britain’s advantage, let alone if the UK came crawling back to it on its knees.

The problem is that many of these Brexiteers have been spooked by Project Fear round two over the supposed effects of no-deal. As I have said before, there is bound to be a downside from a break as seismic as leaving the EU. But the apocalyptic no-deal scenarios are beyond ridiculous, the calamitous impact on EU nations themselves if they don’t make issue-by-issue deals with the UK is being airbrushed out, and the legal protections offered by WTO rules (which govern the EU and its member states) are being ignored.

As the economist Ruth Lea has written:

“Disciplined rules based on the principle of non-discrimination are at the heart of the WTO’s trading regime. Concerning tariff barriers for goods (services do not have tariffs), WTO members must not treat any member less advantageously than any other, unless they form preferential trade agreements or customs unions. Concerning non-tariff barriers for goods, the WTO’s rules limit the circumstances in which they can be applied. A country cannot discriminate against exporters on product standards, for example. Once a ‘domestic’ standard has been imposed, it must be generalised to foreign countries’ exporters. This is especially relevant as the UK will be compliant with the EU’s standards on Brexit Day.

Turning to services, the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) also operates on the principle of non-discrimination. Outside preferential agreements and restrictions on market access must be applied uniformly across all countries. Any trade disputes, whether for goods or services, between member states are dealt with by the WTO’s Dispute Settlement System (DSS).

Thirdly, the WTO has made huge strides in facilitating trade across customs borders in recent years. Under the landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), developed countries with adequate resources are expected to install state-of-the-art border systems in order that trade should not be impeded. Most countries now permit traders to submit their customs documentation electronically in advance of the goods arriving at the border. Virtually all submissions of the EU’s own Single Administrative Document (SAD), for declaring imports and exports, are now made online, for example. This means that most trade arriving from countries that are members of neither the Single Market nor the EU Customs Union suffer little or no hold-up at the border when entering the EU. There is no reason for this to change after Brexit. Streamlined, computerised borders are the norm.”

In MoneyWeek, meanwhile, Matthew Lynn reports that businesses have already made plenty of preparations for no-deal and these are largely one-off costs.

“While leaving the EU will undoubtedly do some damage to the British economy, and cost some money, by now the hit has largely been taken. After Christmas it won’t make much difference whether we leave with a deal or not.”

Then there’s the second referendum, being pushed by a swelling campaign which believes this is the best way to reverse the Brexit vote altogether. Not that Remainers say such a thing, of course: they conceal their real agenda by spurious pieties about how parliamentary sovereignty means that parliament should now take control of Brexit by giving the people another vote, since it’s only now that we all know what Brexit would actually entail.

This is patent nonsense. It is unprecedented for a country the size of the UK to leave a body such as the EU. No-one knows with any certainty what will happen. Every such prediction of the consequences is at best an informed guess and at worst ill-informed, tendentious and manipulative. We will only know what the consequences are when we have done it. A second referendum would be conducted with no greater public knowledge than the first but with vastly more rancour, bitterness and social division.

As for parliament being sovereign, yes it is; but parliament outsourced the decision on continued EU membership to the people, who said they wanted the UK to leave. Nothing that has happened since then has undermined that majority vote.

So if parliament now blocks no-deal, thus blocking Brexit, it will have given the people the right to decide whether their country should regain the power of independent self-government  – only to take that right away when it didn’t like what the people decided. And if it produces a second referendum, it will be applying the cynical, anti-democratic EU rule that if the people don’t deliver the correct result the first time, they must vote again until they do.

This would so badly outrage not just Brexiteers but even some Remainers that even more people might vote for Brexit than in 2016. As the Guardian reports, the Unite union leader Len McCluskey is warning that if Labour supports a second referendum it might see its core support haemorrhage away.

The Remainers grossly misread the mood of the nation last time round, and they still don’t get it. Sneering at those who voted for Brexit as ignorant, uneducated bigots, such Remainers not only never understood what had actually motivated them but still assume that these sheep-like millions can be terrified or bored into reversing their decision.

Here and there, some Remainers dimly perceive that something else may be going on which they haven’t bargained for. In The Times, Jenni Russell writes about a Remainer friend in the Midlands, a manager who talks daily to tradesmen, factory workers, cleaners, the owners of small businesses.

“In a Leave-supporting region which is at high risk of losing many jobs he says not a single person he meets has changed their mind one way or another. Dire predictions from the Bank of England about a shrinking economy or warnings about no fresh food in supermarkets within days of no-deal are just shrugged off, either disbelieved or dismissed. No-deal would be fine by them. ‘They just want out, nothing to do with Europe at all, it’s all worth it as long as we’re not a slave nation any more’.”

It was the same story, she writes, in the Cotswolds where

“to a man or woman the farmers, landowners, retired financiers and GPs were for out. Like my existing Brexiteer friends – entrepreneurs, bankers, writers – not a single one has lost faith in Brexit even though some expect their businesses or incomes to be hit.

Some are so angered by Remainer criticism or ostracism that they have doubled down and now prefer no deal to any soft Brexit. When you ask them why they are misty-eyed. Sovereignty. Independence. Control. What matters to me — interdependence, prosperity, influence, the freedom and security that comes from being part of a greater European bloc — simply doesn’t resonate with them. My priorities aren’t theirs.”

And that last point is the point. The priorities of the two sides in this most uncivil war are diametrically opposed. For Remainers sovereignty, national independence and democratic control mean little if anything at all. How could it be otherwise for people who have no problem in being governed by Brussels?

But for the people at whom they sneer as backward, xenophobic, nativist and all the rest of it, these concepts matter very greatly indeed. They have a deep, deep desire to be able once again to live in an independent nation which governs itself and has sovereign power to decide on its own laws and policies. A nation, moreover, which invented political liberty and has never flinched from the price to be paid for its independence once it has understood that it is in real danger of losing it.

Which is why, if MPs do now thwart Brexit by one means or another, they will never be forgiven. And which is why Britain has become a nation of lions currently led by devious donkeys and Hamlet wannabes.

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