James Melville sees that two months into ‘getting Brexit done’, the Government reshuffling of deckchairs does little to change our precarious situation.
Sajid Javid’s shock resignation as Chancellor today after being asked to sack all of his advisors is a vivid illustration that Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave team are in control and that, four years on from the EU Referendum, their infamous red bus is still hanging off the cliff-edge.
The UK has now officially left the EU, but the real impact of Brexit hasn’t even begun. The country is in a 12-month transition period and we still have absolutely no idea as to the agreements to be made with the EU and the impact that all of this will have on our economy and society at large. What we have right now is a sketchy direction of travel, but with numerous paths that lead to different locations.
From all the indications around Javid’s resignation, the Prime Minister’s roadmap is towards a hard Brexit for Britain (but perhaps not for Northern Ireland) with a transition period and no hard border with the Republic. No single market. No customs union in Britain. An end to frictionless trade between the UK and the 27 EU countries and the spectre of a cliff-edge ‘no deal’ Brexit that never quite goes away.
The Government is prone to boasting that Johnson’s Brexit deal will allow the UK to negotiate free trade deals around the world. So where are these deals? Former Trade Secretary Liam Fox claimed that 40 free trade deals would be oven-ready “the second after Brexit”. So where are they?
The Government continues to conveniently forget that its own withdrawal agreement ends UK free trade with 27 EU countries and also UK access to EU free trade deals with more than 40 other countries around the world.
If a trade deal with the EU is not reached by the end of 2020, the UK will end up with a ‘no-deal’ Brexit after the transition period has ended.
Don’t Mention Brexit
The Government has barely mentioned the word ‘Brexit’ since 31 January. It wants people to think that’s it, we are out. Any scrutiny will be pushed aside with ‘we got Brexit done’. But it is not done. It’s barely even begun.
The Foreign Office recently issued a directive to staff that bans them from using certain words and phrases in discussing Brexit – even “Brexit” itself unless it is articulated in framed circumstances. These terminology diktats are specifically aimed at muddying the waters on Brexit. They include:
- Avoid saying “Brexit” wherever possible
- “Transition period” becomes ‘implementation period’
- A trade deal becomes a “Canada-type deal”
- “No deal” becomes an “Australia-type deal”
- The directive underlines the degree to which Downing Street is determined that everyone follows a framed narrative that showcases Britain’s departure from the European Union on Government terms rather than EU terms.
Michael Gove, who has been put in charge of the Government’s ‘no deal’ planning, was recently asked four times if there was still a possibility of a ‘no deal’, hard Brexit due to the decision by the Government to make it illegal to request an extension to EU alignment beyond 2020. Instead of directly answering the question, Gove told the BBC: “No, the Brexit we are committed to delivering is the one in our manifesto. We need to make sure we honour that. That is a commitment we have to keep.”
This vague vision of Brexit is like the final scene from The Italian Job: a dodgy bus hanging over a cliff-edge but with Boris Johnson replacing Michael Caine and saying “hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea”, while the others on the bus look utterly petrified and unconvinced, but they have no alternative other than to believe in him.
This metaphor applies to all of us. We face a cliff-edge of uncertainty. We don’t know who or what to believe anymore.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is a classic example of mixed messages and u-turns. The withdrawal agreement completely contradicts what he said in his speech at the DUP Conference in the autumn of 2018, where he stated that no British Prime Minister should ever sign-up to a customs border on the Irish Sea. We still haven’t seen any publication of official impact assessments from the Government. How on earth is this in the national interest?
Brexiters continue to say that Brexit is fundamentally about ‘taking back control’. But for who? Make no mistake, taking back control is all about a seismic change from a Britain that had its social policy determined by the basic principles of the social contract which provided ordinary people with the opportunities to better themselves, while protecting them with a set of rights and public provisions. Brexit is about loosening up control for a bonfire of public assets, human rights and welfare provision towards unregulated libertarianism.
The only certain inalienable truth with Brexit is that it has, from start to finish, been built on uncertain and alienating lies.