By February 23, 2019 Read More →

FEATURE: Boris, Number 10 and why Brexit won’t happen – a personal view by Harry Mottram

Illustration by Harry Mottram

A year ago Harry Mottram wrote an article explaining why Brexit couldn’t happen. With just days to go before March 29 and the leaving date he still feels it won’t – and he has a prediction of how Boris Johnson could still be the next prime minister – but only for 100 days

BREXIT won’t happen because it can’t. Simple. And if it does go ahead on March 29, 2019, with the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU then it isn’t really Brexit. We just take the name plate off the door, but in reality we are still in the EU but can’t sit at the table in Brussels. Was it worth £39bn and all the millions spent in negotiations? Probably not – but I will leave that to the historians
My prediction a year ago that it wouldn’t happen is the same now. Namely that Brexit won’t happen as there is no parliamentary majority for it. That’s not much of a prediction as the results of recent votes in the House of Commons has born that out.
The second and even stronger reason why it won’t happen is that business and industry will be hit badly by a no deal. It has already happened and will only get worse nearer the day. Owners of firms and industry leaders will bend the ear of MPs and the Government forcing them to realise the potential dangers of a recession. When an economy hits the rocks, voters change allegiances and vote for the opposition. In 2017 commentators were shocked that people began to vote Labour again. At the next election that could accelerate.
In fairness to those who wanted us to leave the EU, Brexit would have happened if the Government had decided two years or more ago that the only way to leave was to leave after the 2016 referendum. If they had then put in place all the infrastructure and policies in readiness for the departure from new ferry port facilities, an expansion of border control security and the recruitment of thousands of customs officials then it could have happened. If the Government put in place those measures then the EU would have taken Downing Street seriously and would possibly have been more helpful.
Ireland is the key
As for the Irish backstop there would only have been two options. One to keep the border open with the Irish Republic and effectively create a border down the Irish Sea, or two to set up the old border crossings pre-Good Friday. Agreement. Neither would have satisfied everyone, but then the current impasse doesn’t either.
That of course didn’t happen and now the EU hold all the cards as they know a no deal is a bluff. Nobody wants it so it won’t happen – the only thing that will happen is delays. The PM will have to put back the date to June and possibly later. By then her position will be untenable and she will say she has done all she can and step down. The resulting leadership campaign will end in Boris Johnson in Downing street but without a mandate.
By the end of the summer he will have to call an election which he will lose and Labour will form the next administration. And so Boris’s dream of being PM will be realised in the year of the three Prime Ministers. Of course I can be wrong in my predictions as something unexpected could happen. A war, a terror outrage that kills the cabinet or even the death of Her Majesty The Queen.
Poor leadership
Today’s problems with Brexit are caused by two successive prime ministers who haven’t a vision and are not conviction politicians.
David Cameron could have faced down the anti-EU wing and embraced Europe as Ted Heath and to a lesser extent Margaret Thatcher did.
While the current Prime Minister Theresa May cannot think on her feet. Her famous ‘strong and stable’ mantra in the 2017 election demonstrated her inability to react to events. Robotic in nature she is a great administrator and servant of the state, but flexible politician no. And as for convictions, well she seems to have no vision.
Boris Johnson is the polar opposite. He may have cheesed off more than half of the UK electorate with Brexit promises to the NHS but he does have the ability to draw a crowd and influence people. And his convictions of a post EU Britain may be mocked or considered fantasy but at least he has a vision.
When Theresa May decides to go he will still be the front runner in the Tory leadership battle. The others pale in comparison and although I am no fan of the blond Etonian his enemies know he still has the gift of oratory which can win over so many. His Etonian pal and fellow multi millionaire George Osbourne and editor of the London Standard said at the time of the 2016 election that Theresa May was ‘a dead woman walking.’ Events have shown this to be true. She has held the highest office of state but will forever be in the shadow of Margaret Thatcher as someone without a political legacy but instead will leave a political mess.
One year on
I wrote this for an print trade magazine a year ago: “When Theresa May emerged triumphant from the post-Brexit referendum Tory leadership battle, she declared that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. It has been her mantra ever since following the decision by her Government to trigger Article 50 to signal that the UK would leave the European Union (EU) and begin negotiations. In late April 2017 all seemed secure and only a matter of time before the country negotiated its way out of the European club. Yes there were concerns and the 48 percent who had voted to remain in the EU voiced their anger, pointing out that Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London voted to stay in the EU, and there were concerns over the economy in the short- to medium-term as the pound fell against the Euro.
“Then came the June general election when the Government lost its overall majority and the Prime Minister was forced to make a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to remain in power. Since then the problems for number 10 Downing Street increased to the point to which there were doubts that the Prime Minister could remain in office much longer.”
The deal
That was until the first week of December last year, when after a marathon session, and an early morning press conference in Brussels, it was announced the EU and the UK had reached a deal in the first phase of the Brexit talks. Sufficient progress has been made to move discussions onto other matters including trade and the transition to a post-Brexit world.
Industry breathed a sigh of relief as it meant clarification of how trade would be affected might be revealed in the forthcoming talks. However, the deal to move to trade talks involves Britain paying a ‘divorce bill’ of around £39bn, the avoidance of a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and it also provided reciprocal protection for EU citizens and their families in the UK and the EU, as well as the European Court of Justice continuing to oversee the rights of EU citizens in the UK for eight years after Brexit.
Then came the parliamentary defeats, splits in both major political parties and the refusal of the EU to blink and offer concessions. To understand the EU’s position which to Brexiteers seems intransigent and inflexible it is important to understand their position. Their main plan is to protect the economic integrity of the 27 remaining countries which means they won’t give any more ground from the agreement reached in 2018 with the UK Government.
EU bites back
Last month Michel Barnier said: “I would remind you of three things: It is the UK’s decision to leave the EU that has created this specific problem in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This decision requires a specific solution, as David Davis and Theresa May recognised in autumn 2017.
“The peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland remains fragile. The issue of the backstop goes far beyond goods and trade; it concerns people who need certainty. It is in nobody’s interests to prolong the uncertainty beyond March 2019.
“Above and beyond the specific Irish situation, Ireland’s border is the border of our 27 countries. This is therefore also a question of the integrity of the Single Market. Any goods arriving from Northern Ireland will be entering not just Ireland, but also Belgium, Italy or the Czech Republic. This is a European issue, and under no circumstances can it be allowed to dominate negotiations on the future relationship for years to come.”
Labour in waiting
When Labour wins the next election later this year Brexit will die a slow and drawn out death. They will halt the process to review the situation with a report to be published on what to do at some time in the future. And that will be the end of it in effect. They could decide to have a second vote but the divisions caused by the first one is something they wouldn’t want to reopen. If they can show that it would be too damaging to the economy to leave then they would put that to the country in an election after a review.
One possibility this spring is after delaying Brexit for a few weeks, Theresa May calls an election believing she can win, regain an overall majority and can dump the support of the DUP. The opinion polls suggest the Tories despite everything have a lead over Labour – large enough to win. However that was the situation in 2017 when the campaign led to a reversal of those same polls.
I come back to the two reasons why Brexit won’t happen. The parliamentary arithmetic prevents it but it does allow for a no deal – well nobody is going to allow that to happen including number 10 Downing Street so that leaves the other factor: British industry saying stop.
The CBI pointed out that the Office of National Statistics reported: “The UK economy is facing a multi-million pound blow in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit due to the collapse of international trade deals, the CBI is warning.
“With the prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit from the European Union on 29th March appearing ever more likely, the CBI is highlighting the damaging implications for UK businesses of crashing out of the trade deals EU membership provides.
“The UK currently benefits from extensive trade agreements as an EU member, spanning around 70 countries. The CBI estimates the total amount of global GDP covered by the EU and the countries it has trade agreements and partnerships with to be 37%.
“In the UK, exports to countries with EU free trade agreements are worth more than £41 billion every year, accounting for more than 13% of the UK’s exports.
“Through these agreements, the UK exports goods worth £5.8bn to South Korea, £4.9bn to Turkey and £4.8bn to Canada each year, with the machinery/transport and chemicals/pharmaceuticals sectors among the most exposed.
“If the UK leaves with ‘no deal’, these exports risk having immediate tariffs imposed overnight, costing the economy hundreds of millions of pounds.”
Economic danger
They point out the economy is already slowing down as March 29 approaches. It started last year as a no deal began to be a possibility but now it is accelerating as the announcements by Honda, Nissan and Airbus show. Then there has been the falling value of the pound and a fall in house prices.
In short the uncertainty has caused a lack of investment and a freeze on spending from the largest multi-national to the smallest household. That slow down in the economy is the final factor in the Government facing reality and delaying Brexit or voting through a watered down version which is in effect not Brexit at all but a gross act of self-inflicted pain for no gain.
Of course I may be wrong but so far I can’t see any reason to change my prediction of a year ago.

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