Saturday, 20 October 2018

The cod war

On the day of what was to become Theresa May's latest humiliation in Brussels I mentioned to Mrs H that the PM was going to Brussels to speak to but not eat with what are still supposed to be our "partners". She wasn't invited to partake in the refreshments.  How pathetic. Nick Ferrari, speaking on LBC, went further calling it "damned rude" followed by an outstanding rant:
"Can I just point out to these European leaders, save for this country, what they'd be eating tonight would be saurkraut and sausage and drinking beer and speaking German".
It went on in that vein a bit longer.....

But I wasn't angry at that aspect of the snub; it just confirms what they think of us. Why would we want to belong to a club where we have for so long not been wanted? If we ever were?

Mrs H asked me what the point was in the trip. Good question. I said "it's not going to change anything. She has no new ideas which are material and if she had the would make the Chequered Compromise even more unpalatable. She'll just get smacked across the face with a wet fish again and told to go away and try harder."

Which of course is what happened. How many times does she need the cod in the gob to get the message? What was the point of going?

I've come to the view that Mrs May feels she has so much political capital vested in her big idea - an idea which she can't seem to explain in terms anyone else can understand, and an idea that hardly anyone outside of her civil servants buys into  - that she daren't even acknowledge there could be a plan B, else everyone would grab it and she would be seen to have been wrong all along. (Such a plan B might be the EEA option, for example, either as a solution or a route to a Canada style free trade deal). She must have known she was going to get the wet fish treatment but she needs to show the electorate that no stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of a "good deal". So when what's left is either shabby, or only satisfies one group of people, she can say "we tried everything".

Of course, we shouldn't have started from here. A confident government, provided it also had an opposition that believed in our country, could have adopted a much more consultative approach, canvassing various options perhaps through cross-party Commons committees, putting the most appealing ones to Brussels for discussion, followed by a further round of debate factoring in what Brussels thought as well as our preferences. We didn't have any of the ingredients needed for that approach in place so we got the Maybot control freak, bouncing her own cabinet by giving them next to no notice at any turn of what her officials were cooking up.

So it could all crash, though whether it would burn I'm not sure. Oh apart from Theresa who must surely be toast by the spring at the latest.

The shame of it is that it didn't need to be like this. There have been plenty of column inches devoted to the Irish border issue. Or non-issue as some people think. They argue it's a contrivance of Brussels to keep us in the single market and customs union. After all, Spain has an internal customs union "border" between its mainland and the Canary Islands which isn't seen as a big deal. And, in South America for God's sake, French Guiana has a border with Brazil that doesn't seem to be "hard" even though that territory counts as part of mainland France and the customs union.

I saw a comment from a reader on a recent Times Brexit article which made me think differently about the problem. It argued that Northern Ireland could be missing a historic opportunity. Wouldn't there be great potential in being part of the UK but also in the EU customs union? Yes the cost would be some kind of border checks in the Irish Sea. Of course that's anathema to the loyalists and pretty difficult for mainland Brits to swallow. But couldn't it create the potential for Northern Ireland to become a much bigger player economically than it is now? Wouldn't it be an inward investment magnet?

There is, of course, no way this beguiling way of looking at things is going to get any consideration. But it could have been great for all concerned. Yes it might lead towards a united Ireland. But if it worked really well there would be no point at all in destroying the whole basis of success by doing that. Of course the Scots Nats would want to have a similar arrangement. But guess what, Nicola? You don't have a land border with the EU, so it just isn't relevant.

The septic climate in the UK has not been conducive to any kind of grown up debate about the future. It has been dysfunctional politics, with temper tantrums, hearing not listening, reacting without understanding. To be politically incorrect (what's new I hear you say) it's all been kind of autistic.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" is a quotation often misattributed to Einstein. It didn't stop me using it a lot at work when I was called "Transformation Director" and charged with improving the business through change, though I used to explain to it to people using my golf performances as an analogy. If I didn't change anything, why would I keep turning up each week and expecting to get a better score? Another way of looking at it is "hope over experience". Theresa May's Brussels trip brought it all right back to mind. She isn't insane but she is making herself appear crazy, as well as looking like a rabbit in the headlights being interviewed on TV after the latest slap across the face. You could almost smell the fish on her.

P.S. cod can of course mean phony or fake. Theresa's battle with Brussels has many aspects of a 'phoney war': not much is actually happening, but people keep thinking it might.  Just like in 1939, war has been declared (article 50 invoked) but one feels the real battles lie ahead for Britain.

1 comment:

  1. Phil, you and I will never agree over the EU but really the UK is the one acting like a petulant child having a tantrum. It's not that we are unwelcome in the EU it's that we can't behave ourselves at the lunch table so we are no longer invited. In the imperfect world of the EU the UK is the most imperfect sadly.