What I’ve Got Wrong About the Brexit Process

While the overall destination of Brexit was reasonably foreseeable what has caught me out is the lack of will to decide on a long term destination for the U.K. The willingness to fudge and to postpone making any choices that entail any trade offs has been spectacular. Even now the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration Leave almost anything on the table from Norway to something more like Canada. Issues around the border in Ireland are significantly due to the limits on the fudge the EU is prepared to accept where they apply there.

Surprised by May

I honestly thought she was smarter than to trap herself into corners with red lines like she did, alienate “people of nowhere” and to fail to listen to the experienced advice around her like Ivan Rodgers.

The other surprise was May’s decision not to reach across to Labour to make them complicit in the deal and to provide her with more routes through Parliament. There were two main opportunities to do this; after the referendum and again after the general election. She could have said “Things have changed”, acknowledged her lack of majority and sort to find a compromise option. She could then have shared blame for aspects that were softer than the ERG wanted, could have blamed Labour if the walked away and critically potentially had a majority without DUP or ERG. The only thing she would have lost would be being able to act as if Corbyn was unfit to be near responsibility, a threat to be used against all who oppose her except Labour, maybe that was too high a price for her to pay.

Sufficient Progress (December 2017)

That this stage was crossed without it seems the DUP or the ERG understanding the contents and melting down at that point was a surprise as the now unacceptable Withdrawal Agreement was essentially set out at that point. It did also seem at times like May didn’t understand what it meant either as she claimed the backstop was something that “no British PM” could agree to despite having done so in December 2017 and then proceeding to do so again in December 2018.

I think it was this deceit as to the meaning of the agreement then (possibly self deceit in some cases) that allowed it to work. I think calling it fudge has even too kind, it has been many faced lies to different groups.

It should also be noted that in the originally declared negotiation plans there was no “sufficient progress” stage. The idea was to wrap up the withdrawal agreement over the summer of 2017 to be agreed at the October 2017 summit so that discussions could move onto the future relationship to get that tied up before the U.K. enters transition so that business could plan. Does anybody remember that now?

Withdrawal Agreement

I didn’t think the deal would be done especially after Salzburg.

I got this wrong because I took May’s vehement rejection of the backstop at face value (duh) and didn’t think that she would do a deal that the DUP couldn’t accept which left me unable to see how a deal could be done.

Common Theme - May

She constantly acts in ways which I struggle to see the logic of whether I look at her aims as being for the country, her party or even herself. I just don’t get her. Does she see something or know something I don’t that allows a logic to be seen? Or is she always just hanging onto power and party unity hoping that something will save the situation. That is one of the really scary and unpredictable things at this point. I don’t know that she wouldn’t really try to drive the country off the cliff. She doesn’t give the impression of being in control of events.

I thought there was a fair chance that when she lost the vote in the Commons she would take it to the people in a referendum but she would really come at it from the side of “Parliament is blocking your Brexit, I need your help to deliver it” rather than from a position of preferring a remain vote. But having delayed the vote that leaves less time for that referendum and does more damage to business in the meantime.

With the latest no deal planning and spending it is either an awfully expensive bluff (and given there is now both a deal and an option to revoke an unnecessary bluff) or she is serious that she might try to leave without a deal (which is scary crazy).

What I might be wrong about

I’m pretty confident that the Labour leadership will vote to avoid a Brexit on this deal or a no deal. While there are some dispiriting statements from Labour (often Barry Gardiner but depressingly I hear Diane Abbot was bad on migration this week)I still think that they are necessary positioning to enable them to oppose the deal without being against the idea of Brexit. The sheer weight of many people I respect being so sure Corbyn (or Seamus Milne) are die hard Brexiters does give me pause but I don’t see the evidence in recent actions and statements so I stick by my judgement.