Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Theresa May's idea of providing certainty is to demand unicorns!

Given Theresa May's lamentable failures to clear up doubts about her Brexit strategy, it's time to consider whether this absolute shambles has come about through abject incompetence, or as more and more people are beginning to suspect, an underhand strategy of deliberately undermining the Brexit process until the negotiations fail. 

Theresa May's reliance on her "no deal is better than a bad deal" rhetoric is a strong indicator that she might actually want the negotiations to fail. Otherwise why on earth does the centrepiece of her negotiating strategy play right into the hands of those in her own party who desperately want the negotiations to fail, by allowing them to characterise any UK concession in the negotiations as proof of a "bad deal", which May has continually portrayed as being a worse option than marching the country over the "no deal" cliff edge?

The suspicion that Theresa May is less than fully committed to achieving a negotiated settlement was further aroused when she rushed to meet her own arbitrary and self-imposed March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50, starting the clock ticking on the time limited process of leaving the EU before her government had developed anything even remotely resembling a coherent negotiating position. 

What made this rush to trigger Article 50 even worse was that immediately after initiating the time limited process of quitting the EU, she suddenly decided to squander two months of the very limited negotiating period on a needless vanity election.

After wasting two months of the negotiation period in order to throw away her parliamentary majority in a fit of hubris, Theresa May and the Tories have made shockingly little progress on the first stage of the Brexit negotiations that need to be resolved before the trade talks can get underway. 

Of course the Irish border issue is highly complex, but the other two items should have been resolved already. Instead of cynically using the lives of EU citizens as gambling chips, a fair offer on citizens' rights could have been made as a demonstration of goodwill before the negotiations even started, and agreement on a financial settlement really shouldn't be taking so long to quibble over.

It's seven months since Theresa May triggered Article 50, and somehow we're still bogged down in stage one of the negotiations. The idea of coming up with even the framework of a comprehensive mutually beneficial free trade agreement between the UK and the EU in a single year is fantastical enough, but now Theresa May has decided to up the stakes by saying that unless the trade talks are completed by March 2019, she's going to screw off the idea of having a transition period, and immediately shove the UK economy off the "no deal" cliff edge.

This latest move is quite extraordinary, especially given that she's been under increasing pressure form British business leaders to provide some certainty on the post-Brexit transition, but instead of providing certainty, she's actually decided to hand them a huge incentive to scale back UK investment and move as many of their operations as possible overseas and out of the increasingly likely "no deal" Brexit disaster zone.

Just look at the Tory track record in government. This is a party that has spent seven years on their flagship welfare policy of combining six benefits into one payment and they're nowhere near getting it right. Originally announced in 2010, the Tories claimed that Universal Credit would have been completely rolled out across the UK by now, but after one reset on their completion date after another, they're now predicting completion in 2022 (five years behind schedule). What's worse is that even in the areas in which Universal Credit has been rolled out are beset with massive problems like delayed payments, indebtedness, rent arrears, food bank dependency, and even evictions.

Just think about it. If the Tories can't even complete the task of competently streamlining the benefits system within the seven year time period they set themselves, how on earth can investors and business leaders have any confidence that the same people are going to secure a comprehensive multi-faceted trade deal with the EU in just one year, especially since they've already wasted seven months without even getting beyond the first round of negotiations?

Additionally Theresa May's threat to scrap the transition phase (the policy that she brazenly nicked off Labour and then begged for in her Florence speech just a few weeks previously) if the trade deal isn't completed by March 2019 doesn't even make any sense.

What is the point of even having a transition phase if the trade deal is fully completed? The only way a transition phase makes sense is if the broad outline framework of the deal is signed off on by March 2019, but then the complicated details are agreed and implemented gradually sector by sector in order to mitigate some of the worst difficulties and uncertainties of the transition.

Even if we ignore the fact that there are bitter divisions in her own cabinet over what kind of Brexit they actually want, and overlook the Tories' proven track record of incompetence and endless delays when it comes to rolling out their flagship Universal Credit policy, and forget the fact they've wasted seven months of the negotiation period already, Theresa May's latest threat to jump off the "no deal" cliff edge if trade talks aren't completed and ratified by March 2019 looks an awful lot like a ridiculously spoiled brat threatening to jump off a cliff unless she gets a unicorn for Christmas.

Either Theresa May is delusional enough to think that she can actually get a unicorn for Christmas if she just stamps her feet hard enough, or she's demanding a unicorn because she actually prefers the "no deal" meltdown scenario that is favoured by the hard-right fringe of the Tory party, and is seeking to blame the EU by crying that they're at fault for not giving her the unicorn she was demanding.

Whatever her motivation, this latest escalation of the "no deal" threat can't possibly be inspiring any confidence whatever amongst investors and business leaders. They just demanded clarity on how the government is going to proceed with Brexit in a manner that creates as little uncertainty and economic turmoil as possible, and what they got was exactly the opposite, a ridiculous escalation of Theresa May's diplomatic temper tantrum. 

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