It’s time for some perspective to replace the Operation Yellowhammer hysteria

We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.

A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.

In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).

When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.

Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.

The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.

Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.

The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.

Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.

Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.

There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.

It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.

There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.

And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.

The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.

Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.

The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.

The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.

Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.

The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.

So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.

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The out-of-date Operation Yellowhammer document fails to justify the doom-mongers’ scare stories

We now finally all have sight of the official Yellowhammer briefing, but I’m not sure it was worth the wait. The newly-published summary – of the Government’s ‘Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions’ in a no-deal Brexit scenario – certainly does not support the widespread claims that even the Government thinks ‘crashing out of the EU without a deal’ would inevitably lead to ‘shortages of food, medicines and petrol’.

For a start, it cannot be stressed often enough that this document is a list of things that might go wrong, for the purposes of contingency planning, not forecasts of what will actually happen. As the document put it, these are ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’. Some have claimed that the version leaked earlier referred to a ‘base case’ assessment, but the same point would still apply.

This is a common misunderstanding of what risk assessments are about. For example, the Bank of England published its own no-deal study in November last year, which referred to some very large falls in GDP. However, in the words of the Bank itself, ‘this analysis includes scenarios not forecasts’. Bank economists deliberately chose extreme assumptions to produce worst-case numbers, mainly for the purpose of stress testing the financial system.

The Yellowhammer report is also old. A lot has been made of the fact that it is dated 2nd August, but many of the points are already looking stale. Paradoxically, Amber Rudd’s parting shot that the government is now spending 80-90% of its time preparing for ‘no deal’ is rather reassuring.

For example, the fourth bullet refers to ‘EU Exit fatigue, due to the second extension of Article 50, which will limit the effective impact of current preparedness communication’. But since then, the Government has launched a major campaign to help and encourage everyone to ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.

The section on Ireland provides another illustration. The document notes that the ‘agri-food sector will be the hardest hit’. But there is now growing support for an all-Ireland regime for agri-foods. The UK Government could also still go further. One interesting proposal is to make it an offence under UK law to export any good to the EU that fails to meet EU standards. Combined with the clear political commitment not to erect a hard border on the UK side, this would punt the problem right back to the EU, which is arguably where it belongs in the first place.

The document also includes several statements of the bleeding obvious. Some have seized on the one-liner that ‘low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel’. Equally, of course, these groups would disproportionately benefit from any reductions in the prices of food and fuel. The single most important variable here will be the impact on the value of the pound, on which the document is (wisely) silent. Given how much bad news is already priced in, I would not be surprised to see sterling recover strongly even in the weeks following a ‘no deal’ exit.

Above all, an awful lot hinges on the degree of disruption to cross-Channel trade. (In the words of the report, ‘analysis to date has suggested a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside of Kent which have high volumes of EU traffic.’) But it is in the section on cross-Channel trade where the significance of ‘worst case’ is most apparent.

For example, the assumption that flow via the short Channel straits could be reduced to as low as 40% of normal is explicitly described as a ‘pre-mitigation reasonable worst case’. Indeed, the words ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’ and ‘up to’ have to do a lot of work throughout this section. Even then, this pessimistic assessment recognises that delays are likely to reduce over time as systems improve and more traders adapt. Correspondingly, if the Brexit deadline is extended further, the risk of short-term disruption would be reduced further, as all parties would have had more time to prepare.

This in turn is where the scare stories about food shortages come in. Here at least there is a recognition that there will not an ‘overall shortage of food in the UK’, even if there is temporary disruption to the supply of some fresh products. 

Other parts of the report are highly speculative. For example, it is suggested that ‘a rapid SEM [Single Electricity Market] split could occur months or years after EU Exit’, which could lead to ‘significant electricity price increases’. But why? There is no good reason to expect this. Similarly, there’s a section on the risk to the adult social care market from ‘an increase in inflation following EU exit’. Again, why? Is this really the biggest issue in this sector?

I also wonder how many people who are parroting the warnings about petrol shortages have looked at the flimsy basis for these headlines. The UK is planning to reduce tariffs unilaterally on some imported fuels in the event of no deal, which would lower costs to consumers. Despite this, the industry lobby, UKPIA, has done a grand job of pushing the protectionist argument that cheaper imports might drive some domestic refiners out of business.

However, tariffs on fuels are very low to begin with – and many are already zero. Any change is also likely to be swamped by movements in the value of sterling. If it is true that some refiners are already operating on the brink, wouldn’t we still be better off with cheaper imports from sources which may actually be more secure? And if there were a real problem here, wouldn’t it be easy to decide even now just to leave tariffs where they are? 

You also have to wonder why so many people think it beyond our ability to fast-track imports of essential medicines, including by air, even if there are significant delays at Channel ports. Of course, it’s the duty of doctors to raise concerns about the risks to patients if particular drugs are in short supply. But a medical background does not make you an expert in cross-border logistics. I would give more weight here to the views of port managers and customs officials, who are telling us they are now much better prepared.

Overall, then, the Yellowhammer report contains little new. Opponents of any form of Brexit will make the most of it, but no-one should think it describes what it is actually likely to happen.

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Brexit talks: Boris Johnson’s Irish backstop plan explained, options and what could happen next

Boris Johnson’s failure to force an early general election and push through Brexit on his terms leaves him with precious few options to deliver his promise of leaving the EU on 31 October.

The backbench Bill to delay the UK’s withdrawal from the block in the event of no deal being reached, means his best chance of upholding his pledge is to thrash out a deal. After a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and with talks ongoing with the Democratic Unionists, the Prime Minister spoke of a potential “landing zone”. But is it all just smoke and mirrors?

What might a Brexit deal look like?

The Prime Minister is still insisting that the Irish backstop be abolished from the Withdrawal Agreement. Instead, Mr Johnson has suggested both the Republic and Northern Ireland remain aligned when it comes to agriculture and food standards and regulations, as part of an “all-Ireland economy”. For everything else he is suggesting “alternative arrangements”, including using “abundant” technical solutions, such as trusted trader schemes, exemptions for small traders and special economic zones.

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson met for the first time on Monday
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson met for the first time on Monday (Photo: Getty)

Will that work?

Not likely, but it is a step in the right direction. Dublin has said keeping all of Ireland tied to EU rules on agriculture and food solves only around 30 per cent of the problem. There are still huge issues such as customs VAT checks and regulatory checks to protect the integrity of the single market. The Taoiseach ruled out anything other than full regulatory alignment, warning he will not “replace a legal guarantee with a promise”.

Why won’t Dublin accept it?

Just the mention of checks, even those away from the border, by Dublin last week prompted fierce warnings from Sinn Féin about breaking the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Over the weekend a bomb was discovered in the border town of Strabane, offering a stark reminder of what is at stake. If Ireland is to remain part of the single market, it will be placed under considerable pressure by the EU to enforce border checks.

The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit
The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

What options ARE left?

It may be that his only option is to bring back the original backstop proposal, that would see Northern Ireland only tied to EU customs arrangements, effectively creating a border down the Irish Sea.

Is this likely to succeed?

Mr Johnson could sever all ties with the DUP and try to scrape a deal through the Commons with a Northern Ireland-only backstop. There are signs that resistance may be softening. Arch-Brexiteer and member of the European Research Group Andrew Bridgen suggested a Northern Irish backstop could be a “runner” if the people of Northern Ireland voted for it in a referendum.

What happens next?

No 10 is refusing to reveal its plan and has said discussions are ongoing.

More Brexit

 

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How to fix the Brexit deal so a sovereign UK can agree a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU

The next week in Parliament is bound to be tumultuous, but I believe all MPs should remember that some of us have spent the summer fashioning the tools to enable the United Kingdom and the EU to agree a deal.

In July, the Prosperity-UK Alternative Arrangements Commission – for which I chair the 20-strong panel of Technical Experts – published its final report intended to avoid the need for the infamous Irish Backstop, while ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld, and the UK is able to pursue an independent trade and regulatory policy after Brexit.

The Prime Minister mentioned the report approvingly in both his meetings with the German Chancellor and with the French President. On Friday, Suella Braverman MP led a delegation of experts from Prosperity-UK to meet Stephanie Riso, Michel Barnier’s deputy, to brief her on our proposals.

Our next step, announced yesterday, is to try and fix the Political Declaration, in order to create a new Withdrawal Agreement which could pass in Parliament. We are seeking to consult interested stakeholders on the interim version and will publish a final version in due course.

The Boris Johnson team will know that the Political Declaration was written by the previous government team with a very specific goal of using the backstop as a bridge to some sort of customs union with high regulatory alignment, both of which would essentially negate any serious sort of independent trade and regulatory policy for the UK. Boris Johnson campaigned on the ultimate end state being an advanced EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), something he has called SuperCanada, and others have called Canada ++.

While sticking country names on trade deals is not perhaps the best way of describing them, the point is that his administration wants the UK to have a comprehensive, advanced FTA with the EU, a commercial treaty between two sovereign entities and not one which puts Britain in a position of legal subordination to the EU.

We know that the EU ultimately wants to have a comprehensive FTA with the UK, with Irish border facilitations, customs facilitations and regulatory cooperation. It should therefore, in theory, be easy for both sides to revise the current inadequate Political Declaration to reflect this. At the same time, it will be necessary to change certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to make it technically consistent both with the new Political Declaration and a new Alternative Arrangements Protocol for the Irish Border.

Amongst other things, these changes are reflective of a huge change in direction by the UK government, from the May to Johnson administrations, which the EU may not have fully internalised yet. Whereas the previous government regarded the backstop as a bridge to an end state which would be some sort of subordinate, hybrid customs union arrangement with high regulatory alignment, the new government thinks the end state should be an advanced FTA with regulatory cooperation, but with the capability for the UK to diverge, so that it can preserve its independent trade and regulatory policy. This is a sea change in approach.

In summary, our redrafted Political Declaration reflects that the final end state should be an FTA. The UK’s sovereignty over matters like Geographical Indications (GIs), currently in the Withdrawal Agreement, should be placed where it belongs in the end state agreement. Changes to the defence and security sections, to reflect the UK’s sovereignty and not limiting its choices vis-à-vis the rest of the world, should be made.

The Withdrawal Agreement should be amended to allow for a transition period, during which the UK can negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals (as it says now), but which also critically provides that both parties will be bound by general principles of good regulatory practice in this period, in order to make sure that the EU does not regulate in the transition period in a way which damages the UK’s interests. It would be difficult for the EU to reject the principle of good regulatory practice embedded, as it is in various OECD documents to which the EU has itself made valuable contributions. Similarly, it would be difficult for the EU to reject the idea that what GIs the UK protects is a matter for the end state FTA between both parties. There will clearly be a GI chapter as the UK will want to protect Scotch Whisky and other key GIs it has.

The Withdrawal Agreement has been amended to reflect the fact that the level playing field obligations have been mutualised and pave the way for similar obligations in the ultimate FTA itself. Given how often these are agreed among parties to FTAs now, the EU cannot seriously object to them.

Many MPs voted against the deal because they rightly feared that Theresa May’s Government would move directly from the deal to an end state negotiation based on the Backstop being activated. It turns out they were quite right to be fearful. If they are to vote for any kind of deal, they will need to know with certainty that the end state of an FTA is not in doubt and the government will be strenuously negotiating in the UK’s interest for the most advanced, comprehensive and liberalising FTA, fully utilising the fact that we have regulatory identicality on day one of Brexit, and thus management of divergence is the key regulatory issue. This message can be communicated with the Political Declaration, and the EU will at least know what the UK wants, something it has rightly complained about in the past.

We have a limited amount of time to put a package on the table, which can pass in Parliament while being an eminently reasonable offer from the UK that the EU can get behind. Prosperity-UK has fashioned the tools, the parties must put them to use.

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Boris Johnson’s appointment should prompt Leo Varadkar to reset the Irish Government’s Brexit stance

Last weekend Northern Ireland played host to the British Open for the first time since 1948. Irishman Shane Lowry won emphatically and as the week rolled on, the congratulations continued to roll in for the Offaly man. Naturally our media-savvy Taoiseach was quick with the praise and, as so often is the case, what was particularly interesting to see on Mr. Varadkar’s Twitter feed was not his congratulation but what lay below that – a seemingly innocuous tweet referencing a French minister’s pledge of Brexit solidarity with Ireland.

In fact, this is a symptom of something much greater and we don’t have to delve too deep into the recesses of our memories to the last time Mr. Varadkar stood by a promise from the French government.

When I cast my mind back to Leo and his trademark grin propping up the under-pressure Emmanuel Macron in March as he pledged his solidarity to the Irish, I wince. Only a couple of days later, the French leader was holding up Brexit extension talks to the detriment of the Irish. A No Deal and no plan on the Northern border meant Ireland would have temporarily been withdrawn from the customs union until such a time that we could verify all goods leaving Ireland had not come from the North.

At the time, Simon Coveney refused to entertain the notion of border checks and simultaneously refused to accept the possibility that Irish goods could be stopped in the Irish Sea before entering Europe through France or elsewhere – two contradictory ideas. The Irish Government sees Brexit as a zero-sum game and this is detrimental. 

Interestingly, as Brendan Simms pointed out last week, this approach by the Taoiseach and his Government may well be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. Simms argues that if Varadkar insists on refusing to allow checks at the North-South Border, then equally he should refuse to create checks in the Irish Sea. As the border checks would affect Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the check in the Irish Sea would affect Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, Varadkar’s insistence on supporting nationalists and ignorance towards unionists is diametrically against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which acknowledges the rights of both Nationalists and Unionists. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Taoiseach to seek an outcome that satisfies this agreement and their zero-sum approach is particularly lacking.  

To borrow more thoughts from the Irish golfing success, it is interesting to note how many people delivered their praise while referencing how this result was “fantastic for such a small country”. Common among praise from Irish people was a sense of ‘aren’t we great punching above our weight?’.

However, I would vehemently disagree with such an affectation being attached to our success as a nation in any regard. Not only does Ireland produce a significant number of top-class sport stars (England’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan honed his cricket ability in my own school), we compete on the world stage on a number of levels – industry, arts and of course business.

We are a small island, but one that belongs on the world stage; we don’t momentarily appear on it. However, when our Taoiseach stands up and remarks that Boris Johnson’s claims are “not in the real world” and that he will not discuss any terms with the UK,  he perpetuates a small nation attitude. 

This has been the Taoiseach’s approach for some time now, as he regularly made jibes and slights at Theresa May’s expense. A nationalistic overture runs rapid through Mr. Varadkar’s Brexit rhetoric and, as I have discussed, this is damaging to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and all the good it does for people on the island of Ireland.

With Boris Johnson installed as the new Prime Minister and his new Cabinet now having been revealed, there is a chance for a new approach to Brexit for European leaders and, in particular, for Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

Ireland might be a geographically small country, but there is no need for us to behave like a small nation and, while the new Prime Minister may be accused of unfortunate comments in the past, we should never measure ourselves with someone else’s ruler. The changing Cabinet brings with it a chance for change and a chance to lift the deadlock on Brexit. 

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Some more friendly advice from me for Boris Johnson

The next few weeks will see an outpouring of advice for Boris Johnson. All the commentators who’ve spent the last few weeks denouncing him as a walking disaster, womaniser and serial liar will rush to tell him to redeem himself by doing what they want.

Which makes me, as someone impartially opposed to his politics, who found him good fun and a chance for a new start in our deadlocked nation, feel justified in offering my more friendly advice. Britain’s only human politician who finds himself in a deep hole deserves it.

A new Prime Minister will have a short honeymoon before the carping commentariat get back to grinding their axes. Anyone is better than Theresa, and it will be nice to have a human in charge instead of a badly-programmed robot. The Conservative Party will rally round with its usual mixture of loyalty and and grovelling servility. The electorate will like a new start out of a deadlock which frustrates them.

So use that happy period – the only one you’ll get now that misery has become the national mood – to make a real new start and rally the people. They’re fed up with bickering deadlock and the long rearguard action of the recalcitrant Remainers. They can’t see why nothing has been done about their vote to Leave.

A new Prime Minister and a new Government can’t be doomed to pushing Theresa’s deal for a fourth time. It’s dead, deceased, and inoperable. So it’s right to demand a new negotiation from the EU which they’ll probably refuse, saying Theresa’s is as far as they’ll go. That puts them on the wrong foot.

React by doing the old Macmillan trick: announce the end of austerity, more borrowing and turn the spigots on to boost the economy. Then call an early election. That makes it shit or bust, but the lesson of Gordon Brown is that it’s better than struggling on with no majority and no mandate. A government with a majority of two can’t carry on. You have no alternative.

The Remainers are wrong footed and (for the moment at least) Labour is in a mess which can’t be cleared up quickly. A leader determined on Brexit can undercut Farage’s party, while the Lib Dems are still tainted by the Coalition and their support for the euro. The excitement would delay the onslaught of carping which builds as the honeymoon ends.

Denounce the intransigence of the EU. Show that “No Deal” would be its fault, ask for the nation’s backing for a fair deal, wave the patriotic banner, bash Corbyn and Boris can win. Then go back to the EU with new proposals which should include a promise never to impose a customs border in Northern Ireland, leaving them free to incur the odium if they want to.

Add in a dollop of criticism of the damage agricultural protectionism does to developing countries, a promise of full rights to EU migrants who can support themselves and whatever covert trade deals we’ve been able to arrange against EU rules. Don’t threaten overtly not to pay Theresa’s ransom money – that will only unite them; just keep it covert, indicating that we’ve got to be prosperous to pay up.

That’s a high-risk strategy. But Boris is a risk-taker and what’s the alternative? Only humiliating rejection by a stultifying EU, a long, whimpering failure as the country slumps back into bickering decline and a fun Prime Minister turns pathetic.
Photocredit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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