At a moment that most Europeans are occupied by the question whether or not to have a summer and winter time, and if so, which one should it be, there is something that should concern us just a little bit more: Brexit. The negotiations seem to be going nowhere (though 95% is said to have been agreed upon) and the Tory government is showing all the signs of a messy divorce. Hundreds of thousands of people go to the streets, and more than a million people sign a petition asking for a second referendum. Meanwhile, the pundits on twitter are playing with scenarios called Canada, Norway, Switzerland or simply ‘Hard Brexit’, or are still trying to convince each other with leave or remain arguments that reach no one anymore, as they seem to have completely balanced each other out. What a waste of talented people. Last summer I have thought out my own scenario, and I think it still holds. I formulated it as a twitter thread and maybe I will turn it into one, but I like to do it here as a blog first, accompanied with a little story I found illustrating.
This is my final Brexit scenario, in the sense that I think that, provided Ms. May is as brave as I think she is, this is how it will play out in the beginning of 2019.
- There will be some form of custom union for the whole of the UK, in order to get around the backstop problem.
- The last bit of the Article 50 negotiations with Brussels will be very much along the lines of Brussels, but with enough elements of the Chequers agreement in it, to give the British the right to claim some success. The most crucial bit is the part where Britain must give some assurances that Britain will not misuse the new freedom for competing with the EU. Given the weak position of Ms. May, she will have to convince the 27 that she has a scenario that will lead to more quiet waters. No doubt there will be feelers with Corbyn’s Labor party as well.
- The scenario will not be called ‘Chequers’ or ‘Chequers plus’, but just ‘the agreement reached with Brussels’ or ‘the-Chequers-that cannot-be-named-Chequers. A Canadian, Norwegian or another scenario will not be materially relevant to what can be agreed with Brussels, or is something for later.
- Brussel will want resolution before the EP-elections in May, with most details settled, as the British government cannot be trusted enough to deal with in good faith later.
- On the whole it is a package which still makes it not attractive for other countries to leave the EU. Mistrustful misanthropic Tories will see this too, and many Brexiteers will feel cheated or made to feel cheated by leading conservative voices and the Murdoch media.
- Whether or not Parliament will vote in favor of the agreement, is very much in doubt. Not just because of divisions within the Tory party. The DUP will most likely not play along. The Scottish National Party will, for its own reasons, also has grave doubts. Labor, of course, sees this as the moment to topple the government. Chances for a positive vote are far less than 50%.
- A new referendum will not be seriously considered, as it is too divisive for both country and Conservative Party. And the latter gets to decide. No way.
- However, voter analysis will show that people are very much fed up with arguing about Brexit. The issue itself is a loser. Any reasonable agreement the government puts forward could get a majority. When they are not gung-ho, the British can be very pragmatic.
- Which will lead to the present government to say that an election will be held, with the agreement at its core. A vote for May is a vote for the agreement.
- Corbyn can only win if and when the Tories leave the middle of the road. A de facto remain-like scenario gives him a good chance if the Tories do. Given his strong negatives, he will loose if there is half a decent performance from the Tory leader.
- Before this scenario can be played out, a leadership contest will be held within the Tory party. It is up to Boris or Davids to go for the leadership with a hard Brexit option. Yet, the electoral numbers will not be in favor of either of them. How strong are the true believers? This is the true gamble May has to take.
- May might solve this by saying: this is not about me. After the election, I will step down, be it yes or no. This way she opens the opportunity make it about the agreement and not about party politics.
- It could well end up with May losing the election, and with the agreement in the dust bin. In that case it is likely that Labor’s remain-scenario is the winner. Even many Tories may live with that; they know they’ve had their turn and blew it.
- But chances are the voters will still vote Conservative if it stands for what-not-can-be-called Chequers. Even now the Tories are ahead of Labor in the polls. Most voters dislike the idea of a Corbyn government and, after all that has been said and done, may want some form of Brexit. As long as it’s not called Chequers, they can then sit down on the old Brexit bench and talk together about the future again. If it still holds.
One evening this summer, my wife and I stayed at an old semi-castle close to Loch Ness, in Scotland. Over a glass of wine, the owner told us its story. After the terrible battle of Culloden, all the man, women and children of a nearby village of local people - rebels all, of course - were sold in slavery. Ships brought them to the Caribbean, where they were set to work on a plantation on one of its islands. One of them, still a boy, managed to escape. He came back later and managed to become the owner of the plantation, keeping slaves like his predecessors had. By the end of his life made a fortune and bought himself the castle-like house near the ground of his birth. He made it, he came back. He was a fighter, he was greedy, he conquered everything.
Nowadays the place is home to a great but vulnerable couple of people. One a journalist, one an artist. Making money is not their goal in life, but they want to make sure the castle remains fit for use. For this reason, they are on AirBandB, but do not really want to be found. It is wonderful when you do, though, with the grounds and inside all the paintings and great stuff that is there. When talking with them, you soon find out that they abhor Brexit, hate the Tories.
Why am I writing this? Because in a way both the old conqueror and the old couple stand for a Britain totally at odds with itself and the world. Brexit is born out of a strong fighting spirit in which the battles of yesterday still live on. I can appreciate and even admire it, but it is totally misdirected and ignorant of the modern world. A modern world in which the couple feels at home, but they no longer have the strength to shape or comment it. In fact, in order to make do, they rent their heritage to Europeans. It seems more than tragic, it’s seems the end of the road.
It is not. Somehow or other the house will live on when its occupants are no longer there, and both Culloden and Brexit will be words from the past. It is the way it goes. But it would help Britain to move on if they were a little less preoccupied with the past and a little more with the future.