- 29 Jan 19
The Tories’ attempts to negotiate a Brexit deal have been nothing short of disastrous. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, has also been found wanting. To quote Cormac McCarthy, it ain’t a mess, it’ll do ’til the mess gets here...
For well over two years now, the shadow of Brexit has loomed like a hydra-headed monster over virtually everything we think, say and do. And that’s just here in Ireland.
Since Article 50 was triggered – most commentators now say prematurely – by Theresa May’s government, to begin the countdown to B-Day, we knew that the day of reckoning would come in the perilous Spring of 2019. But there was no clarity as to what shape the withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK might ultimately take – nor how deep the wounds it would inevitably inflict might finally be.
That it would be messy seemed probable. Almost no one would have forecast, however, that we would collectively be as utterly in the dark as to where the battered and painfully slow-moving Brexit express – a pathetically old fashioned train, it turns out, spewing bitterly toxic smoke into a deeply offended sky – would be taking us, and more worryingly the British people, with just 60 days to go. It is surely time for the old GUBU word to be dusted down. To outside observers what has been happening in British politics, has indeed been Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented. What’s more nerve-shredding, perhaps, is that the crazy, and enormously unedifying, farrago is not over yet.
You have to look at what has been happening, shudder, and acknowledge that worse may indeed be yet to come. In what manner of twisted parallel universe, after all, can a motion, put to parliament by the Prime Minister on a matter of era-defining national – and international – importance, be defeated by 230 votes one day, and the Prime Minister herself win a vote of confidence the following day – all the more absurdly when everybody knows that she has no idea whatsoever what she is going to do next?
Seldom can parliament – any parliament – have been in such farcical disarray as we have seen in Westminster, in particular over these past few weeks. You turn on the TV and observe in horror the sheer lunacy, obduracy, crass show-boating, egotism and selfishness on display. Watch them and weep: these, apparently, are Britain’s finest. But of course they are far from it.
It would be funny if it weren’t potentially so fucking tragic, for so many people. It is a car crash amplified to deafening point. It is a two-finger salute gone horribly wrong. MPs are gesticulating to beat the band, but no one at all in British politics seems to be listening to the relentless sound of the clock ticking. Big Ben has not gone away, you know. Bong! Bong! Bong! Dear, oh dear. Is it that time already?
Among the 432 MPs who voted against the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU by Teresa May’s team are those who crave a viciously disruptive no deal Brexit, the harder the better, and damn the shock waves that will likely be caused, with catastrophic consequences, in the lives of vast numbers of working class people. You want a tsunami? Watch this, suckers! But, hey, we’ve been through worse and kept our chins up, didn’t we? Remember the war.
Alongside them, meanwhile, cheek by jowl in the ’no’ lobby, were those who are desperately hoping that the defeat of May’s deal will lead to another referendum, and that out of that might come a decision that the UK will, after all, remain in the EU.
The gallant not-quite-600 also contains people who might be stood at virtually every point on the entire spectrum in between those two extremes.
In other words, there is no consensus whatsoever within the UK parliament as to what sort of a relationship with the EU Britain wants – other that the chimeric ‘have your cake and eat it’ deal that the more arrogant bounders in the Tory party (hello, Boris) assumed a craven Europe could be bullied into agreeing to; and that, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum vote, these braying clods sold like three-card trick merchants to anyone who still clings to the tawdry pennants of the thoroughly discredited vampire regime that the British empire represented.
Let’s not fool ourselves: the notion of the ‘national interest’ is not a simple one. It is pretty obvious that the concerns of the working class are far removed from those of the cosseted captains of industry who command obscene seven figure salaries, a fact that is conveniently forgotten by the people who tend to talk about the national interest most often. And it is the working class, primarily, that the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn is meant to represent. If it were the case that disadvantaged people in the UK would benefit from Brexit, in terms of an improved standard of living, better access to education, greater emphasis on equality, and so on, then he – and the Labour Party – might be right to pursue it as a policy goal.
But all of the expert views – including within Labour and the trade unions – say that the opposite is the case. And besides, the vast majority of the members of the party, and especially its younger members – those most vulnerable to the likely long-term devastation of Brexit – favour remaining in Europe.
Against that background, you have to view the performance of the man who should be Theresa May’s most effective adversary as deeply flawed. The UK is teetering on the brink of what almost every sensible person sees as a disastrous misdirection. The risk is real and immediate that the extreme right will be galvanised all over Europe as a result of Brexit. There is also a very real danger that the continent might begin to slip further towards the kind of narrow, bigoted nationalism which provides the seeding ground for an ever more reactionary, bellicose and aggressive form of politics.
Fascists have been on the rise across the continent of Europe. The left, meanwhile, is stagnant. To imagine that the best way to beat the wretches that are on the up is to match them in their desire to provoke any and every crisis possible in European democracy is potentially the greatest act of folly since the world first turned a blind eye to the rise of the Third Reich.
And yet this is the only possible interpretation of what Jeremy Corbyn has been doing. He has failed entirely to tell the UK parliament, or anyone else, what his stance is on Brexit. There is an element here of putting the party before the country. He insists on saying as little as he can in order to be sure that there is someone else who can be blamed for whatever calamity might occur. But some of the things that he has said have been utterly unbecoming of a leader of the Labour Party.
Can he have been serious in his pathetic attempt to hold out an olive branch to the DUP, when he promised the party, currently propping up Theresa May’s bedraggled government, that he would deliver the Brexit that they wanted? Is his moral compass so badly damaged that he can see nothing wrong in offering to hold hands with a party that is against gay marriage; that is against allowing abortion in Northern Ireland; that works day and night against the interests of the working class people of Northern Ireland?
What does it say, also, about his political compass that he would imagine, at any time of the day or night, that he might hold Arlene Foster in his sweet embrace, to the extent that her minions in Westminster would vote against Theresa May and bring her floundering Conservative Government down? How could he get it so wrong that he would think it possible to win a vote of ‘No confidence’ in the Prime Minister, even after the House of Commons had savaged her Brexit deal entirely? There wasn’t a hope in hell and everyone except him, and his advisers, seemed to know it.
Sadly, his next play was equally inept. When he was invited to meet Theresa May to discuss potential ways out of the impasse that is currently paralysing the UK parliament, he said no – until Teresa May takes a “No deal” Brexit off the table.
If this is merely playing games it is reckless. But if it was a serious demand, then it is worse, for two reasons. The first is that from a UK perspective, it would potentially weaken May’s negotiating position. But, in a sense, that is neither here nor there. The reality is that Britain cannot unilaterally say that there will not be a no deal Brexit. Because the EU has an equal say in whether a deal is done or not. If the UK continues to make illogical or unreasonable demands, then there will not be a deal. So the UK cannot take that reality off the table, and to suggest it as a “strategy’ is as bad as Boris Johnson wanting to have his cake and eat it twice.
So this is where we are. As they argue it out in the House of Commons, no one has a clue what will happen next. The likelihood is that the UK will ask for an extension of the process beyond March 29, in order to arrive at some kind of internal consensus. But beyond that, it remains anyone’s guess as to the likely outcome. Some commentators insist that Theresa May and her deal will now be sidelined, and that ‘moderates’ in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party will start to cobble together some kind of agreement.
Others – pointing to the latest opinion polls – hint that, if a delay is agreed with the EU, a second referendum will emerge as the preferred choice of the majority. But even that offers little in the way of certainty. The battle could be a vicious one. Violence cannot be ruled out: the murder of Jo Cox should sound a warning bell. And a victory for Remain is far from being a foregone conclusion. So this one is likely to run and run – and we are not immune to its potential ravages. There is no hotter issue, nor one more likely to lead to bloodshed close to home in 2019. Fasten your seat-belts. This shit may yet get deeply, nastily unpleasant.