Brexit: My Predictions

For the most part, I've managed to keep Brexit related posts off this site (if you follow me on Twitter, apologies - you'll know I've resolutely failed to stay out of the fold there). I have previously made my position fairly clear though.

As we approach end of days though, I thought it'd be interesting to get my thoughts and predictions down so that I can potentially look back and see how well they aged.

Although this post is quite long, my predictions are broken down into bulletpoints at the end.

 

Current State of Play

At time of writing, Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. He was voted into the post by just 92,000 Tory members and has had a tumultuous start to his premiership. He lost his first seven house of commons votes, was found by the supreme court to have unlawfully prorogued parliament, and gets harangued by the public wherever he goes.

When he became Prime Minister, Johnson had an incredibly slim majority - of 1. He watched that majority slip away as he was speaking in Parliament - with Phillip Lee crossing the floor in order to sit with the Lib Dems. Presumably not content with still having an ability to enact legislation, Johnson later doubled down by withdrawing the whip from 21 MPs (including the grandson of his personal hero - Winston Churchill) because they voted to try and prevent No-Deal.

All this is following on from Theresa May's Government - the first government in Parliamentary history to be found in contempt of Parliament, one which only commanded a majority in parliament as a result of a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP following a large bung.

That should have been remembered as the worst Government for quite some time, but it rather seems that Johnson has asked someone to hold his beer...

 

Boris's Proposal

He's claimed he'll get a deal, but refused to provide the EU with details of his proposal in case they're leaked and criticised. Then, of course, they leaked anyway. As did the Government's assessment of No-Deal (Yellowhammer).

In the weeks that Johnson has been PM, Parliament has passed an Act (known as the Benn Act) which requires the PM to seek an extension if an agreement hasn't been accepted by Parliament by 19 Oct (just 15 days away) - essentially an attempt to ensure that No-Deal cannot legally happen. Despite this, Johnson has continued to say we'll be leaving on 31 Oct "come what may", along with statements that he will not request an extension - so the political environment is rife with suspicion that he'll attempt to ignore/side-step the law.

Such is the belief of bad faith on the PM's part, that further legal action is happening in order to ask the Scottish Courts to use their Nobile Officum powers to send an extension request on Johnson's behalf if he refuses.

That lack of faith in the PM isn't exactly without founding either, given his recent unlawful proroguing of Parliament (he was found by the Scottish High Court to have mislead the Queen...), his career of lies, and his recent increase in incredible inflammatory language (referring to the Benn Act as the Surrender Act, Capitulation bill etc) despite being begged to address his tone by MPs who are now trying to act in their constituents interests whilst regularly receiving death threats.

The proposal he's unveiled in the last few days deals with the intractable issue of the border in Northern Ireland (there shouldn't be one, under the Good Friday Agreement) by turning the island of Ireland into a single regulatory zone for agriculture, food and manufactured goods.

In effect, Northern Ireland will remain a member of the Customs Union and the Single Market - but only for specific products - and this alignment would need renewing every 4 years, essentially letting Stormont (or the UK Govt in it's place) unilaterally exit the agreement by not renewing.

It does this in order to replace the dreaded backstop - a legal safety-net in case other "alternative measures" fail to work.

Ireland have said it's unworkable - it doesn't meet the agreed objectives of the backstop. Experts in the UK agree. As for Northern Ireland, it seems the only people supporting the plan are the DUP. No-one seems to have quite explained yet, either, why if this is acceptable, Scotland wouldn't demand the same is done for them (given that Scotland voted to Remain).

Many, in fact, believe that Johnson's proposal is designed to fail, so that he can blame the EU for not accepting his proposal, and then blame Parliament when he fails on his promise to take us out of the EU on 31 October 2019.

That the DUP are supporting it is particularly curious, given they rejected similar previous proposals during May's time on the basis that it would create a border down the Irish sea. Either they've been offered another large bung, or they know the proposal will be rejected - in which case it'd be better for them to have positioned themselves as having tried to support a "compromise".

 

The Markets and Goods/Manufacturing

We were told during the referendum that Brexit would be good for business, but the markets seem to disagree. We've seen regular drops in the value of the pound recently - usually just after Boris Johnson has made a speech.

The value of sterling rose when it was found that Johnson had unlawfully prorogued Parliament.

Multiple large businesses repeatedly said that Brexit would be an issue for them, and No-Deal even more so, and as a result over the past few years we've seen large businesses move operations out of the UK. Car manufacturers have changed or even cancelled plans for manufacturing in the UK (unfortunately leaving some Leave voting areas looking a little like the turkeys that voted for Christmas).

Lead Brexiters have regularly used the phrase "Project Fear" in relation to the idea that trade barriers may reduce our short/medium-term access to things like medicine. The Government, however, appears to disagree and has moved to ban the export of various drugs, out of fear that a weakened pound might make overseas sales more tempting. Estimates on delays at Dover (turns out it's quite important for UK trade, who'd have thought?) vary, but the Government's own Yellowhammer document suggests that lorries will have to wait for up to two and half days to cross the channel.

 

The Rebel Alliance

Apparently called the "rebel alliance" by certain Brexiter Tory's (they realise that makes them the empire, right), remainers across all parties have been attempting to work together in order to prevent the worst of Brexits, as well as campaigning to hold a confirmatory referendum in order to break the deadlock that's ensnared our political system.

It's a fairly shakey alliance though, with personalities playing a huge part - risking tearing the cooperation apart.

The opposition are fairly united in the idea that there must not be a General Election until a Brexit extension has been secured - due to concerns that no-deal could accidentally happen in purdah otherwise. There's been talk of achieving this by holding a Vote of No Confidence in Johnson, followed by forming a Government of National Unity (GNU).

The problem is, there's no agreement on who should lead the GNU. Most of the opposition parties have suggested various names - all cross-party, and MPs who aren't too objectionable to any party. Labour has suggested, and insisted on just one - Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that other members of the rebel alliance have said they couldn't back him. Sufficient numbers, in fact, wouldn't back Corbyn for caretaker PM that it's unlikely he could command the confidence of the house.

Labour's response to this have largely been along the lines of "it's Corbyn or No-Deal", which has pleased no-one.

 

So, that's largely where we are at the time of writing. There are all sorts of issues and events that I've skipped over (the milkshaking of Nigel Farage being the first that comes to mind), but the summary would be that the political environment is toxic and there's no certainty - at all - about what'll happen in a few weeks, let alone how this country will be in the future.

 


The Future

So now, it's time for me to make my predictions.

Johnson's proposal is quite clearly designed to fail - he's rising to power with the backing of the European Research Group (ERG), who've voted against Brexit (in the form of May's deal - atrocious though it was, it was a form of Brexit) more often than the "rebels" who were expelled from the party. Many of the ERG have been quite vociferous in their support of No-Deal, and Johnson himself has previously claimed it wouldn't be that bad.

It's almost inevitable that the EU will reject it, and that Parliament (and/or the courts) will act to enforce the Benn Act and force Boris to request an extension beyond 31 Oct, likely moving our Brexit date to January.

The opposition have been clear that once an extension has been secured, a General Election will be held. When this happens, Johnson will campaign on the basis that he "tried" to do Brexit by 31 Oct, but that it's the EU and Parliament's fault that he failed. The EU's rejection of his deal will allow him to more easily campaign for No-Deal directly - enabling him to try and attract some of the Brexit Party's supporters, but more importantly, ticking a criteria that Farage has made clear is essential for the BXP to cooperate with the Tories during campaigning.

The Remain vote, as it currently stands, is horribly, horribly split between parties. Labour will continue to triangulate in an attempt to attract both leavers and remainers, with the result that their actual position on Brexit will remain as clear as mud.

The existence of Corbyn as Labour's leader, along with his bases's continued attempts to oust non-believers will continue to drive remainers and more central-leaning voters away from Labour, leading to a continuation of the surge in Lib Dem support that was seen during the European Elections (and the LD's currently poll above Labour).

With our First-Past-The-Post voting system, it's rather hard to predict which way the election will go, although polls continually show that only 30% of the country actually supports No-Deal, despite leading Brexiteers trying to claim otherwise. I think the most likely outcome, though, is another hung parliament. Some of the leading Brexiteers will lose their seats, just as some of the Remain supporting MP's in Leave constituencies also won't return.

 

GNU?

There is the question, though of what'll happen before the election. Ultimately, if we don't reach a deal with the EU, the law says we must attempt to extend, but it's really down to the EU whether they offer an extension. It's certainly not going to happen without a good reason this time - an election, or another referendum - particularly as the Government has frittered away our original 6 month extension.

Johnson is resolute that he won't request an extension. My feeling is this is an attempt to politically martyr his premiership. He's already pushing "people vs Parliament" rhetoric, so being ousted by Parliament rather than being allowed to No-Deal would play well to his base.

Parliament won't really have a choice but to go along with this, and so will hold a VONC before putting a GNU into place. Labour will expect the leader of that GNU to be Corbyn, so they'll likely hold a vote to see if Corbyn can command confidence.

If that fails, then they'll need to hold a vote on someone else, but there's a risk that Labour will whip against (toddler tantrum), causing that to fail. Ultimately we'd end up exiting no-deal whilst awaiting a general election.

If Corbyn does lead the GNU, then leave side will include "they put Corbyn into No 10" in their GE campaigning - hurting Remain's chances significantly.

 

No-Deal

Johnson's government told us that the 6 page Yellowhammer docs are the "worst-case" scenario. However, previous leaks showed these as the base scenario (i.e. best-case) just a month before. Our Brexit Secretary, Steve Barclay, wrote to the EU essentially saying that our No-Deal preparations are not ready.

It's not necessarily the case that No-Deal would always have been a disaster - with adequate planning it could "just" have been very disruptive.

However, the current and previous government are incompetent, preferring to rely on rhetoric and threats rather than actual preparation (and when they did prepare, doing things like assigning ferry contracts to a company without any ships hardly helped).

No-Deal with the current level of preparation, and with the current administration will be an absolute disaster.

But, as we're already seeing, the Leave side will attempt to pin the blame on someone, anyone, else.

 

Leave Win Election

If leave win the General Election, then it's all but certain we'll exit the EU, on No-Deal, quite shortly after.

But, the "people vs Parliament" rhetoric currently being employed by the Government will almost certainly come back to haunt them in this event. Having encouraged the people to oppose Parliament and vote for the party that will "support" that, the irate mob will expect changes - and changes for the better.

The armchair warrior's may well find their way to the streets at some point when they realise the lemon they've been sold.

For years, if not decades after, we'll see the same polarisation again, and again, as various terms to our future trade agreements are debated. India want increased freedom of movement in exchange for more trade, but we voted against freedom of movement?

The NHS will slip further into decline, and is extremely unlikely to survive. It struggles enough when the Conservatives are in power as it is, without the additional interruption of supplies that no-deal will bring.

The much vaunted "additional accountability" that some hope Brexit will bring will never surface, and our Politicians will remain as unaccountable as they are now, just without the safety net against extremes that the EU currently provides.

 

Remain Win Election

It won't simply be resolved if Remain win the GE. Although the Lib Dems have promised to revoke Article 50 if they win a majority, even that simply buys more time for the debate to continue.

If a Remain coalition comes to power, then we'll almost certainly have a second referendum. From current political noises, it sounds like better controls will be put in place around this one, so that people like Boris cannot simply lie during campaigning.

The outcome of that referendum is extremely unlikely to support a No-Deal outcome, and with all other deals having been rejected, I suspect the country will vote to Remain.

 

Conclusion

The ultimate outcome probably depends heavily on what happens in the next few weeks, and it's those weeks, unfortunately that are so hard to predict. Johnson relies heavily on his Special Advisor - Dominic Cummings (previously the "mastermind" behind Vote Leave) - for tactics. Unfortunately for him, exposure to reality has shown that, far from being a genius, Cummings seems to come up with some fairly crap plans (as evidenced by the prorogation). 

It probably only needs once success on either side to change the course of history, the problem is in defining what a success is, and for whom. Short-term gains (like kicking Johnson out of No. 10) may well lead to losses in the long term (particularly if he's replaced with Corbyn).

Despite the fact that various Brexiters now claim that people who voted Leave knew they were voting for No-Deal, it doesn't look like sufficient support for No-Deal exists within the country. So if the battleground does become No-Deal vs Remain, my predictions is that Remain will win.

Whatever the outcome, there will be a portion of the population who are disgruntled and disaffected, and some will continue to feel that way for the rest of their lives. A No-Deal Brexit, though, will significantly increase that proportion to include Leave proponents as well as Remainers.

So, to bulletpoint out the bulk of my predictions:

Short-Term:

  1. EU will reject Boris' proposal
  2. Boris will refuse to request an extension, and a VONC will be held
  3. A caretaker PM will request (and get) an extension of at least a few months so we can have an election
  4. Boris will campaign on "Betrayal" - blaming the EU for No-Deal, and blaming Parliament for the extension
  5. The rejection of his deal will allow him to campaign for No-Deal, and work with the Brexit Party
  6. If Corbyn is caretaker PM, he'll be the subject of campaigns against the Remain parties (they put him in No. 10 etc)
  7. GE will result in a hung parliament
  8. Boris may lose his seat
  9. If Boris campaigned for No-Deal, Remain will have a majority in Parliament
  10. If Boris campaigned for a Deal, his base will still have been split by Brexit Party

If we No-Deal:

  1. No-Deal, if it comes, will be a disaster, with multiple examples of insufficient planning coming to light
  2. The "people vs Parliament" campaigning will come back to haunt the Government
  3. It'll take a while, but the NHS will ultimately be privatised, if not outright replaced
  4. The promised US trade deal will be hugely beneficial to the US, and simply pull us a little out of the ditch
  5. The things that caused people to feel disaffected - and blamed the EU for - will continue to exist, and our politics still won't work for all
  6. Many, but not all, of those who voted Leave (and are vocal now) will later deny they voted Leave

If Remain Win:

  1. Lib Dems unlikely to get a straight majority, so A50 won't be unilaterally revoked (yet)
  2. Confirmatory Referendum
  3. Electoral reform to try and fix many of the flaws exploited by Vote Leave in original referendum
  4. Referendum likely to result in a Remain vote
  5. Many, but not all, of those who voted Leave (and are vocal now) will later deny they voted Leave

 
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