More delay

I had hoped that this might have been the week that we finally got some clarity on just how badly the country was going to be hit by the Brexit tsunami, but, true to form, Theresa May has postponed a decision yet again, until the 12th of March this time. Since this is barely two weeks before the deadline, and she has, entirely predictably, made no further progress towards a deal, it is looking ever more likely that we will end up with the worst of possible outcomes.

In these circumstances one might expect that our elected representatives would do something constructive, but instead we’re getting a doomed centrist realignment, which isn’t really what is needed.

Still, it is just about possible to imagine a way out; Labour propose a suspension of article 50, enough MPs from the relatively sensible wing of the Tory party support the idea to see it carried, the EU agree to this on the condition that the delay is long enough to actually work out a deal, this allows time for momentum to build behind the demand for a second referendum, which results in a clear majority for remain, allowing the nation to move on from the whole sorry episode.

I’d have to concede that this scenario is unlikely, and even if it unfolds exactly as I predict there would still be the not inconsiderable problem of a sizeable and emboldened far-right armed with a convenient betrayal narrative. I’d take that though, since the alternative is no-deal, and a triumphant far-right ready to exploit the subsequent economic implosion.

State in denial

It’s a little ironic that, while over in the US Donald Trump is attempting to evade constitutional checks and balances by declaring a patently bogus state of emergency, this country, which really is facing a national catastrophe, has a political class which seems to have collectively lost any sense of urgency.

Despite multiple signs of impending doom, parliament has agreed to give the government until the end of the month to come up with an escape plan, even though there is no indication that Theresa May is going to use the extra two weeks any more fruitfully than she has done the last two years.

May’s strategy has been to play both sides against the centre – threatening Europhiles by hinting that she is prepared to countenance a no-deal exit if they don’t back her, while simultaneously telling Brexiters that she might just abandon the whole thing if she doesn’t get their support. This sort of duplicitous diplomacy might have had a slim chance of success in medieval Europe, when the population was largely illiterate, and information took months to spread around the country, but hoping that it could work in the modern world of hyper-connected 24-hour news-feeds seems optimistic to say the least.

The latest reports suggest that the government is going to abandon even the pretence of negotiating a new plan, which is not surprising, since any leverage they might have hoped to have with Brussels disappeared when the fragile Tory truce fell apart last week, exposing the fact that no concession from the EU will be enough to appease the likes of the ERG. Come February 28th May will just present the Commons with the same deal they roundly rejected last month, in effect daring them to crash the economy by turning it down again. However it seems likely that this gambit will fail, since Tory hard-Brexiters don’t believe (or don’t care) that no-deal will be so bad, and the opposition parties are reluctant to let May off the hook by taking even partial political ownership of the whole debacle.

The only way I can see a majority being assembled in support of May’s deal is if it is made conditional on ratification by a new referendum. This idea has some traction in the liberal press, though nowhere else as yet, but the prospect of passing responsibility for Brexit back to the electorate might start to appeal to MPs once they finally realise that the alternative is taking the blame themselves.

Incertitude prolonged

So, we find ourselves mere weeks away from what might very well turn out to be the most momentous event in the country’s post-war history, and it is still almost impossible to predict what is going to happen.

The general air of uncertainty is only heightened by a government that seems to have no clear plan about what it wants to do. For a day or two last week it appeared that Theresa May had settled on a strategy of trying to coerce the EU into granting concessions by embracing the hard-Brexiteers, but the nation barely had time to get its collective head around the madness of that scheme before she abruptly shifted course by softening her opposition to a Norway-style solution, seemingly with the hope of winning over disaffected Labour MPs, then, in the space of a day, performing yet another U-turn and ruling out a customs union. The end result is that she has alienated everyone, and a parliamentary majority for any position looks as unlikely as ever.

The stance of the Labour Party is no less opaque. Jeremy Corbyn has proposed to negotiate with the government to produce a compromise policy, but it’s not clear if this offer is in good faith, or a ploy to split the Tory Party, and perhaps provoke May into calling a snap election.

May is due to address the Commons tomorrow, to report on her latest fruitless trip to Brussels. She will probably ask for more time to come up with a deal, and, since no one seems to have any better ideas, it seems likely that she will be allowed to kick the can a bit further down the road, and keep kicking it, until the road runs out.