The politics of Brexit get worse by the day. The most obvious path to Brexit continues to be (as it always has been) via some variant of the “Norway option,” continued participation in the European Economic Area (the “Single Market”) but through EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) rather than the EU. To make a point that should not need making: EFTA is not the EU. Norway is not in the EU.
That’s not the route that Prime Minister May has chosen to take. She’s opted instead for an approach (or approaches) united only by incoherence, implausibility, and, crucially, insecurity. And by insecurity I mean a fear of losing her job, a fear significantly, but by no means exclusively, prompted by a grouping of ultra-Brexiteers within the Conservative parliamentary party, whose strength has been increased by May’s weakness. She threw away the Tories’ absolute majority in the House of Commons in last year’s election, and has no spare votes to play with.
May’s latest initiative was the (hopefully) DOA Chequers Plan, a cockamamie confection that would combine some of the worst elements of remaining within the EU with the some of the worst elements of leaving it.
Meanwhile the clock is ticking. The closer we get to March 29, 2019 (the date on which the U.K. is set to leave the EU) without a deal, the greater the likelihood that financial markets will panic, with consequences that will not be pretty for the pound or Britain’s borrowers (which includes, of course, the heavily indebted British state). Why? Because no deal, the euphemistically named “WTO option” is a very bad deal indeed, and market panic will mean that its consequences will start to be felt quite some time before March. The clock is ticking, and it is ticking increasingly loudly.
British voters have noticed what is going on.
With less than eight months until Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to find a proposal to maintain economic ties with the bloc that pleases both sides of her divided party and is acceptable to negotiators in Brussels. The Sky poll said 65 percent of British voters thought the government would end up with a bad deal — an increase of 15 points from March — and half support a referendum to choose between leaving with a deal, leaving without a deal or staying in the EU. The poll indicated 40 percent opposed such a vote, while 10 percent did not know. When asked to choose between three options — May’s deal, a no deal or staying in the EU — 48 percent said they would prefer to stay in the EU, 27 percent wanted to leave with no deal and 13 percent would opt for the government’s deal . . .
The Sky poll found 78 percent of voters thought May’s government was doing a bad job of negotiating Brexit, up 23 percentage points from March. Just 10 percent thought the government was doing a good job . . . Voters were split on whether Brexit would be good or bad for the country: 40 percent said it would be good and 51 percent said it would be bad.
Don’t get me wrong. Selling the Norway option will not be easy at this late stage, not least because of the disinformation that has been spread about it over the last three years by (at different times) both Remainers and Leavers. But the alternatives will either be for the U.K. to simply drop out of the EU in March — an economic and political catastrophe — or (more likely) to agree something akin to surrender, the “vassal state” status of not unmerited euroskeptic fears — a political catastrophe.
And however it is triggered, political catastrophe will likely include the election of a government dominated by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. In an article in today’s Financial Times prompted by anti-Semitism within Corbyn’s party (yes, that, disgustingly, is a thing), Robert Shrimsley gives some indication of what the arrival in power of such a party would mean:
It ought to be clear that Mr Corbyn’s views should be taken literally. Voters should take at his word a man whose world view is underpinned by anti-Americanism, who wants to scrap the nuclear deterrent and leave Nato. They should assume that invaluable US intelligence-sharing arrangements will be scrapped, if not by him then by the US.
Mr Corbyn has described Nato as a “very dangerous Frankenstein” and a “danger to world peace”. In last year’s election he refused to disavow those views. Labour moderates and voters who think that in power Mr Corbyn and his acolytes will compromise their long-held views should look at the anti-Semitism row. Is this a man ready to water down positions he has held for decades for mere expediency?
The same will be true on domestic economic policy. When shadow chancellor John McDonnell raises the spectre of capital controls, we should take him seriously. When, after the Grenfell tower fire, Mr Corbyn talked of seizing privately owned homes to rehouse the survivors, people should assume this reflected his view. We should believe him when he said he would raise taxes, follow protectionist trade policies and sweep away laws banning secondary picketing.
Say what you will about Norway, it beats Venezuela.