We’re living in interesting times again, aren’t we?
The US developments, where the Republican party seem determined to literally kill millions in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires, and to do so quickly so that a fascist tyrant who got fewer votes than his opponent and is under investigation for treason might be able to have a legislative achievement to crow about, are of course depressing as hell in a myriad ways. But at this point, there’s not much more to say about US politics than that. It’s a horrorshow, and I just hope that as many of my friends as possible get through this period alive, before the US returns to the “normality” that is “only” massacring brown people outside its borders, if it ever does.
But the UK is in a similarly weird position at the moment, with regard to the Brexit clusterfuck. I have no interest in relitigating the referendum, unlike many of my fellow “Remainers”, because I don’t think we’d come off any better given a second shot. I do, however, hope that some sort of sense will prevail within Parliament.
I strongly suspect it won’t, though, and if I’m right we can expect some pretty horrible consequences over the next couple of years. Here’s what I think is the most likely path for the next few years. That doesn’t mean I think this is what is going to happen — I’d put the chance of this precise set of events at no more than about five percent, as politics has been so completely unpredictable recently, and something I’ve not even considered will undoubtedly happen. I just think that this is more likely than any other scenario I can imagine.
First, the problem is that the current government’s aims are, literally, impossible. Because of Theresa May’s hubristic decision to call an election in June this year, we now have a minority Conservative government, relying on the support of the right-wing headbangers in the DUP (for those who don’t follow British politics, they’re roughly equivalent to the Roy Moore wing of the Republicans, and they’re only active in the province of Northern Ireland). The DUP are even more fanatically pro-Brexit than the Conservatives, so one might expect this to be a fairly straightforward matter.
The problem is that the Conservatives have committed to wanting a deal with the EU, but to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union when Britain leaves the EU. This is their single biggest pledge at the moment, and the thing their own supporters will judge them on.
However, leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would involve putting a hard border up on the island of Ireland, between the Republic of Ireland (an independent country and member of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Almost no-one in Ireland, on either side of the border or of any political persuasion, wants this to happen. A hard border would require border checkpoints, customs declarations, and other such things. These would, even in the most ideal world, be inconveniences — many people cross the border daily, and the free flow of people and goods between the two countries is one of the most important reasons for Ireland’s increased prosperity in the last twenty years.
But more importantly than that, the removal of those border checkpoints was one of the biggest reasons why the peace process in Ireland has worked as successfully as it has. For pretty much the whole of the last century, there was an ongoing civil war in Ireland, between the struggle for the RoI’s independence and the later euphemistically-labelled “Troubles”, and yet in the last twenty years or so the amount of violence in Northern Ireland has dropped to a tiny fraction of what it was. And that’s because the existence of a border is much less of a practical issue when you can just walk across it any time you like, rather than having to deal with barbed wire and soldiers with machine guns.
And the Conservatives can’t *not* put a hard border up without destroying their own party. The only way to not have a hard border would be for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market, but that would create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, which the DUP won’t tolerate. And the Conservatives rely on the DUP.
So my best guess is that the Government will fall, and there’ll be another election in early 2018.
I see that election as not being that different from the last one, except that now no-one will expect a Conservative landslide. The Conservatives will run on “give us a mandate to finish the job properly”, Labour will run on “we’re not the Tories”, and the Lib Dems will run on a platform of “please don’t ask us to make a decision about anything, it makes us anxious” — otherwise known as “have a second referendum on the deal” (even though along with all the other problems with that policy, there’s the other problem that by that time there won’t actually be enough Parliamentary time to legislate for a new referendum before we drop out of the EU in March 2019).
Given the increased polarisation of politics in England and Wales (Scotland is a special case here, where people are no longer voting on left-right lines as far as I can tell, but on nationalist-unionist ones, and so unionists will vote for whichever of the Conservatives, Labour, or Lib Dems is most likely to win in their seat), I expect the Lib Dems to be squeezed even more, and for all of the people on Twitter who say “change your mind, Jeremy Corbyn, and start opposing Brexit, or I will no longer vote for Labour to keep the Tories out” to decide “I must vote Labour again, *just this once*, to keep the Tories out, but they’d better oppose Brexit next time or I shall shout at them again”.
My best guess for the result of such an election would be a hung Parliament, but with Labour the largest party, relying on the support of the SNP, Greens, and Lib Dems to get its legislation through.
My guess is that the Lib Dems would be reduced to a rump of five MPs at most, at which point the leadership will almost certainly say “we lost because we kept banging on about Brexit, we must never speak of it again”.
Labour will pursue a project of moderate social democratic reform, actually less radical and left-wing than the Lib Dems’ manifesto, but it will be condemned by the leadership of both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems as Maoist Trotskyist Stalinism (the Lib Dems’ leadership *always* makes the mistake of portraying Labour as being far more left-wing than they are, rather than portraying them as the authoritarian centralists they actually are). However, they will also continue with exactly the same strategy towards Brexit as the Conservatives have — they plan, just like the Conservatives, on leaving the Single Market, and have said so just as frequently.
At the end of the negotiations, in March 2019, there will therefore be no deal with the EU — leaving the Single Market would create a hard border in Ireland, the Republic of Ireland will never agree to that, and the Republic of Ireland (like all EU member states) has a veto on the deal.
The result, in March 2019, would be Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. This would mean no imports or exports to EU member countries, a hard border in Ireland, and no flights into or out of the UK from EU countries, among other things. We would also lose the trade deals we have with every country in the world at the same time, as all those deals are with the EU, not with the UK.
The result of this would be food shortages within days, riots on the streets, and martial law, which would in turn lead to another election (presuming civil society could hold together enough to hold an election). While the actual cause of the food shortages and plane groundings would be leaving the EU, these would be portrayed by the Conservatives as having been caused by Corbyn being the reincarnation of Pol Pot, and a sign that even the very mild social democratic reforms Labour would have initiated had simply been too much.
The 2019 election would thus be a Conservative landslide, installing Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a mandate to “fix Labour’s mess” by “making the UK more business-friendly” — asset-stripping it for sale to billionaire oligarchs, and removing all our remaining freedoms in the name of business efficiency. At this point, Scotland probably goes the Catalan route and unilaterally declares independence and applies for emergency admission to the EU.
After that, what happens next I can’t say. But I doubt it’s anything good. England Prevails, probably.
But then again, one thing I should say about all of the above — I’ve tried making predictions about politics over the last few years. I’ve always tried to imagine the worst (from my point of view) that could happen and decided that was the most likely course of events. And yet every time, things have come out a few notches below my unimaginably-bad imaginings.
So take that into account. The above is written by an incurable optimist.
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