This blog has been silent for three weeks so nothing would stand between the “bold” predictions in my last article, and the proof that they were true. I am in fact neither particularly prescient nor brilliant. To anybody with serious experience of diplomatic negotiation, it was very obvious a deal was fairly easy. As I predicted, the level playing field mechanism is solved by it not only being a case of the UK following EU standards, but of mutual rights. In the entirely improbable circumstance of Tory UK adopting higher environmental, social or safety standards than the EU, the UK will have resort to a range of measures against unfair competition; just as the EU can in the much more likely scenario of the UK failing to keep up with evolving improvements in these areas. The same goes for state aid. The mutual obligation undercuts the “sovereignty” argument and squares that (silly) circle. Elsewhere, a few tonnes of fish here or there was never going to outweigh the manufacturing interests on both sides. So this very limited agreement, covering the 22% of UK/EU trade that is in goods, was always a shoo-in.
As I also predicted and still predict, the media will now go wild about “Johnson’s Christmas Triumph”.
What I want to discuss with you is not the agreement itself, nor the process of reaching it, but the quite extraordinary fact that a deal which was always going to be made, was the subject of pretend cliffhanger drama and tension by the entire professional media and the entire professional political class, both government and opposition, not just in the UK but right across Europe and on other continents as well.
Sane, sober and alone, any serious professional political journalist knew that this deal would be made and broadly what it would look like. So did Keir Starmer, Nicola Sturgeon, Bill Cash and Nigel Farage. Yet absolutely everyone has been pumping out this false narrative of cliff-hanging tension, as have the national ministers of EU states in the EU Council and the Members of the European Parliament.
Why? I think this really is quite a profound question. And I think the answer is that the professional media and political class – the latter an ever burgeoning number, battening on to the body politic at our ever increasing expense – have become simply a form of entertainment. High politics is no more than a form of reality TV, where both those taking part and those reporting on it know that dramas and crescendos have to be manufactured to keep the plebs interested and keep the golden goose laying. The politicians and the political journalists have a joint interest in putting on a show over artificial crises. The worrying thing is, they manage to convince themselves, at least some of the time, to their own professional gain, that the version they are promulgating of what is happening, is reality.
Let me add a few thoughts to this. The first is that I do not think that anybody except a very few utter nutters really believe, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn is personally a racist. Yet the mainstream political and media classes pump out the anti-semitism slur in a continual stream. This forcefully reminds me of the run-up to the Iraq War, when I asked an FCO colleague working directly on Iraq how he managed to do his job when he knew full well that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. He replied to me that he was an avid player of “Football Manager”; while in the game he really was immersed for hours and the manager of Arsenal, once he left the game of course he knew he was not. Walking into the FCO to work was the same. While in the FCO, he believed Iraq had WMD and acted on that basis; once he left in the evening he did not.
In a sense this game, where the political and media class connive at contrived dramatic happenings, replaces and covers for the absence of real differences in politics, as will be illustrated when Starmer’s Labour votes for Johnson’s Brexit Deal. Just as they have failed to oppose even the granting of powers to kill and torture to the security services, or the granting of amnesty to those who commit war crimes. When you do not really have an actual opposition, you will get pretend political events. I am also reminded of those in the SNP who pretend to be absolutely committed to Scottish Independence, while having not the slightest intention of doing anything towards that goal that may jeopardise their comfortable and well-paid political careers.
I stand by my prediction that phasing of implementation of procedures will mean that the non-tariff friction that is, despite this agreement, going to make UK trade in goods with the EU much more logistically difficult, will not have immediate effect, so in the early part of 2021 Brexiteers will be gloating that predictions of doom did not happen. I also stand by the prediction that the real effects will come through slowly and surely and increase both inflation and unemployment in the second half of 2021. This agreement of course covers goods only – the UK financial services industry will become still further oriented towards servicing non-EU clients seeking minimal scrutiny. The EU will now be able to impose a transaction tax as a brake on reckless trading in derivatives. London will become the high risk centre for the dodgy money and the fast buck, to an even greater extent than it is already.
Johnson will now surf a jingoistic media wave and be hailed a great success. Which, for us Scots, makes it still more certain he will never agree voluntarily to an Independence referendum. Anybody who now argues the route to Independence must only lie through the agreement of Downing Street, is arguing the Unionist Case.
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