All change and no change – Brexit can and must be stopped

So it came to pass, as we all knew it would, and the tiny segment of voters who hold Conservative Party cards elected Boris Johnson.

One of the most strikingly accurate portraits of Mr Johnson I read recently came from US commentator Cas Mudde. He compared the latest British PM to Donald Trump. It wasn’t pretty: “Both are loud mouthed, man children, whose professional success is a combination of immense privilege, unscrupulous opportunism and relentless self-promotion,” Mudde said.

We also know that Mr Johnson isn’t a details man. It’s unlikely he had a plan to ‘deliver Brexit’ so he has hired a man who does plans. Dominic Cummings is the former Michael Gove advisor who was ‘let go’ and went off to run the ‘official’ leave campaign. Mr Cummings later admitted that key claims of the campaign he managed were substantially untrue, doubted the wisdom of leaving the EU and was even found in contempt of Parliament for failing to appear before the Digital, Culture Media and Sport Select Committee to answer questions regarding false news during the referendum campaign. This dubious record doesn’t matter to Mr Johnson, nothing seems to, and he has been installed in number 10 as de-facto Chief of Staff with the brief to finish what he started.

So what’s the plan?

The plan seems pretty obvious: crank up the prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit from the European Union, spend enough time and public money to convince folk that you are serious and so scare/bribe/bully enough MPs into voting for Theresa May’s ‘deal’ retro-fitted in a Johnson sized party frock. Whether that happens by 31 October or at a later date, who knows? If Parliament – where nothing much has changed – doesn’t buy the ‘no deal’ threat a General Election would be sought. In the meantime claim to all and sundry that you don’t want an election – because it will be Parliament that forces that one and it won’t be your own fault and neither would any necessary extension to the UK’s membership should Parliament insist on it.

The usual suspects among the commentariat have lauded Mr Johnson’s ‘brilliant speech’, ‘full of promise’, ‘sharing his vision for the country’, etc. Much focus was on domestic policy. There was a pledge to repair the broken and severely damaged social care system, a commitment to increase expenditure in schools and to the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers (in other words restoring that which has been cut since 2010) within a message targeted at a core demographic that was vital to the leave vote and for a long time now favourable to the Conservatives.

In reality he won’t get to touch any of this unless and until he sorts out Brexit. He promises he can and will deliver it. He promises to take personal responsibility. We just don’t know how he will do it, and beyond the Class A bluster, neither I suspect, does he. Simple questions like 'where on earth the money is going to come from?' are just not being asked.

In the meantime we are being forced to rewind the Brexit argument to a point before the collapse of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. However the truth hasn’t changed. The prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit has such catastrophic consequences for every corner of the United Kingdom and for all of us as individuals.

It is worth briefly reminding ourselves of the prospect:

Transport failures:

British ports will be affected by long delays; this is well known. Kent County Council has warned of the potential ramifications not just for the ports and surrounding areas but also access to roads leading to other parts of the UK. If haulage is affected then the products it’s transporting will be affected too. There is a knock-on effect for the wider economy, inevitably.

Government admitted that UK driving licences may no longer be valid across the channel if the UK crashes out with no deal. In excess of £3.2 million has been spent by motorists on International Driving Permits (IDP) in the last five months.

Food shortages and shopping disruption:

Some 28 per cent of our food is imported from the EU. It is, therefore, highly likely that some food will be delayed due to transport issues. It is inevitable that costs will increase. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, warned our shopping bills could increase by 10 per cent.

Supermarkets have warned that October 31 is one of the worst dates to exit the EU without a deal because warehouse capacity will already be strained due to seasonal stock build relating to Christmas and Black Friday.

Shoppers wishing to make purchases online could face higher debit or credit card charges if making purchases from within the EU.

Medicine shortages and rationing:

The delivery of, and access to, medicines could be interrupted. It is not uncommon for there to be a European wide shortage of a particular drug. If the UK is not part of the distributive system then it cannot expect to be satisfied first. It will be at the end of the queue.

Farming slaughter:

Half of Northern Ireland’s lamb is exported to the Republic of Ireland. The impact of tariffs under WTO rules at 40 per cent isn’t sustainable.

Further, in the event of a no deal, farm leaders warn Government would be under pressure to embrace a cheap food policy. This means the UK would be open to tariff free imports which would undercut domestic production and threaten the viability of many UK farms; particularly small family producers. It has even been suggested that farmers may have to slaughter flocks because there is no practical market for the product.

There is a possibility that the Government might subsidise the industry but this isn’t sustainable and it’s also a waste of public money!

Small business under the bus:

Small businesses may be affected in a huge number of ways. To give one example: the timely delivery of fresh flowers is critical to the florist industry. The majority of cut flowers are distributed from the Netherlands – a delay in their delivery, even by a few hours, will have a catastrophic affect on the florist on the high street. Nobody can sell dead daffs.

Science and research out in the cold:

‘No deal’ excludes British institutions from joint European research programmes and severs their funding streams. It means, coldly and bluntly, that our brightest and the best are excluded from the environment that prevails in any serious scientific environment – a collaborative framework. For medical research it means fewer clinical trials with later access to new drugs and lifesaving treatments.

Travel more expensive:

Mobile phone roaming charges may rise. While some operators have said they don’t intend to change current plans on roaming, there would be nothing now stopping them from doing so.

The Government advises passports should be valid for at least six months at the time of travel.

And even though we haven't left yet ...

These are just some of the potential threats and consequences the UK faces in the event of a no deal Brexit. While emergency legislation passed by MEPs early in the year dealt with some of the most drastic consequences of a disorderly exit (such as the inability of planes to fly or trains to run in the short term) there is no changing some of the fundamental truths – like the limited capacity of a Dover Calais corridor that developed its current shape within a single market.

The sharp eyed will have noticed there is something missing from the bluster – any reality supported by facts, any serious argument beyond ‘believing’. The newly unelected Prime Minister and his henchfolk are shamelessly spending your money telling us everything will be fine while the real economic damage of Brexit continues apace – expect more closures of manufacturing plants in the months before October.

No sign of a fat lady

The argument for a Brexit of any sort was long since defeated, but now must be won again. A Government constructed around a ‘no deal’ policy is one without a mandate. It was not what was promised, it was never on the ballot and it is a disastrous course for the future of Britain and its relations with its neighbours and allies. The  ‘no deal’ fantasy is the result the failure to define any kind of Brexit that works. It is the only common denominator for the Brexiteers. In the Johnson ‘do or die’ project 'no deal’ is the crowbar to force a deal and so to rescue the Conservative Party.

We face a summer of propaganda at public expense devoted to the project. We have no option but to fight the battles again and to re-win the arguments and ensure that Parliament asserts the real national interest, but beyond that there is an argument to be won with the people – and to do so the sub-Churchillian rhetoric of Mr Johnson needs to be exposed for what it is: the Emperor’s New Clothes of a narrow patriotism of nostalgia. The alternative must be the patriotism of partnership that flickered brightly at the Summer Olympics of 2012 too soon to fade into the mire of austerity.

It isn’t over. I still can’t tell you how it ends but I do know it has to be and can be stopped.