In Brexit chicken game, May likely to get plucked

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don, Eng­land.

There’s no need to prac­tice bleed­ing, as the sol­diers say, but the British gov­ern­ment didn’t get the mes­sage. On Mon­day, it paid 89 truck driv­ers £550 each ($930) to sim­u­late the im­mense traf­fic jam that will hap­pen in Kent if Britain crashes out of the Eu­ro­pean Union with­out a deal at the end of March.

The driv­ers had to bring their ve­hi­cles to Manston, a dis­used

Se­cond World War-vin­tage air­field in Kent, where the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to park 4,000 big trucks if a ‘no-deal Brexit’ on March 29 leads to new cus­toms checks on trucks head­ing for Europe. Ev­ery ex­tra two min­utes’ de­lay at cus­toms, say the ex­perts, would mean an­other 15 km. of trucks backed up on the roads lead­ing to the cross-Chan­nel ter­mi­nals.

So, the driv­ers parked their trucks on the air­field, then drove down to the port in con­voy while the traf­fic­con­trol ex­perts mea­sured ... what? This wasn’t the 10,000-truck grid­lock jam­ming the roads that might hap­pen in late March. It was a sin­gle file of 89 trucks driv­ing along an un­crowded road. It looked like an ex­er­cise in pure fu­til­ity.

Yet it did have a po­lit­i­cal pur­pose. It was be­ing staged to per­suade the British pub­lic, and es­pe­cially the British par­lia­ment, that Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment re­ally will take the United King­dom out of the EU with­out any deal if par­lia­ment does not ac­cept her deal.

May’s deal is dis­liked al­most uni­ver­sally. The Re­main­ers hate it be­cause they don’t want to leave the EU at all, and the Brexit hard-lin­ers hate it be­cause it keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU.

The up­shot is May can­not get par­lia­ment to pass the exit deal she made with the EU, which would at least keep the trade flow­ing, and she can’t get the EU to amend the deal ei­ther. The op­po­si­tion to her deal in par­lia­ment is so strong she can­celled a sched­uled vote on it a month ago be­cause she was bound to lose it. She is now com­mit­ted to hold­ing the vote Jan. 15, but she still doesn’t have the votes. So, she is threat­en­ing to jump off a bridge, and take ev­ery­body else with her, if they don’t back her deal. It has be­come a game of chicken.

The cha­rade in Kent is part of a gov­ern­ment cam­paign to prove she re­ally means it. So are the pre­dic­tions that the chaos at the Chan­nel ports will be so bad Britain will have to char­ter planes to bring scarce medicines in, and that su­per­mar­ket shelves will be bare (Britain im­ports 30 per cent of its food from the EU). The prob­lem is no­body be­lieves her. May has ma­nip­u­lated par­lia­men­tary rules and sched­ules to make it ap­pear there are no le­gal al­ter­na­tives ex­cept her deal or a cat­a­strophic no-deal Brexit, but she just doesn’t con­vince as a sui­cide bomber. In­deed, there was a vote in par­lia­ment on Mon­day night that blocked the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to make tax changes con­nected with a no-deal Brexit with­out par­lia­ment’s “ex­plicit con­sent.”

That doesn’t ac­tu­ally mean it can­not hap­pen, un­for­tu­nately. Par­lia­ment can block her deal, but un­less it can agree on some other course of ac­tion Brexit hap­pens au­to­mat­i­cally on March 29, with­out a deal. And that re­ally would be nasty. So, what will re­ally hap­pen when par­lia­ment starts vot­ing next week? There al­most cer­tainly will be more than one vote, as the 650 mem­bers of the House of Com­mons, no longer con­strained by party loy­alty, swing this way and that. But there may not be a ma­jor­ity for any spe­cific course of ac­tion, in which case par­lia­ment prob­a­bly will end up vot­ing for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum.

May has sworn she won’t al­low that, be­cause it would be a be­trayal of the 52 per cent who voted to leave in the first ref­er­en­dum in June 2016. But in the end, she prob­a­bly will al­low it, be­cause she is not a sui­cide bomber.

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