In Brexit chicken game, may likely to get plucked

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don, Eng­land. GWYNNE DYER

There’s no need to prac­tise 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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