Javid’s Dover-re­ac­tion


The New European - - Agenda - MICHAEL WHITE

Af­ter Theresa May’s lat­est near-death ex­pe­ri­ence at the hands of Tory MPS in mid-de­cem­ber there was some talk of a Brexit Christ­mas truce, like that staged by sol­diers in the mud of Flan­ders in

1914. But some small arms fire and the oc­ca­sional erup­tion of the big guns punc­tu­ated 2018’s fes­tive silent nights, along with those pesky drones at Gatwick and the – al­most as elu­sive – ar­mada of mi­grant boats off Dover.

It was pretty wild fir­ing in all di­rec­tions, I felt, plenty of it within the same trench, rather than across no-man’s land. And am I right to have sensed that trig­ger-happy Brexit MPS and pun­dits were keener than the rest of us to shoot down those Gatwick drones, real and imag­ined? Al­ways ea­ger for a no-non­sense so­lu­tion, eh, prefer­ably with bangs. They’ll soon be call­ing for the Tri­dent nu­clear fleet to pa­trol the Chan­nel against peo­ple smug­glers.

Would home sec­re­tary, Sa­jid Javid, oblige? In the present febrile cli­mate he just might. Af­ter all, the dem­a­gogue in Don­ald Trump de­ployed troops against his own ar­mada on the Mex­i­can bor­der – he called it an in­vad­ing car­a­van. The White House has closed a chunk of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in pur­suit of his fan­tasy wall against Latino mi­grants when the real de­mo­graphic tide now chang­ing the US has long come through air­ports from Asia, from In­dia as well as China and all points in be­tween.

Of all cab­i­net min­is­ters Javid, a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Asian mi­grant him­self, should be sen­si­tive to the wider re­al­i­ties. His longde­layed im­mi­gra­tion white pa­per, re­sisted by May, shows some un­der­stand­ing. Wellmean­ing lib­er­als who protest at what they see as harsh treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers and refugees might use­fully do the same. Many are eco­nomic mi­grants, not vic­tims of per­se­cu­tion or self-styled ‘chil­dren’. While Europe and North Amer­ica can ab­sorb some, its pub­lic ser­vices and so­cial co­he­sion can­not em­brace them all.

But Dover is too emo­tive, too tempt­ing for a vote-hun­gry politi­cian to re­sist.

Why? Be­cause in as much as there was any strate­gic co­her­ence to fes­tive po­lit­i­cal snip­ing much of it was less about the im­me­di­ate Brexit chal­lenge in the Com­mons than about wannabe Tory lead­er­ship con­tenders strik­ing pop­u­lar pos­tures in case our prime min­is­te­rial Hou­dini can’t es­cape again in 2019.

Cur­rently 37th out of 54 PMS in the Down­ing St longevity stakes May is clos­ing in on No.36, Spencer Perce­val, a fel­low Tory and – back in 1812 – the only Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to have been as­sas­si­nated. So far. MPS and pun­dits on all sides have been pre­dict­ing May’s im­mi­nent demise al­most since ‘Sub­ma­rine Theresa’ suc­ceeded David Cameron af­ter the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

I’ve al­ways bet on her sur­vival and am ob­vi­ously go­ing to be wrong one day. In or­der to see off the blus­ter­ing Mog­g­sters by 200 votes to 113 (Jake as un­gra­cious as ever in de­feat) May even con­ceded that she does not ex­pect to fight the next elec­tion. That’s the one due in 2022, not the one dither­ing Jeremy Cor­byn claims to want this year as an al­ter­na­tive (ie ex­cuse) for not back­ing the Peo­ple’s Vote. No less than 72% of his party mem­bers want a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum so that 88% can vote Re­main, ac­cord­ing to this week’s polling by Yougov and Pro­fes­sor Tim


May says she doesn’t want one ei­ther. It’s an odd, very un-bri­tish dead­lock, of a kind more fa­mil­iar to Wash­ing­ton. Be­fore the coali­tion passed its ex­pe­di­ent Fixed-term Par­lia­ments Act in 2011 a gov­ern­ment that wanted a bill passed ei­ther made it a vote of con­fi­dence – to bring the Moggs and Soubrys into line – or it fell. Then some­one else had a go or there was an elec­tion and a fresh man­date of some kind from the vot­ers. No longer. We have a zom­bie gov­ern­ment and some­thing of a zom­bie op­po­si­tion too.

If in a few days time May gets her

Brexit deal through par­lia­ment’s “mean­ing­ful vote” – still a big if I re­alise – she may sur­prise us all by step­ping aside (“job done”) af­ter March 29. Un­til that hap­pens – and I doubt that it will – I see no rea­son to re­vise my opin­ion that the Mays will still be sign­ing Down­ing St Christ­mas cards next De­cem­ber if she so wishes. In fact, she is quite safe un­til enough Tories can unite around a can­di­date who can tie his or her shoe laces to­gether with­out help.

As should also be ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one – but isn’t, de­spite per­sis­tent polling ev­i­dence that puts the sham­bolic Tories ahead of Labour – her po­si­tion is fur­ther but­tressed by Cor­byn’s craven tac­tics. The lead­er­ship ca­bal’s cyn­i­cal am­bi­gu­ity on Brexit de­fies the very mass mem­ber­ship it pur­ports to re­vere, as well as the ba­sic rule of lead­er­ship, which is to lead. Yougov’s new polling sug­gests that star­ryeyed sup­port for their leader’s fence­sit­ting is shrink­ing. Some union lead­ers are de­mand­ing a spe­cial party con­fer­ence to force the is­sue. They won’t get one. It is the great­est ab­di­ca­tion since Ed­ward VIII gave up his throne for love. In Jez’s ver­sion Mrs Wal­lis Simp­son is played by Unite’s Len Mccluskey.

May might well not have sur­vived

2018 against an op­po­si­tion led by a par­lia­men­tary tac­ti­cian as sharp and pro-ac­tive as Harold Wil­son, a prin­ci­pled John Smith or even crafty Team Blair, who would have bet­ter mar­shalled those DUP and SNP votes and kept the unions in their box. I in­creas­ingly sus­pect that Labour will have a new leader by 2022, if it can find one, though I haven’t a clue yet who he or she will be. It won’t be

Laura Pid­cock (31), the lat­est North­ern left-wing woman to be tipped for the job af­ter de­fend­ing Jez’s “stupid woman” jibe. Stupid per­son. But are there any Tory wannabes in sight who can tie up their laces on live tele­vi­sion? Boris John­son, who has been fairly quiet over Christ­mas (pig­ging out some­where nice, I ex­pect) is again top­ping the pops for Tory ac­tivists, ac­cord­ing to the Con­home web­site.

This is de­spite – or pos­si­bly be­cause – the Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine, the printed em­bod­i­ment of global elitism, voted him its Id­iot of the Year, an ir­re­spon­si­ble dem­a­gogue, not a states­man. Let’s not waste time on the plot­ter, he’s toast.

Am­ber Rudd de­serves brownie points for bravely back­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, de­spite No.10 mak­ing it cat­e­gor­i­cally clear that the boss won’t have one, a pledge which I judge less than solid if Hou­dini needs wrig­gle room. But Rudd is badly placed, po­lit­i­cally, as a mod­er­ate in im­mod­er­ate times, as well as sit­ting on a ma­jor­ity thin­ner than Ja­cob Rees-mogg in the front­line in­va­sion hotspot of Hast­ings.

An­drea Lead­som says “look at me” while play­ing the May Deal loy­al­ist, at least for now. As de­fence sec­re­tary, Gavin ‘Pri­vate Pike’ Wil­liamson waves his wooden ri­fle in silly ways which must make the MOD brass squirm. He’s not go­ing any­where ei­ther. Which leaves us with Jeremy Hunt, a man who once said that the health port­fo­lio would be his last job in pol­i­tics, and with Javid, who said no such thing.

Both are ex-re­main­ers of the Jeremy Cor­byn School (ie. you wouldn’t no­tice) who have trimmed their sails like week­end yachts­men caught in a squall. Hunt turned out to be a per­fectly safe­and-sen­si­ble health sec­re­tary who usu­ally sounds solidly dull as for­eign sec­re­tary, ex­cept when he has rushes of blood to the head. That speech where he likened EU mem­ber­ship to a So­viet prison caused le­git­i­mate of­fence to EU cit­i­zens for whom it is not a fig­ure of speech.

Last week he in­voked the Sin­ga­pore model for Brexit Bri­tain, which sug­gests he doesn’t know much about that high­lyreg­u­lated, su­per-sized Isle of Wight ei­ther – or got car­ried away by Hol­ly­wood’s

Crazy Rich Asians com­edy. He’s been bon­ing up in the glit­ter­ing city-state this week. Clue: it didn’t get rich by cut­ting off its neigh­bours’ mar­kets. Sen­si­bly, Hunt’s been talk­ing about Sin­ga­pore’s longterm eco­nomic plan­ning (sic) and bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, both pol­icy op­tions avail­able within the EU.

Hunt is mar­ried to a Chi­nese woman (ex­cept when he says she’s Ja­panese) and Javid is fa­mously one of five high­achiev­ing sons of a first gen­er­a­tion mi­grant from Pak­istan to Bris­tol’s bus de­pot, via Rochdale. Both are now cred­ited with say­ing pri­vately that May’s orig­i­nal mantra – “no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal” – re­mains true and that, while they want a deal, it would be wise to step up prepa­ra­tions for a hard land­ing. That is why it’s now hap­pen­ing at an in­creased tempo on mul­ti­ple fronts, ferry hir­ings, NHS fridges for per­ish­able drugs and the rest.

In the past few days Javid has gone fur­ther in play­ing to the gallery which mat­ters, age­ing Tory ac­tivists who will even­tu­ally chose be­tween two MPshort­listed can­di­dates. I felt a twinge of sym­pa­thy for the home sec­re­tary when he was “forced” to cut short a fam­ily hol­i­day in South Africa’s Kruger Na­tional Park and fly home to deal with the sup­posed mi­grant cri­sis in the Chan­nel. By the time the tabloids had en­vi­ously de­scribed the £840-a-night lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion (it’s al­ways “lux­ury” in tabloid land) on which the ex-banker had splashed out it was even two twinges.

But only brief ones. As long as he has a mo­bile phone sig­nal Javid didn’t have to come home for a bo­gus cri­sis. Peo­ple smug­glers with small boats bring­ing barely 300 asy­lum seek­ers into Bri­tain by sea dur­ing 2018 is scarcely an in­va­sion by Greek or Ital­ian stan­dards, even if num­bers are ris­ing and an­other 200 were picked up by the French. But no, Javid felt the need to be seen to ‘do some­thing’ so he changed his mind un­der pres­sure to re­pel the Dover hordes and re­called two Bor­der Force cut­ters from duty in the Med – where they are needed.

There will be more of this kind of daft photo-op­por­tu­nity as Brexit Day ap­proaches, even more if the Ar­ti­cle 50 timetable is de­layed be­yond March

29 to al­low 13th-hour talks to suc­ceed

(or fail), as some still pre­dict. Pop­ulism is more about show than sub­stance, as Don­ald Trump proves ev­ery day. Af­ter all, min­is­ters are un­der pres­sure to act tough at Bri­tain’s clos­est EU sea bor­der by the very wing of their party which in­sists it can eas­ily main­tain an open EU land bor­der in Ire­land. In pur­suit of their bru­tal but lu­cra­tive trade, peo­ple smug­glers are highly adapt­able, so Belfast’s Cen­tral Sta­tion may soon be greet­ing Afghans and Africans claim­ing to be Ir­ish.

May’s New Year mes­sage was pitched at vot­ers and MPS who are des­per­ate to “turn a cor­ner”, put the di­vi­sive years be­hind us, move for­ward to­gether, start a new chap­ter etc., by back­ing her With­drawal Agree­ment and get­ting back to press­ing do­mes­tic re­forms. It’s wish­ful think­ing, of course. Ne­go­ti­a­tions on the

We have a zom­bie gov­ern­ment and some­thing of a zom­bie op­po­si­tion too.

fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship dur­ing the two(?) year tran­si­tion to De­cem­ber 2020 will be ex­haust­ing and fraught with peril. That’s why both hard Brex­i­teers and hard Re­main­ers say it’s best not to risk it when vote-less Bri­tain will be at the EU 27’s mercy.

Even those Tories who ad­mire May’s stub­born te­nac­ity think she’s got her fingers in her ears and her eyes tightly shut. Ei­ther that or she’s gone mad.

But their own ri­val route maps – from no Brexit to hard Brexit via Canada or Nor­way – cur­rently look no more prac­ti­cal or plau­si­ble. Nor do their tac­ti­cal par­lia­men­tary plans. May to of­fer Labour mod­er­ates a vote on a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum in re­turn for their sup­port against the no-con­fi­dence mo­tion that Cor­byn may even­tu­ally ta­ble? Oh, come off it. Such a sce­nario would not guar­an­tee any par­tic­u­lar Brexit out­come. More likely it would guar­an­tee party splits and fur­ther in­sta­bil­ity, not the pipe dream of a re­formist cen­tre party or a Bri­tish Macron (ironic laugh­ter).

That is Sub­ma­rine Theresa’s resid­ual strength: “My deal or what?” To my sur­prise, Liam ‘Air Miles’ Fox, the in­ter­na­tional trade sec­re­tary in wait­ing, is the sole sur­vivor of the Three Brex­i­teers – John­son, Davis and Fox – whom May ap­pointed in 2016. More­over he is sur­viv­ing as an ac­tive sup­porter of May’s messy com­pro­mise too. So, it would ap­pear, is Michael Gove, the cab­i­net’s peren­nial ras­cal-to-watch. Just as busi­ness and the City are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about a hard Brexit, so Fox and friends are talk­ing up the risks of no Brexit at all.

So far as we know, the phone calls May made over Christ­mas did not pro­duce fes­tive tweaks, let alone con­ces­sions, from EU lead­ers, col­lec­tively or in­di­vid­u­ally. Quite the op­po­site from the Band of

Hope’s Jean Claude Juncker, who can’t help him­self. Quite where he gets his cock­i­ness as we en­ter 2019 I can’t imag­ine.

Pres­i­dent Macron’s hu­mil­i­at­ing re­treat in the face of the gilets jaunes pro­test­ers pushes the French bud­get deficit into the dan­ger zone. The Cor­byn-mogg coali­tion in Italy’s bud­get bat­tle with Brus­sels is un­re­solved. In her own New Year mes­sage, chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel de­fended the rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der against Trump­ismo, but Ger­mans adopted a new Wag­ne­r­ian word dur­ing 2018 – Merkel­dammerung or ‘the twi­light of Merkel’. The CDU pick­ing her back­room pro­tégée as Merkel’s suc­ces­sor does not auger well for sta­bil­ity. In their dif­fer­ent preda­tory ways pres­i­dents Trump, Putin and Xi ac­tively seek to un­der­mine EU co­he­sion and strength. What’s not to fear?

So I don’t as­sume the EU will not lift a fin­ger to res­cue May’s deal from the hard Brexit de­fault po­si­tion, un­less it be­comes a great deal more con­fi­dent than it should be on the slen­der ev­i­dence that Bri­tish vot­ers have edged more than ten­ta­tively to­wards Re­main. That a de­ci­sive shift would re­quire a ma­jor cri­sis – for Bri­tain or the wider world – re­mains my po­si­tion. Do not rule one out. The fi­nan­cial mar­kets had a ter­ri­ble year and good rea­son to fear the new one. UK re­tail­ers had a bad Christ­mas, jobs are plen­ti­ful, al­beit not enough good ones, in­vestor con­fi­dence is weak. The world’s trou­ble spots are like the world’s vol­ca­noes, rest­less, and Trump’s Amer­ica has be­come a source of in­sta­bil­ity.

Per­haps May is bank­ing on such a cri­sis to res­cue her af­ter an ini­tial ‘mean­ing­ful’ de­feat in two weeks’ time – a run on ster­ling might do the job. Yet the hard Brexit crew are pil­ing more chips on the ta­ble. Yes, there would be dis­rup­tion, but not for long. A ‘man­aged’ hard Brexit could com­bine WTO trade terms with side deals that keep the lights on and the planes fly­ing, some of them, they say. The econ­omy would take a hit, but not one that could not be re­couped by a Bri­tain that was free at last.

Even ex-mp Paul Good­man, nor­mally level-headed edi­tor of the Con­home web­site, talks of the choice be­tween “lap­dog and bull­dog”, though he has not yet called for sur­face-to-air mis­siles to tackle those Gatwick drones. But peo­ple who deal with the small print of prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties – not airy-fairy gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, Boris – dis­miss such talk as no-deal uni­corns. Dis­rup­tion to the sup­ply side of the econ­omy – mak­ing and sell­ing stuff – would be rapid and dra­matic. Con­sumers would quickly suf­fer short­ages and higher prices. The Trea­sury and Bank of Eng­land would have to ease mon­e­tary and fis­cal pol­icy – all risky and ex­pen­sive stuff. The EU27 would call most of the shots.

Did any­one men­tion data? The UK may now be only 3% of the global econ­omy, but it han­dles 12% of global data flows. It would do so with­out the EU’S ro­bust data pro­tec­tion regime. Fix­ing that would take time. Its not as ex­cit­ing as lorry queues at Dover and peo­ple smug­glers in stolen fish­ing boats off Calais. But even Ja­cob Rees-mogg de­pends on it and my hunch is he’s not a techie.

Happy New Year.

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