“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason,” wrote the Elizabethan poet Sir John Harington. The news that Tony Blair has been helping Emanuel Macron thwart Britain’s attempts to escape the clutches of the EU fits Harington’s epigram as never before. For if indeed Britain becomes trapped in the EU, the forces of political correctness, already far too strong, will make sure that the history of the attempt to leave is comprehensively rewritten.
As I write, the exceptionally confusing Article 50 process, by which Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, is still unresolved. I have to say, one does have some sympathy for people attempting to run British-based multinationals that do a lot of business with the EU. They are faced with total existential uncertainty, with less than a week to go before the exit due date – and the possibility of this uncertainty continuing indefinitely into the future.
With less than a week to go, there seem to be three possible outcomes, all of which could quickly become reality, and like all suddenly evolving realities, consign the other two possibilities to deep shadow, in which afterwards we wonder how they were ever thought plausible. One possibility is that, before Friday, the House of Commons will vote for Theresa May’s deal. If that happens, her deal is likely to go into effect over the next two months, no doubt with some further uncertainties and difficult House of Commons votes. The EU has extended Brexit to May 22 if this vote takes place this week and is won by May.
A second alternative is that her preferred outcome will fail in its Commons vote (or be prevented from coming to a vote by the Speaker-clown John Bercow) and that the EU in a fit of pique will then prevent May from having any extension. In that case, Britain will enter a “no deal Brexit” on April 12, two weeks later than we had hoped, and a “clean break” will have been achieved. The House of Commons voted against this outcome, but only by 4 votes, whereas it voted against May’s deal twice, the second time by some 150 votes. To Brexiteers, Theresa May will then be something of a heroine; like Inspector Clouseau, she will have “solved the case” while making an incredible and in retrospect funny series of bungles and pratfalls along the way. Indeed, she will have changed Britain’s history; nobody will be able to take that away from her.
The third, and I fear still most likely outcome is that a combination of fudges, extensions, re-runnings of the 2016 referendum and new elections will be used to prevent Britain leaving the EU at all. (The “Norway option” so beloved by the Labour party and other “independents” is not available from the EU and anyway closely resembles May’s deal, although booby-traps have been added to that.) This process may take another year or even two to roll out in full, by which time the outcome of the 2016 referendum will be dismissed as “ancient history.” This sad final outcome is also a possible result of the “May deal,” as the two years of further argy-bargy under that deal could in principle be used to undermine it.
The more interesting question, depending on which of these three routes is chosen, is what happens thereafter.
If May’s deal passes, the most important need will be to keep the British governing class focused on its second stage, negotiating an acceptable trade deal with the EU that will enable Britain to exit altogether by December 2020. Since this deal will only come into effect if most Brexiters have voted for it in the Commons, the resignations from May’s Cabinet over it may be regarded as invalid. Indeed, May herself must be highly replaceable as Prime Minister in this case; the Brexiters who will have voted her deal through will not have done so in order to preserve her leadership. She could be replaced by Angela Leadsom, who does a rather better imitation of Margaret Thatcher, which is what will be needed.
Strong Brexiters such as David Davis, Steve Baker and above all Jacob Rees Mogg must be included in the government, to ensure it pushes hard for Britain’s interests and does not get trapped against the 2020 deadline, with the dreaded Irish “backstop” then available to prevent Britain from exiting from the EU at all. The next 21 months will be a period of yet more continued Brexit arguments and debate, only to end at best in the position Britain should have entered this week if May had negotiated competently. Probably a general election will also be necessary, to weed out the “Remainers” within the Conservative party, imposed on Brexiter constituencies by the mice at Central Office – there must be no more Anna Soubrys.
In this case, Britain will have only one card to play, as I remarked a few months ago, that of Northern Ireland’s demographics. The province is probably a lost cause to the United Kingdom a decade from now; Brexit may only be salvageable by pushing it into the arms of Leo Varadkar a decade early. That will be a pity, but to get a proper Brexit, it will be worth it.
If, in the best-case scenario, Britain exits the EU fully on March 29 or April 12 there will be no need to get rid of May. She will have achieved the objective she claimed to set out to achieve, even if she will have done so by roundabout means, including losing a General Election and three major votes in the House of Commons. This is not quite the best of all possible worlds — that would have been one where the EU behaved like civilized people and negotiated a Canada plus plus trade deal with its closest and friendliest neighbor, which had come to its aid in two world wars. However, in this case Brexiters would do well to recognize the difficulties facing May and be grateful for her unexpected success. Brexiters, notably Jacob Rees Mogg, should be included in the Cabinet, but in moderate numbers, in order to avoid as far as possible alienating those who had wished to remain in the EU.
The most important task facing the Cabinet in this case would be negotiating trade agreements as quickly as possible and as favorable as possible with as many as possible of Britain’s major trading partners. Here a “horses for courses” approach should be used. On no account should May be set to negotiate a trade deal with President Trump; instead Nigel Farage should be co-opted as “Special Trade Negotiator with the United States” and told to go make himself useful for once. Jacob Rees Mogg could be sent similarly to negotiate with India, where his impression of Lord Curzon should bring out the best and most helpful in his Indian counterparts.
On the other hand, provided they could be relied upon not to betray British interests (so, not Anna Soubry) Remainer negotiators could be sent to negotiate the necessary trade deal with the EU and its constituent countries. Over 4-hour lunches, they could be relied upon to argue out the arcane details of the necessary EU chip butty quotas to protect this vital British export industry. The EU would negotiate more fairly than in the past two years, because it would no longer have the Irish blackmail card to play and would itself need access to British markets for BMW and camembert cheese.
It is under the Remain option that Harington’s words will become all too applicable. Under this option, Britain will have failed to leave the EU despite a clear referendum, a government committed to leaving the EU and nearly 3 years of effort. At that point, the Remainers will seize control, in alliance with the EU bureaucracy, for whom free speech is an unpleasant Anglo-American aberration. Then indeed the treason of those who betrayed Britain’s interests will not be named, since to do so would compromise the European ideal.
There will be no more referenda, ever, except nominal ones whose results are fully determined in advance. Elections will be re-organized on a suitable basis of proportional representation, which will lead to the same three center-left pro-EU parties forming all governments. Google, Facebook and the like will cooperate happily with the EU and Remainer masters of Britain to ensure that “unhelpful” speech is either suppressed or where necessary prosecuted.
Since all resources will be allocated according to the directives of the EU nomenklatura, the British economy will decline, as will the economies of other EU members – Gosplan did not work too well the first time around. Interest rates will be held forever at zero, draining the British people’s savings, while housing outside the enclaves of the very wealthy and the EU overlords will be allocated by a central committee on the basis of need and EU-enthusiasm.
Tony Blair, Edward Heath and John Major will be celebrated as the modern makers of European Britain, while Margaret Thatcher will be written out of the history books. So, too will David Cameron, which will be hard on that inoffensive gentlemen, who never intended to upset his European masters, but it will be essential to eliminate the memory of Britain’s two years of apparent approach to freedom.
Under the direction of Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna, Britain will gladly participate in the European Defense Force, a smallish and inoffensive body with a full complement of hairdressers. It will also participate in the gigantic EU foreign aid budget by which the EU will drain the resources of its taxpayers to build its influence in “emerging markets” – or rather, with their ultra-wealthy dictators. Naturally, wealthy Westernized countries such as the United States, Japan and India will be held at arms’ length, if their governments do not accord with European values.
The Queen, who will show signs of aged resistance to the new world, will be forced to retire gracefully and will be succeeded by King Charles III, who will be fully in accord with it, especially its gigantic and powerful environmental regulatory force. With the Duke and Duchess of Sussex taking over as co-heirs to the Throne, there will be no danger of further resistance to the new order from the Royal Family.
Treason will have Prospered. We have very little time to stop it.
(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)