“We can strike a deal as the Canadians have done based on trade and getting rid of tariffs. It’s a very, very bright future I see.” – Boris Johnson, June 2016
Chances of a no-deal Brexit are “a million to one against”. – Boris Johnson, July 2019
“We can get that deal through in days. It is oven-ready and every single Conservative MP elected at this election, all 365 of them, have pledged to vote for this deal immediately.” – Boris Johnson, December 2019
A no-deal Brexit is “a good outcome”. – Boris Johnson, September 6th 2020
In Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s classic morality tale about greed and corruption in New York market trading, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) pitches a new idea to the ruthless and amoral city trader Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Buy Bluestar Airlines – the company his father has worked for all his life – and expand the company, using savings achieved by union concessions and the overfunded pension. But where Bud sees an opportunity to grow the business, Gekko sees a chance to get even richer and decides to dissolve the company and sell off Bluestar’s assets in order to access cash in the company’s pension plan, leaving Bud’s father and the entire Bluestar staff unemployed.
Bud, wracked with guilt and anger at his complicity in the probable end of his father’s company and his subsequent heart attack, confronts Gekko in his office. “Why?”, he demands. “Why did you destroy it?”
Gekko stares at him evenly.
“Because it was destroyable”, he says.
Bud makes the same fatal misjudgement about Gekko that we’ve all made about the London Government: to assume that they would choose to act for the greater good. But this isn’t what disaster capitalists do, and it’s why when we talk about Boris Johnson and his government being incompetent we are missing the point. Indeed, a useful first step in finding a way out of this would be to to name it for what it is: not incompetence, for that implies some effort in trying to achieve a good outcome – but corruption. He sees his – their – job to deliver chaos, occupy the ruins and get richer. Seen through that prism, the UK Government is playing a blinder. There’s a reason why hedge funders vote for them en masse, and it isn’t to protect the NHS.
There are revealing parallels between the mishandling of the Covid pandemic and the deliberate chaos of Brexit. At the start of the crisis, the idea of herd immunity was floated, and had to be promptly rowed back from after public outrage – although the government’s behaviour since then has strongly suggested that the policy has never really been fully abandoned and that their instincts are always to put wealth before health. Likewise, it’s nearly three years since then Prime Minister Theresa May told Jeremy Paxman that she’d walk away from Brexit negotiations if she didn’t get what she wanted. “No deal is better than a bad deal” she said.
Yesterday we discovered that, far from being abandoned, no-deal wasn’t just the preferred option but the sole aim of the whole process.
Yesterday it emerged that Boris Johnson, having said only months ago that his “fantastic, oven-ready” deal was good to go, now considers no-deal a “good outcome”, and was in fact writing in clauses into the Internal Market that in the full knowledge that they undermine both the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocols agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. This matters enormously, because if you break international law you cannot be trusted by anyone and therefore no-deal becomes inevitable. Indeed, even if he doesn’t go through with it – and he probably will – the very fact that he is even considering it whilst fully aware of the consequences means, although there wasn’t much to start with, that the last vestiges of trust and credibility amongst the other countries of the world have vanished and we are now at a stage where the head of the EU Brexit steering committee is openly calling Britain a pariah state. The chances of getting a deal with anyone, America included, are now zero. He will probably consider this a good outcome. His friends in the city certainly will.
It is remarkable. Half of our cars, for example, and a third of Welsh lamb (and half of our fish) goes to the EU, and no-deal puts tariffs on all this, meaning that we will bear the type of cost burdens not faced by the countries we will now be competing against. It’s interesting that for six months now the UK government has been saying that they’ve been “following the experts” on Covid. And yet it’s impossible to find a single expert who will tell you that a no-deal Brexit is anything other than an unmitigated disaster to be avoided at any cost. You hear the occasional apologist for Johnson saying that Brexit hurts everyone in the EU, but six weeks from now Europe’s trade with one country is damaged. With no deal in place, the damage count runs to twenty-seven. And, remember, the furlough scheme runs out on October 31st, the same day as no-deal, and employers will have to decide if it’s worth keeping people in jobs as the economy tanks. If would be difficult to imagine anyone wanting to strike a deal with such a place, even before we factor in a government prepared to negotiate in bad faith and break international law in the process.
What does this mean for Scotland?
Recently, the Holyrood government announced plans for a new independence referendum Bill that will see us demand a new section 30 order that would lead us to a fresh plebiscite on self-governance. My concerns are two-fold. Firstly, the likelihood of being granted a new order given that Westminster knows it would lose. However, it’s interesting that in the last few weeks the unionist tactics have shifted from a flat out refusal to a discussion about the width of the voting mandate – which means that they’ve accepted that a vote is now inevitable.
But my second concern is this. We suspected six years ago – the politicisation of the Treasury, the Civil Service and the Head of State, vote No to stay in the EU, postal vote tampering – that Westminster was untrustworthy. Yesterday, the entire world learned the scale of their shameless duplicity, and I’m surely not the only one concerned about how honestly they would act when faced with the reality of a Yes vote. This is a political class that would gladly rip up the withdrawal act, the devolution settlement and the Good Friday Agreement. They wouldn’t think twice about gerrymandering the new referendum. They are not to be trusted.
Yesterday confirms that the most important thing the Holyrood government can do is chase all the Gordon Gekkos out of Scotland and remove us from this venal and corrupt union at the earliest opportunity possible. Scotland will not be destroyed.
Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.