5 February 2016

Brexit machinations: where are we now?

The lie of the political landscape on the UK’s Europe referendum has become a little clearer now.

Whilst PM David Cameron will lead the “Remain” campaign, along with most of his cabinet, the “Leave” campaign is in disarray, with most of their leaders fighting like ferrets in a sack. New “Leave” organisations are multiplying ineffectually, learning nothing from the disarray of Scotland’s “Better Together ” campaign. Frankly Liam Fox’s Scottishness (I happen to be Scottish so I can say this) now does his standing no favours, given the level of English antipathy towards the current Scottish approach to government, nor the fact that whenever he speaks, one is reminded of why he was sacked. Nigel Farage MEP in Brussels simply sounds like his old stand-up routine routinely pitched against Europhiles. It is notable that the corridors of the Commons are seeing an array of disparate logos sported on ties as the differing factions seek a coherent identity. They look increasingly leaderless.

Politically speaking, the “Leave” campaign suffered a major blow when Home Secretary, Theresa May indicated that she would be supporting the PM. He had secured a degree of provisional EU agreement to immigration and security that was close to her own heart. The various “Leave” campaigns are fronted by lacklustre figures such as Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Grayling et al, leaving them all non-starters. This leaves the nation eagerly awaiting to see how Boris Johnson MP, the outgoing Mayor of London, will jump. He is weighing up what big cabinet post he can extort from the PM and I favour his appointment to the Department of Work and Pensions where, as a classicist he might struggle. Clearly his calculations also include positioning himself as closely to the Conservative leadership race should the result be close or least Cameron loses or resigns.

Cameron will doubtless improve on the Tusk letter after his Council of Europe meetings on the 18th-19th February. Yet it is worth noting what was not mentioned in the correspondence from Tusk; Cameron neither asked for, nor did Tusk offer, anything on liberalising labour market reforms which would have alarmed any Labour member or trade unionist. Most of the letter will also welcome anything that restores a contributor y element to benefits although in truth the Cameron/Tusk proposals do not amount to much.

This ensures a most welcome outcome for Cameron. Instead of plunging the knife into a manifestly divided Tory party, some 211 out of Labour’s 231 MPs, including their erstwhile Bennite leader Jeremy Corbyn, will vote “Remain”. The very capable Alan Johnson is in charge of their campaign and he has cleverly positioned his stance to be around Cameron’s skills as a negotiator. This means that he can avoid aligning himself with the deadpan “Remain” leadership of Stewart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer. It remains a sore point that the “Remain” camp were not able to elicit the support of the more worldly figure of Martin Sorrell of WPP.

So Cameron will have a testy time in the Commons facing charges that his deal amounts to “thin gruel” or even stronger terms, raining down from his own backbenches. He can do so in the knowledge that he only has to square Boris Johnson, whilst most of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties will back him. Game on…

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