Those who have read “1984” will remember that “Doublespeak” was the official language of Airbase 1. Doublespeak meant saying the opposite of what one actually meant. Like a number of George Orwell’s dystopic visions, Doublespeak has become reality, both during the Brexit campaign and in its fall-out.
Five weeks on from the Brexit referendum, not a lot has happened outwardly . Ms. May has met with a number of Heads of EU States in an attempt to downsize the future role of the European Commission in negotiations. Her message has been very clear: the UK expects to be able to continue to be a good European partner having thrown out at least one of the Four Freedoms, with Immigration in the hot seat. (Doublespeak, item #1).
This position is likely to receive short shrift. The Commission has appointed M. Michel Barnier as its chief negotiator. “The Independent” describes M. Barnier as a tough negotiator, a”purist on the principles of the single market” and a person who has previously rejected the UK “pick and mix” approach to financial services. He formally begins his job on 1 October but says that nothing serious can happen until the UK triggers Article 50, thus formally announcing its intention to leave the EU.
Activation of Article 50 is not expected before the beginning of 2017 at the earliest. M. Juncker has acknowledged that the UK may need several months to prepare its negotiating position. If Ms. May should decide to indefinitely postpone activating Article 50, the Brexit result could become subject to a General Election . Under current rules the next GE will be in 2020 – a long time in politics and an eternity for markets wanting clarity. There have been speculations about a snap GE in 2016 but as things stand it is unlikely that either side could muster the necessary 2/3 majority (434 seats out of 650) in the House of Commons to activate this. This situtation might change if Corbyn survives the September vote as Leader of the Opposition: a Labour Party in continuing turmoil might be unable to mount an effective election campaign.
The other main topic of debate this week was how a dismembered UK might finally look. Ms. May doesn’t want a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and with good reason – it has been tried and the multitude of problems that this created are well-documented. She hasn’t mentioned the possibility for a hard border between an independant Scotland and England, because in her public utterances an independent Scotland will not exist – “Scotland has had its vote for Independence” (Doublespeak, item #2). The media have not been so reticent. The cartoon shows a Celtic alliance of UK countries that might opt to remain in the EU and what this would mean for the Scottish-English border (readers should note that the Republic of Ireland is and will remain an EU member although not shown as such in the cartoon). On current statistics a Scotland – England border would have to deal with at least 2/3 of Scottish good and services being exported to rUK and presumably an even greater inflow of rUK imports (I haven’t been able to find any statistic for this). While a hard border between Scotland and England would present formidable technical difficulties and costs, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the potential to re-open the festering secterian difficulties of the late 20th century – something that probably nobody wants but that would not neccessarily prevent it from becoming a political reality.
Time passes and Brexit becomes an ever-bigger can of worms.