Now that both halves of the Brexit Deal (Withdrawal Agreement and Trade Deal) have been written the UK is finally in a position to spend some months having a discourse about their merits before having a referendum on whether to go with it or go with the status quo. Alas the broken democratic setup won’t allow that as there was a referendum over 4 years ago without the basics needed for discussion. One lesson that needs to be learnt, but I haven’t seen anyone propose, is to require referendums to have pre-written legislation or international agreement text on what is being implemented.
This on top of the occasionally discussed fixes needed to democracy around transparency of campaigning funds, proper fines when they steal data, banning or limiting online advertising, transparency around advertising and proper fines for campaigns that over-spend.
The new GB <-> UK setup will of course remove freedoms and add vast amounts of new bureaucracy. It might get three of the UK’s countries out of the properly run court of the ECJ but for what end? To be replaced with endless committees discussing the exact same points and the threat of tariffs when standards diverge. Making predictions in this game is daft but I’m pretty sure the UK will push the boundaries on when labour or environmental standards it can reduce soon, probably starting with the working time directive. What export tariffs or quotas will be introduced once that is changed?
The trade deal is incomplete of course and there will be endless future negotiations about services and data transfer and the like. This is only the start of the Brexit process and politicians who claim this is the end are, as we have become used, talking lies. The worries of no-deal Brexit have lessened but the new customs checks going out of GB and the ones to come in future months coming into GB will cause some shortages, prices to rise, businesses to struggle, service companies and the jobs they hold to move abroad. The rise in business related fraud will be a hidden but very real cost.
Johnson deliberately ran down the clock to wait until the final days before making the trade deal. It’s a disgusting tactic which removes the very small democratic oversight that could be expected (the UK parliament having long since had the power removed to approve or deny any such deal). Again I’ve not read anyone pointing out this deliberate tactic which caused much stress on businesses and individuals by playing up the chances of a cliff edge Brexit but it must have been the plan all along. It means he’ll get applauded in the right wing press for limiting democracy, and nobody will be any the wiser.
There is a new bureaucratic border from Scotland and Wales to Northern Ireland with lorry parks and checks for goods. What I haven’t seen any coverage of is increased checks for people crossing. The police have always had the power to check IDs when people crossed into or out of Northern Ireland but that’s not much used since the violence subsided. Now that free movement remains in Ireland but is removed from Great Britain (making Northern Ireland a bit of a no-mans land I suppose) those checks must surely be upgraded to stop foreigners coming over here doing whatever it is the racists moaned about. This will be a new front of low level human rights abuses that will need to be watched, I wonder if anyone is doing so.
With the new setup comes new political campaigning. The election next May will again vote in a Scottish government on a pledge to hold an independence referendum but of course it’ll be blocked by Johnson and delegitimised by the unionists. The Scottish cringe (“too small, too poor”) was a strong factor in the 2014 referendum to make people vote No and it’ll come into play in a new force this time. Firstly with whether any referendum is legitimate. The Catalan referendum of 2014 was accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign by the Spanish Tories (the PP) with huge adverts saying it was illegal and therefor illegitimate. The same thing will happen here. Unlike in Spain there’s a small chance the legal route will be open, UK parliament says there is a Claim of Right for Scots to choose their own form of government so there must be some legal method for that to express itself. I doubt the Court of Session and certainly not the UK Supreme Court will magically give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a decisive referendum, but maybe thay’ll allow a not-quite-decisive one (which will be deligitimised all it can be by unionists) or maybe they’ll require the UK parliament to hold one (which will be rigged if it ever happens). But there’s every chance the courts will agree that we’ve had our referendum and we need to eat our cereal. In which case it’s hard to see what to do, many Scots won’t accept the Catalan method of just holding one with out agreement and there is a strong need to carry the popular will when holding a referendum. And while I’m a supporter of the Catalan method, one has to admit that it hasn’t worked, there’s been no international support for their self determination right as unfair and illogical as that is.
There will be new concerns in the new referendum. The new border from Scotland to Northern Ireland (and everywhere else that has flight connections to the EU) is made concrete. We can reasonably assume the new bureaucracy there will be moved Scotland to England after independence. Massive new lorry parks and customs checks might be needed. Freedom of movement will remain with the common travel area but might the English want to impose ID checks like you get going between Scotland and Northern Ireland? While I care about my freedoms Europe wide there border from Scotland to England holds a stronger emotional impact for all. When I first wrote to a newspaper to say the border should be closed for Covid controls that was then taken up by the Scottish Governement and many people protested. It’s now law and even the Tories support it on health grounds (except Mundell) but it will be heart breaking to see it happen for customs as well and it’ll be a strong issue in the debate to come.
Happy new year.