As 2021 draws to a close, the black pantomime in Downing Street under Boris Johnson is reaching ridiculous levels. The daily Christmas revelations are interspersed with news of looking for someone to lead the investigation who did not actually attend one of the illegal gatherings themselves. And finally, Johnson’s close ally, Lord Frost, playing the villain, comes out of the stage accompanied by the sound of hissing and booing from Brussels.
Johnson is now done
The Prime Minister is by mutual agreement terminated; only the moment of his departure remains to be determined. This piece by Financial Time contributing editor Phillip Stevens is a terrific read and explains how Johnson is unsuited to be prime minister and why his post as prime minister was always meant to be short lived.
“Johnson has always been unfit for high political office, as incompetent as he is dishonest. Beyond Brexit – a self-harm exercise meant to make the UK both poorer, less secure in its own union of nations and weaker abroad – he has nothing to say.
Phillip Stevens, Substack, December 19, 2021
However, if the Conservative Party believes its expulsion will solve all the problems, a salutary lesson awaits it.
Often described as the most successful political party in the world, the Conservatives’ latest fate of four trotting electoral victories was achieved by absorbing UKIP, a far-right nationalist party, and then choosing an amoral populist as their leader in order to ‘isolate Britain from the EU, a policy to which they remain deeply committed.
There is no sign that party members recognize that Brexit (which, when Johnson left, will have caused the untimely demise of the last three Tory leaders and will likely lead to the regicide of the next one), is at the root of the problem. This is a policy which is already causing irreparable economic damage and will almost certainly lead to the destruction of the UK.
Getting rid of Johnson won’t change that no matter who follows and, purged of moderate votes, the party is bound to remain dependent on the ERG.
The North Shropshire By-Election
The Tories have taken a real bombardment in North Shropshire from the Lib Dems, but that can hardly come as a surprise. Voters’ distaste has grown since Johnson stepped in to try to save corrupt former MP Owen Paterson on November 3.
Political commentators are now competing in an attempt to explain the result. They are spoiled for choice.
The PM provided many reasons for former Tory voters to justify staying home or changing allegiance. Whether it is his eternally disheveled appearance, his vaulting hypocrisy, his lack of morals, or the general air of ineptitude, corruption and incompetence that hangs over his administration like a black cloud, there is had something for everyone.
But Johnson’s personal failures, as egregious as they are, don’t tell the whole story.
Lessons for the Conservative Party
What was noticeable in Shropshire was how little gratitude there was for a Prime Minister credited with ‘making Brexit’ in a constituency which voted to leave the EU by almost 60%. His often used jail-free release card has now expired.
During the campaign, Guido Fawkes’ website, run by right-wing blogger Paul Staines, revealed that LibDem candidate Helen Morgan was “an enthusiastic Remain activist since 2016,” but it made no difference and she knocked down Paterson’s 23,000 majority to comfortably win.
BBC published a report on the rural constituency on the border with Wales. The complaints mainly concerned local issues, the closure of police stations and medical offices, or the lack of bus and ambulance services. All linked to cuts in government funding.
In 2016, Paterson told farmers in the largely agricultural zone that Brexit would bring them more money. Instead, they have a “horribly complicated green policy that will likely deliver [half] the financial support they were getting previously, the trade agreements they believe they are selling them downstream and above all the Prime Minister’s contemptuous indifference to their anger and despair at the slaughter of pigs “, according to Shane Brennan of the Federation of the Cold Chain.
Brexiters seem to think that the completion of Brexit has freed the Prime Minister from any further obligations to voters in perpetuity. For men like Bill Cash, Steve Baker, Andrew Bridgen, et al, with a visceral hatred of Brussels and the European Commission, it was enough to go out. It was not the means of an end, but the end itself.
However, voters in Wem and Whitchurch and elsewhere in the counties are not ideologues and will not be so easily satisfied. They now want to see real change and it will not be easy – in large part because of the decision to leave the single market and the customs union.
The cost of Brexit
The Center of European Reform (CER), a pro-EU think tank based in London but with offices in Brussels and Berlin, worked on a ‘Cost of Brexit ‘ model, calculating trade loss by comparing UK trade performance with a ‘doppelgänger’ – a check based on a subset of countries selected from 22 advanced economies by an algorithm – representing what UK trade would have been without Brexit.
The method is credible and CER was recently invited by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) to update the OBR’s “economic and fiscal outlook” template for October.
CER says UK merchandise trade has been reduced by 11-16% following exit from the single market and customs union in January 2021, in line with the UK government’s estimate that the Brexit will cut GDP by 4-5% (around £ 100 billion at current prices) by 2030. This comes before the UK has put in place comprehensive border controls on imports from EU, from January 1, 2022.
Keep in mind that before the pandemic, the Bank of England, the CER and the Financial Time estimated the UK economy was already 1-3% smaller due to the depreciation of the pound sterling and the losses in consumption and investment caused by Brexit.
So, says the CER:
“Brexit will make ‘leveling up’ even more difficult. And in general, governments all over the world would jump on any policy that raise GDP of 5 percent.
The Conservative Party is ideologically committed to the opposite. How is this going to help solve the problems in Shropshire?
The evidence against Brexit is growing
The referendum campaign was waged (on both sides) using misinformation, exaggeration and emotion, predictions, forecasts and “visions” of an imagined future. There were few facts and the experts were summarily dismissed.
But now there is no more need for crystal balls. Indisputable evidence of the negative impact Brexit is already having on UK businesses and the economy is daily assembly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Labor shortages resulting from the end of freedom of movement drive up wages and drive up costs. Inflation is well above the 2% target.
Bank of England month of November monetary policy report said that “CPI inflation is now expected to peak at around 5% in April 2022, which is significantly higher than forecast in the August report.” In fact, it exceeded that of mid-december, four months earlier. Prices are rising at the fastest rate since 2011, prompting the bank to raise interest rates and the cost of borrowing for the first time in three years.
Next year, a toxic combination of rising prices, higher interest rates and tax increases will lower living standards – after ten years of austerity. It cannot be hidden or wanted.
It is difficult to see any salvation for the Conservative Party next year or any time in the foreseeable future. We begin to wonder if we are not witnessing the beginning of the end of the most successful political party in the world?