25th October 2018
Brexit: why don’t commentators spot the inevitable?
Just over a year ago, I predicted Britain had no alternative to more or less staying in the EU.
From the point of view of our industry, that’s essential. Two-thirds by value of Britain’s clothes come either from EU factories or through EU ports from their Asian suppliers, Britain’s £6 bn clothes exports depend on unrestricted access to Europe and our chains need EU workers to operate both their stores and their warehouses. The EU will accept this fast and flexible access only if Britain is in some kind of Single Market.
My wife and I have talked almost endlessly to voters since the referendum campaign started nearly three years ago: most fully appreciate the economic importance of close ties to Europe – but most Leave voters assumed the UK would get this access even if it left and many still don’t appreciate it won’t without being in a Single Market
Our industry is probably more dependent on truly open borders than any other. “No deal” would mean border delays that would catastrophically disrupt the flow of food, medicine and Britain’s car and aerospace exports too
The only answer, I believed, was a Brexit Existing as a Name Only (BEANO) and a calm discussion about our relationship with the EU over a long period of time.
BEANO became inevitable when Britain’s ruling Conservative party was forced in June 2017, after a disastrous election, to join forces with the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish party dedicated to maintaining the Union with Britain. It hates union with the Irish Republic far less than barriers to trading with their Southern neighbours.
I’ve repeated my BEANO forecast ever since: at industry conferences, on this site and at almost every social gathering. Prime Minister Theresa May published an outline plan on July 12 for BEANO which much of Britain’s national media insists will not be followed.
A “no-deal” solution is likely, they say – blaming Mrs May’s “weakness”.
To anyone who’s ever run anything, Mrs May isn’t ‘weak’. For two years now, she’s presided with extraordinary toughness and calm over a government devoted to mutual back-stabbing. She’s absorbed hysterical and often misogynistic bile from all quarters.
Her detractors seriously believe a “tough” leader would just tell her critics to do as they’re told. Just as most them seriously believed she’d support a “no deal”
Have none of them ever tried “toughness” with a stroppy teenager, an excited dog or an unhappy customer? It’s astonishing how many of them (think Jeremy Corbyn) haven’t: the rest of us know from experience that “toughness” isn’t how to manipulate difficult people (or dogs): what really matters is understanding them.
It’s mad to pretend she’s some kind of weakling: no weakling would dream of proposing BEANO: a plan the Conservative right had been condemning as a betrayal for the previous two years.
It’s not a speculation that’s what she’s proposed: it’s a fact.
It’s merely my opinion, though, that she’ll successfully negotiate BEANO with the EU and get the deal through Parliament. In fact, even I am not 100% convinced she’ll achieve it by next March: but I am convinced we’ll stay in the EU until she does.
Why should you believe me and not the nay-sayers?
Some have clear motives. Leavers want to undermine Mrs May: if they can keep asserting her weakness, they might persuade people over to their view. Britain’s main opposition, the Labour Party, consistently bad-mouths the Conservatives to precipitate an election but some of them are so mad they’re trying to kick out hugely popular MPs like Frank Field for the crime of opposing the worst leader in their party’s history
But why believe me when so many commentators and reporters at middle-of-the-road media like the BBC, the Economist and The Financial Times (a group I’ll call the media bubble) keep insisting it’s likely Britain will end up with no deal?
- Because I’ve got a better recent record. This may sound boastful, but unlike the media bubble I predicted:
- Leave would win the 2016 referendum. I understand the effect of “differential turnout” (the phenomenon which meant people likely to vote Leave were more likely to vote than people likely to vote Remain): practically no-one in the media does
- Mrs May would propose BEANO
- Conservative wins in May elections for Wandsworth, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Barnet – and LibDem wins in Sutton, Richmond and Twickenham, which no press commentator managed
- Because the press is out of touch with how politics really works
The Conservatives are a pro-business party and Mrs May has always been a Remainer: whatever the Tory lunatic fringe may believe, the party won’t vote to destroy the UK economy. Which is why it’s putting such energy into explaining how much chaos would result from a ”no deal”. And why it’s negotiating for precisely what many voters asked for: leave the EU but keep our completely frictionless borders with it. Possible only if Britain stays in some kind of Single Market.
So any sensible betting person would follow me. The question, though, is “why are media commentators so hopeless?
I’m flummoxed, but a few points:
What’s the bubble expert on? Not facts. “Amazon is a flagship brand everywhere in the world” said Forbes magazine – a sort of US Economist – last week. Amazon has websites in fewer countries than Inditex H&M and has been at least as unsuccessful in India and China as Walmart,
What motivates the bubble? Ultimately, getting an audience and getting the approval of their peers (and potential future bosses). By contrast, my clients and neighbours want their businesses and jobs to survive
How things work in the bubble: You write an article: it appears more or less as written within hours or days. In the real world: you start remodelling a house or redesigning an IT system, grudgingly accepting it’ll take longer, cost more and turn out different from what you first expected. In the bubble, things not going to plan are “a mess”, in the real world they’re “life’s like that”
We’re lumbered with a media bubble more out of touch with the real world than ever before: private school to two degrees to ivory tower job somewhere it never gets cold, or wet, or frightening. Our problem isn’t a “weak” Prime Minister: it’s naïve commentators.
Britain’s going to stay in a Single Market. Our media bubble needs to remember what its profession’s mantra was once: comment is free, but facts are sacred.
The bubble never thought May would have the guts to create a BEANO, and it was wrong. Many of its commentators are just as wrong now when they predict she won’t deliver it.