The Best Laid Schemes (Part 1), by Duncan Sutherland

Guest post.

Improbable though it may now seem, the supreme leader of the British was only recently reckoned by many of her (mostly southern) subjects to be a political magician who might well contrive to deliver what was conceived of in the heart of darkest England as a successful hard Brexit and thereby miraculously bring about the dawning of a new age of wondrous economic opportunity in a fondly imagined land of broad sunlit uplands, from the majestic summits of which the British would contemplate the impending ruin of the European empire from the oppressive bonds of which they had sagely managed to escape.

The magician having now pulled a rabbit from her hat, there it sits with its ears flopping and its nostrils nervously twitching as it incredulously takes in the real facts of the real world into which it has dramatically emerged. Before its startled gaze lies the debris which constitutes the monumental array of disarray which the prime minister of the United Kingdom has created by summoning up a wholly unnecessary parliamentary general election, as a result of which she now finds herself going off to Brussels to negotiate Brexit with egg on her face or, as the Germans would say and are indeed delighting in saying, “mit Torte im Gesicht”, i.e. with a (presumably cream) pie splattered all over the rictus in her supremely chastened English countenance.

To the dismay of her party, Mrs May has shown herself to be a stupendously mediocre politician and has disastrously demonstrated to her European Union counterparts that she is no strategist, as she appears to have based her strategy for strengthening the UK’s Brexit strategy on a series of assumptions, although it is demonstrably unsound strategy to base any strategy upon any assumptions whatsoever. Sound strategies are based on facts, preferably independently verifiable ones. As for the assumptions upon which the decision to call a snap general election was based, one of them consisted in the assertion that the British people had accepted the result of the EU referendum and that the slim majority who had voted in favour of Brexit had grown substantially, a position not considered to be accurately represented by the existing distribution of political forces in the House of Commons, the opposition elements of which were typically being characterised by Brexiteers as unpatriotic subversives who deserved to be swept away in this hour of British emergency, in which nothing but unquestioning solidarity would do.

As in a parliamentary democracy it is, however, the duty of the parliamentary opposition to oppose, and as the supreme leader had been so supremely unwise as to question the value of this, it should come as no surprise that the electorate has reached for its ever ready supply of eggs and indeed cream pies. The voters have arguably demonstrated sound common sense in depriving the Tories of an overall Commons majority which they had demonstrated that they did not deserve to have, firstly by using it to conduct a referendum campaign which generated far more heat than light and secondly by proceeding to fail to appreciate the value of legitimate political opposition to the high-handed and arrogant way in which the narrow-majority referendum decision was being implemented. The voters have also arguably shown that they are still as divided on the subject of Brexit as they were at the time of the referendum last year. At least it has been demonstrated that opposition to a hard Brexit is strong and that the electorate does not wish its representatives to withdraw the UK from the EU in such a way as to cause economic hardship.

If it is the case, as the European Commission maintains, that it is not possible to achieve a Brexit which does not cause economic hardship, the theoretical possibility appears to exist that the process of exiting the European Union may be reversed once the signs of impending economic hardship begin to become manifest and are noticed by the general public in the course of the Brexit negotiations.

Mirabile dictu, it happens that the one incontestably major achievement of the supreme leader which results from her decision to go to the country, as the process of calling a general election is quaintly referred to in the UK, is that the scope for Brexit reversal has been immensely expanded by the new distribution of political forces in the House of Commons. Hoist by her own petard, as the national bard of England might have expressed it, the supreme leader is left to reflect upon the wisdom of the national bard of Scotland, who warned us in his poem To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785 that “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” (Translation: the best laid schemes of mice and men often come unstuck.)

The final stanza is worth noting in this context:

“Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”

(Robert Burns)

Some guessing and fearing on the subject of how Brexit reversal might actually be achieved (and what might transpire if it is not) follows in part 2.

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