Magazine article The Spectator

Charles Moore: The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

Charles Moore: The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

For almost as long as I can remember, Eurosceptic Tory MPs have been defined by the media as 'head-bangers'. As a result, few notice that they scarcely bang their heads at all these days. The European Research Group (ERG), now led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, is surprisingly united, and makes most of its arguments blande suaviterque. The noise of craniums bashing themselves against Pugin panelling is much louder on the other side -- Anna Soubry in the Commons, Andrew Adonis in the Lords. The Eurosceptic head-bangers are being particularly cautious about this week's transition deal. Although they dislike most of it, they broadly accept the whips' arguments that if the party can agree the transitional arrangements, Brexit is assured, and if not, not. In the short term, they want to make it impossible for any Lords attempt to scupper the Withdrawal Bill to prevail in the Commons.

I would not be so bold as to say the ERG tactics are wrong. The fact of Brexit does matter more than its details, so the most important thing is to achieve that fact. But since we journalists don't have to worry about whips, here are a few sobering considerations. First, Michael Gove's promise to British fishermen is being completely disregarded, with particularly bad effects in his native Scotland. They will now have two more years of misery, and will be further persecuted in the process when unrealistic quotas which they cannot affect are imposed upon them, along with the full discard ban. Second, the terms of the transition are a victory for the producer interests -- the CBI, the NFU, the European managers of big car companies. This is distressing when the ultimate effect of Brexit ought to be a consumer revolution like the repeal of the Corn Laws. It means consumers will have felt little Brexit benefit by the next election. Third, the more the negotiations edge forward, the less the government will contemplate 'no deal'; yet the more one looks at the likely deal, the better 'no deal' looks.

Everything is so hard to read. Take the situation on Ireland. The 'backstop' position of a customs union between the Republic and the North would actually be a 'back-down' position for the British government if it happened. It would in effect break up the United Kingdom. On the other hand, Brexiteers should be encouraged that the EU has quietly contradicted itself -- and squashed the government of the Irish Republic -- by pushing forward with trade negotiations without settling the Irish question first. So, on balance, the 'parking' of the Irish border is a good thing, though no doubt Churchill's 'dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone' will soon re-emerge.

On Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies unveiled 'research' which shows only a 0.2 per cent GDP gain for Britain if we abolished all trade tariffs. On the Today programme, Paul Johnson, the IFS director, was duly permitted to air these 'findings' as if they were objective truth. Yet we know -- because he himself has said so [see last week's Notes] -- that Mr Johnson believes there is 'no economic case for Brexit'. …

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