By Adam Raphael
Happy New Year! I believe it will be. But as Yogi Berra sagely pointed out: ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ Anyone who claims they know what will happen in the coming months is a fool or a charlatan. No one can be sure where Brexit is going. But the notion that Britain is about to crash out of Europe without a deal is a political fantasy. What does this expensive folly mean for the hospitality industry?
As this is a determinedly good news column, I believe that by this time next year, the industry and the country will be in better heart and in better shape than they are today. Why do I say that? Well, it is long overdue, but political realism about what we can and cannot expect in our troubled relationship with the EU is finally dawning.
There is no majority in Cabinet, Parliament, or indeed the country at large for No Deal. The fact that it is being touted by the Prime Minister as a serious option merely reflects her political weakness. She sees the threat as a useful negotiating card with the EU and as a device to keep the Brexiteers in her Cabinet quiet. But threatening the EU 27 countries, the EU Commission, and Parliament with a nonsensical policy, lubricated with more than £4 billion of taxpayers money, is no more likely to change minds than the soothing effects of the Christmas break. Just as Mrs May’s early claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal” was a bluff that fooled nobody, so her latest ploy will be equally ineffective. She knows that she is almost certainly going to lose the Commons vote on her European deal later this month. The question is the size of the majority against her.
What then happens is clouded in fog, but if she decides to soldier on, she will probably seek an extension of the March 29th Brexit leaving date. Kicking the can down the road would allow time for a further attempt to reach a modified EU deal which she hopes might prove acceptable to MPs. But as Parliament appears to be hopelessly deadlocked, the realistic policy choices are likely to be either a People’s Vote or a general election. Conservative MPs, however fed up, will not vote for the latter, so we are left with probably a void of at least six months before another referendum can be organised.
Predicting the result of a second referendum is best left to Mystic Meg. But public opinion is on the move and, crucially, support for Brexit appears to be declining. A recent YouGov poll found that, of those who expressed a view, 62 percent backed Remain, while 38 percent backed the withdrawal agreement. Peter Kellner, YouGov’s former president, says: ‘The prospects are rising that the UK will remain in the EU beyond March 29, 2019, and perhaps indefinitely.’ If Kellner is right, hotels, B&Bs and inns will benefit from a degree of certainty, a renewed sense of optimism, and increased investment. Perhaps we will even be able to look back at this damaging, costly and divisive period in bemusement.
Optimistic Remainer though I am, I realise that whatever happens, the political divisions over Europe will not end. The arguments over Brexit will go on and on. But at least they will be conducted with a degree of realism which has been up till now sadly lacking. Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former representative to the EU, noted caustically in a recent speech that the debate of the last 30 months has suffered from ‘opacity, delusion-mongering and mendacity on all sides.’ If nothing else, that should now end. It is important that it should, for Brexit and the arguments around it are not a single event but a process which will haunt British politics for many years to come.