Friday, 12 July 2019

Will Boris do a Darroch on Scottish fishing?

There is a way for Boris Johnson to get a Brexit deal done quickly.  It just requires him to throw Conservative support in Scotland under a bus. From my Daily Record column:

As Donald Trump dog-walked the UK ambassador out the White House door we saw what kind of Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be.

Rather than stand up for the nation’s interests, Johnson promoted his own.

Kim Darroch (surely that’s pronounced “och” not the “ock” of Anglo broadcasters) was toast the moment the future PM refused to back our man in Washington.

Regardless of what his team might brief about a bigger game, a UK-US alliance to challenge the EU unless we get a Brexit free trade deal, what Johnson did was craven, abject, and plain sooking up to the biggest boy in the playground, 

Or was it? Brexiteers propelling Johnson towards the throne think he sent a strong message to the civil service, to Europe, and his party. Namely, there is nothing and no one he will not throw under a bus for his advancement, which hangs on getting a Brexit deal.

The signal will make Europhile civil service mandarins shudder into line and ought to  give fair weather allies of Tory Brexiteers pause for thought.

Scotland’s fishing barons, for example, the Tories’ best new friends, should take a slug of Trawler Rum to steady the nerves. Here’s why.

There is more chance of the lobster escaping the creel than there is of Johnson getting the Brexit deal through the Commons.

He is not mad enough to crash out without a deal (you try crossing fingers while typing that). Even in his mumbling evasiveness it is clear Johnson has to re-negotiate something.

He can’t work up a new deal in three months on time-limiting the Northern Irish backstop and finding these mythical “alternative arrangements” to satisfy the EU and the Tory right.

Fortunately, there is another plan already on the loom that fits the purpose.

According to an authoritative Brexit expert, Mujtaba Rahman, the best option in play is to lengthen the transition period, the time we would still abide by EU regulations without having a say in shaping them, in order to “bury” the backstop. 

It allows Johnson to deliver leave, and parks the border question for later.

This could be relatively easy to negotiate, would deliver the DUP, and get rebel Tory MPs back on board. Halloween party here we come.

There is just one catch. The idea was kicked around Downing Street earlier this year but strongly vetoed by the Scottish Conservatives. 

Any extension of the transition period would mean staying longer in the Common Fisheries Policy without a voice. 

The Scottish Codfathers (five families own 45 per cent of the fishing quota) are already furious at being kept in the hated CFP until December 2020. Under no deal they’d be out and ruling UK territorial waters from day go.

One thing is sure, if they are not out by May 2021, the next Holyrood election, they’ll pull the rug on Ruth Davidson’s Tory revival and possibly pull the curtains on the United Kingdom as a consequence.

Now, it is perfectly possible to argue the SNP alternative for Scottish fishermen is to be permanently in the Common Fisheries Policy, that’s what Remain means. But the narrative of the Tories betraying coastal communities (again) will be hard to counter. 

So, a route to deliver Brexit exists for Johnson on the first day he walks up Downing Street.

He just has to decide if throwing the Scottish fishing industry under the metaphorical bus is a price worth paying. Will he do a Darroch on the fishermen, and possibly the Union too?

Which takes us neatly to what will the Scottish Tories do?

The lobster in the trap right now is David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary. Johnson is said to be keen to keep him in place to provide stability.

Mundell has proved himself nimble enough to jig around SNP opponents. Facing any other Scottish Tory would be like being slapped with a wet fish. But Mundell can’t swallow no deal and the can’t see the Union washed into the North Sea to allow Johnson to deliver on his over-promises.

But Darroch gives us a glimpse of how the scales will be weighed in Downing Street when it comes to hard decisions and self-interest.

Pass the rum, please.

No comments:

Post a Comment