The Brexit saga takes a new twist as a EU official suggests that Brussels, like Britain, will develop a contingency plan in the event that no agreeable deal on trade can be achieved. The emphasis, however, remains on a deal being struck although the end point in those negotiations looks a long way off.
Perhaps it is just political brinkmanship being played out - if Britain lays down the concept of no deal preparations - Plan B - then we should not be unduly surprised that the EU is going to do something similar. At the fringes of this contention, however, is the evidence that both sides are widening the scope of the negotiation by introducing a ‘we’ll walk away’ factor. That in itself is wise preparation by both sides but it also lays the seed of the escape route if the real thrust of the negotiation fails to reach accord, perhaps even a diminution of the effort to reach that accord. There’s no easy answer. Plan B preparation is wise on the one hand but possibly has a negative effect upon the dynamic of achieving the prime objective. The mistake is in using any Plan B as a bargaining chip. Yes, preparations and planning should go ahead but that information, from either side, should never enter the negotiating room - it should remain a private, internal matter for Britain and, separately, the wider EU.
Boris is making promises again with magnanimous gestures of protection for EU citizens living in the country. Nothing wrong with the principle of that but it does look as though, as usual, he’s not sought out any cabinet consensus before speaking. It makes for good theatre and possibly - if the gesture is broadly in line with the negotiating aims - is being used as a flanking manoeuvre to publicise policy without it coming from the negotiating table. Again, a sometimes useful tactic when a state of impasse at the table exists and some form of breakthrough has to be sought from another direction. Perhaps we should think of Boris as our version of a cruise missile - fairly blunt but reasonably effective if it’s pointed at the right target...
Britain’s population is back in the news. We knew it was rising and that prediction still holds true as we grunt along toward the 70 million mark by 2029. But what happens thereafter ? Do we continue toward 80 or 90 million ? Just how sustainable, physically, can Britain be to such congested numbers - given that the vast majority of the population cram around the metropolitan and urban conurbations? It’s a daunting thought and there seems to be little government concern over this burgeoning number. We heard earlier in the week that British productivity was low relative to our economic size, but is that because labour is cheap, plentiful and an economic alternative to investment in technology and efficient mechanisation ? There has to be a limit to a population number that is sensible for Britain in both economic and social terms. We all see our roads, schools, health centres and hospitals creaking at the seams with our present 65 million. Adding many millions more, indefinitely, without that investment in technology and mechanisation will merely push us further down the economic prosperity path even faster.