Reports that the salaries of MLAs might finally be cut by the Secretary of State after more than 500 days of no politics will go down well with hard-pressed taxpayers. Even better would be confirmation that, in the absence of devolved ministers, decisions made by civil servants will stand and cannot be challenged by the courts. Some might argue that direct rule from London might be better, but the political reality is that giving power to civil servants and cutting MLAs’ salaries might be enough to get normal politics resumed before Brexit decisions are forced on us by London. Whether that will happen remains unlikely, but in an imperfect world clearing the way for decisions will at least help keep things going.
In London, the prime minister, Theresa May, must be wishing that some of her ministers and MPs were also be paid for doing nothing. With the return of normal politics at Westminster the battle over Brexit is becoming more intense. Based on how they are acting, some politicians deserve to be treated like school children, closed up in their rooms until they realise the world does not revolve around them and that they cannot expect to have their own way, regardless of the consequences for everyone else.
Over Brexit some well known self-styled political big beasts would be happy to see a prime minister doing her best to steer a middle Brexit course fall, even if the result were a general election the Conservatives could lose despite the matching internal turmoil in the Labour Party.
For those across the UK more worried about the future of their businesses and whether they will still have a job if there is a slash and burn exit from the EU, this is depressing. It does not now matter how someone voted back in June 2016. We are leaving the EU and need a deal with our biggest trading partner. Politicians need to accept that and forget about pie in the sky trade deals with the United States or a rebirth of our relationship with the few economically stable countries of the Commonwealth. A good deal will be one that gives us the best of both worlds. That is what Theresa May is trying to achieve, as is the Brexit Minster, Dominic Rabb. Despite all that is going on at Westminster this Brexit-supporting minister has achieved more in Brussels in weeks than his predecessor did in two years.
This is why, despite the Westminster pantomime, the odds still favour a deal. Both Brussels and London want and indeed need a deal; both also need an outcome that will save face and not make matters worse. Unless Boris Johnson and his supporters have the nerve to pull the trigger and risk a general election it seems likely that Mrs May will survive the Conservative Party conference.
It looks unlikely now a deal will be done in time for the EU heads of state summit in October. That is not, as some suggest, a deadline. It is more likely a deal will be struck in December, but there is no reason why negotiations cannot continue well into the new year. That is how CAP reform has been achieved since the 1980s, and there is no reason for Brexit to be different.
Any deal will almost certainly be close to the single market model. That would be a good outcome for agriculture, since it would pose the least threat to stable markets. At the same time it would prevent the government from throwing the UK market open to cheap food as part of trade deals it wants to pursue. This makes more sense than the Canadian style free trade deal some in the Tory party advocate. That was put in place for low level trade between two countries. The UK relationship is very different, because for both the UK and EU-27 they are each other’s biggest markets.
It is also worth remembering that when the government enthuses about a trade deal with the US, it would be with a president who tears up rule books when he does not get his way, and is now threatening to pull the US out of the World Trade Organisation. Compared to that the EU is a stable trading partner. That is where reality lies. It does not lie with politicians who cannot see that the nation’s best interests should be ahead of their own personal political aspirations.