Johnson wins – so what comes next?

Johnson wins – so what comes next?

by Miles Saltiel
article from Monday 16, December, 2019

BORIS JOHNSON won his election at the top end of poll expectations. Now he has political discretion, as well as heft in Europe, where the result will be taken, with regret, as confirming the 2016 referendum.

We should now see a halt in the traffic between UK Remainers and Berlaymont officials which for forty-two months persuaded all too many of the latter that Brexit might go away. Boris is making much of his one-nation intentions, presenting his victory as the opportunity for closure – to bind the nation’s wounds. This is unlikely, however, to amount to Brino as he has always emphasised the opportunities opened-up by ending EU regulation. On the other hand, deregulation is not evidently a friend to his new supporters in the provinces. I turn to this below.

Next week the Queen’s speech will set the scene for prompt negotiations. Now that the parliamentary shackles are off (and for the temporary period during which the press is cowed), we should look for stagey walk-outs from the conference room and a more nationalistic tone from commentators. We will have to see how Boris himself performs now that Levido is no longer restraining him.

Sceptics of the Brexit project are right to point out that there is much to resolve, but wrong to insist that it is impossible to conclude future relations with the EU by the end of 2020. There is a deal waiting to be done: access for UK services to EU markets in return for access for EU goods to UK markets. Barnier may be a tough cookie but the unequivocal Tory victory will encourage his masters to set a more accommodating stance on regulatory alignment – the level playing-field.

Other trade deals with third-party jurisdictions may also come more quickly, taking the form of access for UK services in return for access to our own markets for agriculture, with some wrinkles about IPRs. Expect a flurry of articles in food magazines about the glories of Argentine meat, New World wine and domestic cheese.

It may be off topic but it is nonetheless impossible to overlook the other challenges which the new team will face. It must bring together a climate of deregulation and the interests of its fresh-minted provincial supporters. Expect a combination of tax and regulatory relief for business in general and provincial enterprise in particular – Freeports are set to be a big part of the deal. Expect also some provincial Grands Projets: east-west rail-links – maybe even road links, but not so much HS2 or Heathrow’s third runway. Sajid Javid will have to reconcile a return to responsible budgeting with Boris’ pet schemes, not to say the insatiable maw of the NHS and the untamed dragon of social care.

While we are off topic, let us note the prospect of limited constitutional reform, by way of enacting the long-overdue changes to constituency boundaries and repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act. The new Government may also revisit the role of the Courts or the House of Lords, but regional devolution or Citizens’ Assemblies are off the agenda, unless the latter comes up as a mechanic to seek consensus on the treatment of the insatiable maw and untamed dragon touched on above. The danger is that this overlooks the country’s other longstanding problems. These particularly include housing and land-use regulation, especially in the southeast; and stalled social mobility, embracing unsatisfactory tertiary training and low productivity. Meanwhile, Scotland fumes and Northern Ireland festers.

Initial impressions are encouraging: as I write the FTSE100 is up by 1.1 pe cent, after overnight sterling spiked by 3 per cent on the exit poll. Oxford Street is palpably more busy, promising a better shot at a bumper Christmas on the high streets. And the housing market is now set to get over its recent constipation.

The election reminds us of the character of the country we live in. The UK remains an outlier on the left among prosperous Anglophone countries – we are still heirs to the legacy of Attlee and Bevan. Britons continue to warm to socialising risk, eg in healthcare, arguable in light of the volatility of supply and demand, though the lack of price feedbacks guarantees under-provision; railways, where a case might be made on the basis of land-use policy; utilities and mail, where it’s outright dopey; and personal security, where it makes for a quiet life, but upsets old-school “stand your ground” hardliners, as weakening individual responsibility.

On the other hand, the nation is also Thatcher’s heir: Our country men and women prize individuality in a spirit of “don’t step on me” rather than “my way or the highway”. This places tolerance, aspiration and the integrity of property and territory at the heart of a British sensibility which inescapably circumscribes what the left can reasonably hope to pull off.

On Thursday the voters forcibly brought the latter to bear upon our masters. For which, many thanks.

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