Monday, 28 January 2019

Brexit doom

Countless political commentators have compared Brexit to a game of chicken. This is the mathematical game in which two players have to choose whether to swerve or drive straight. Each player's favourite outcome is to drive straight while the other player swerves. But if nobody swerves, the result is a disastrous crash. Most versions of this analogy have Theresa May of the UK in one car while Juncker of the EU drives the other, each doing their best macho posturing, hoping the other will blink first.

It's well known that being visibly nervous is disastrous in this game, as it will encourage the other player to hold firm. In fact, one popular solution is to throw your steering wheel out of the window, to let your opponent know that you no longer have the option of swerving. Putting on a visible display of insanity or unreasonable determination can have the same effect. This is why it's thought that psychopaths might often get what they want and rise to the highest echelons of society. On the other hand, this hawkish strategy only succeeds against players who are themselves sufficiently flexible and reactive that they will swerve in response. If neither car has a competent driver at the wheel, then caboom.

This analogy is often touted with an emphasis on the uneven sizes of the vehicles involved, or on the lack of responsiveness or rationality on the EU's side, but neither of these warnings seem effective in counteracting the WWII era bluster of the Tory Brexiters who urge May to hold steady to her course.

I think we've been sold a faulty metaphor. We are in a car, but there are several people, all British, fighting over the steering wheel. May has a steely arm, and she is determined to drive us along her chosen middle gangway. Others keep jerking the wheel left towards a different gangway labelled hard brexit. Others still are yanking the wheel right towards a third gangway marked no brexit at all. The teams seem evenly split so everyone is having a hard time working out which road it will be.

But nobody noticed the shadowy figure seated in the rear passenger seat with a gleam in his eye. For he knows that the three gangways are narrow escapes from a sheer cliff, and it is into the crocodile-filled waters of no deal that he wants us to go.

The situation is rigged! No deal isn't a fourth gangway, it's the default. The no-dealer doesn't need to grab the wheel, he only needs the fighting to carry on. The closer the deadline looms, the more inevitable those crocodiles become, and the people fighting at the wheel haven't even noticed.

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