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  • Lawrence Bailey

Choosing the best captain to sink the ship

I don’t think I’ve been less absorbed in a political contest than the current election to choose a new Conservative leader – or more worried. The impression to be had is that the key difference between Messers Johnson and Hunt is whether you’d prefer to be hung or quartered. Things don’t get better with their policy-on-the-hoof gibberish. Look, I get it. I totally understand that they’re not talking to the 99.997% of us outside the Tory party. But do we really have to put up with the ridiculous freebie-fest promises or the fatuous notion that there’s not much wrong with Brexit that can’t be put right with some new blood. The contenders and a feeble coterie of cheerleaders have seen their respective positions dismantled by studio interviewers within a few minutes of scrutiny. Among the many question left unanswered is how the hell did such absurd lightweights ever get their feet under the cabinet table anyway.

And who the hell is going to be taken in by their sudden embrace of social justice? – something that was notably absent when they voted through the bedroom tax and imposed Universal Credit. The bottom line though is that whatever misgivings we may have, one of these lacklustre individuals is going to emerge this month as leader, and therefore prime minister.

There won’t be any honeymoon period; not with a parliament as resolutely divided as it currently stands. As for rallying the worried troops, no amount of jam tomorrow is going to buy sufficient Commons support, even if chancellor Phil Hammond gets replaced. Theresa May's single objective was to take the UK out of the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place at the end of March. Epic fail, as they say.

We can already see how her would-be successors regard their own priority as little more than becoming captain of a sinking ship.

They're petrified by the advance of the Brexit Party and what could happen in a general election. The reaction is to morph the leadership contest into a process of securing a illusory mandate by proxy – which is why Boris and Jeremy dangle the idea of a no-deal Brexit like a cheap funfair prize.

But let’s be clear, the overnight effect of this option would be the abrupt end for us of arrangements designed to eliminate trade checks and tariffs between EU members. Britain might have indicated that it will drop all import taxes but Brussels has said nowt about doing something reciprocal. Why would they?

Regardless of what the pro-Brexit leaflets might have you believe about World Trade Organisation ‘benefits’, the impact is that close on half of our imports will take longer to arrive, be less plentiful and cost more as a result. Meanwhile, what we sell to Europe could become too expensive to export. How’s that for betrayal?

The markets and manufacturing sector have already done the maths and are battening down the hatches. You can read the weather warnings for yourself online but the short version is get ready for recession and more job losses.

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