Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
Ah Brexit, rarely has so nebulous a term resulted in so many emotionally charged arguments, splitting families down the middle. I’d like to laugh about it, but its hard to laugh when the very fabric of the country is at risk.
But what exactly is it?
If you ask 100 people on the street, you’ll have a 100 answers. It’s the same with politicians. That is why it is not only extremely difficult for Theresa May, but also fundamentally undeliverable. This isn’t a partisan criticism, this is simply taking it on the merits of what it should be.
The problem, is that Brexit wasn’t sold as one thing. It was sold as many things to many people. To some people in the South who are of a Libertarian persuasion, it meant a bonfire of pesky regulations and free trade everywhere. To some in the North East, it meant getting a lot more jobs in and a lot of money invested into services to drag the region forward. To some in Cornwall, it meant getting a large slice of government funding redirected to a desperate region. To others still, it meant getting free of a perceived European autocracy headed by Germany. I could list a dozen other examples but you get the point, to different people it means different things.
This isn’t normal. It’s not a case of people stamping their own expectations on, it’s a case of a coordinated effort by politicians to tell people what they wanted to hear rather than what they were intent on delivering. Of course you can say thats politics, but this is case in point on why its dangerous.
Now if you ask Boris Johnson, he’ll say straight up he said nothing untrue, didn’t misrepresent anything and was 100% clear on how and why Brexit was going ahead. I do believe that the varying views in that regard and the statistics authority would disagree. At the end of the day, we can all agree that the campaign was filthy. Awash with lies, misrepresentations and dirty money. Oh and lets not forget those Russians either, because they’re everywhere at the moment.
In effect, what was promised was this- that we would control our own borders (which we already do) and we would strike our own trade deals (which we are free too within some parameters) but we would stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. Now before any of you leavers cry foul, I encourage you to cast your mind back to the campaign and you will find that at numerous points, key figures from both Leave campaigns, repeatedly and assuredly told the British public at every turn that “Leaving the EU is about leaving the Political Union, not the Economic one.” Right up to the night before the vote when the then Tory trade minister, Daniel Hannan said on Newsnight that we would stay in the Single Market, Brexit was about being a soft Brexit. That is fact, it’s on camera and in transcripts. It’s undeniable.
What I and many Remainers said, was that it was fundamentally undeliverable. We could not force the EU to compromise on Free Movement of people beyond the controls we already have because its a founding freedom of the EU. We have no leverage nor a strong negotiating position with which to force the EU to move on this regard. It is in every sense of the word, impossible. Therefore, we would end up with a hard Brexit which we must at all costs avoid.
This was the scenario and we were constantly assured by Mr Johnson at every turn that we would not have this issue and we would have our soft Brexit. If the last 18 months is anything to go by, the UK has capitulated on everything and the EU nothing. This isn’t an evil EU acting against the UK. This is the EU protecting the interests of its members against a state wishing to exit. They owe us absolutely nothing. We are entitled to absolutely nothing.
To combat this, the Brexiteers in the public realm have pivoted hard into appropriating what the Brexit people were sold, and turning it into a hard Brexit. They repeatedly and brazenly go on the news and tell everyone that the Brexit vote was about leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now this would be all well and fine if we didn’t now come to the central dilemma facing Theresa May.
The Brexit that people now seem to want is fundamentally undeliverable. If she delivers a hard Brexit she will be forever reviled as a Chamberlain figure who sacrificed the country for political reasons. If she fails to deliver a hard Brexit, she destroys her party and will to her mind, hand power to someone who will also destroy the country.
She cannot win, there is no way for her to turn and here is the central crux of the problem. She is backed into a corner and there is no way out. She cannot turn one way or another. Both sides of the Tory party hate her and are pulling at her. Boris Johnson is breathing down her neck with a dagger ready to be stuck in her back at a moments notice. Jeremy Corbyn is traversing the length of the country lambasting her for her inability to get anything decent done and to top it all off, scandal after scandal are emerging from the Home Office, nearly all dated to her time as Home Secretary.
This isn’t a good situation for anyone to be in. What we need now more than ever is a surgical sense of clarity on the issue and we’re not getting it. We’ve got a Government constantly trashing its own figures because the figures don’t chime with the optimistic picture we wish to have. Too many people in power are too invested in a Hard Brexit to believe that they could be wrong and that is extremely dangerous.
I’m a Socialist and I’d stay true to that as PM, but if all of my top economists at the Bank of England could prove to me that, for example, nationalising Sunderland’s Nissan factory would cause immense economic harm to the country, I wouldn’t do it. Ideology has to be tempered by pragmatism. You cannot, you must not believe so much in something that you will ignore all evidence to the contrary to act on a matter of faith. Maybe in your personal life you may, but in Government you cannot.
At this moment in time, Brexit resembles more a religious movement than one of rational discussion. Everyone and everything is to blame for the lack of positive numbers, from a conspiracy, to the weather, to the evil empire of Europe (Germany). Everything. Except for maybe the fact that we’ve known since before the Referendum that Brexit will not and cannot be an economic success. This isn’t pessimism or talking the country down. This is hard economic fact.
I will say this until I am blue in the face. No Leaver has yet managed to answer the fundamental questions brought by the Bank of England other key figures on Brexit’s economic impact. From trade deals to skills shortages onward, not a single question has been answered with anything more than an optimistic “We’ll be okay.”
If we want a way out of this mess, we need to start being honest. Being honest requires this country to have a frank discussion-one we were denied during the referendum, on the economic impact of Brexit and whether its still a good idea.
Theresa May needs to be allowed to negotiate the damned best deal she can, because tying her hands up is a way to end up with no deal, no extension and an economic apocalypse.
Then, once that deal is negotiated, we need to have a referendum on that deal-and reversing the result must be on the ballot. Because the public is going to have to make this decision. We’re in this mess because the public voted for it, and no politician is going to stand up and tell the country they’re reversing anything without a mandate. So we need that referendum and we need to make sure we’ve got all the options on the table. It’s right for the country and for the country’s future. We owe it to ourselves to and we owe it ourselves to have a true discussion about this and not relying solely on faith.
I hear you shout that is subverting the original referendum. Except it isn’t. One of the most powerful tools in Democracy is the ability to change your mind when new information comes to light. My favourite example of this, and yes, it makes me look like a politics junkie, is of the Assembly of Athens voting to go to war one day, but when the next day the portents came back to say the war would go poorly, they voted again and this time voted for peace. This is what democracy is about, when new information comes to light, you can change your mind.
If we’re driving towards a cliff edge, following a map out of date and new map is handed to us, we wouldn’t follow the old map would we? We would make a new decision. But that is besides the point, it gives the clarity the Government needs.
As I’ve said earlier, Theresa May is being pulled apart by two warring sides and a new referendum is a chance to clear that up. If Brexit is still the will of the people, it will show. People will turn out and will vote for their Brexit again. And this time, the Government will have a clear picture of what Brexit the people want. It stops people like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson running away with it. It stops people like Michael Gove running away with it and it stops this god awful dysfunction in Government where the PM is absolutely powerless because rival factions have her caught in a bind.
Its high time the Government of this country acted in the interests of this country and what we can see, now more then ever, is that Brexit no longer has a question of if it will be bad. It is an absolute certainty. All that is left to determine is how bad it will get- and that is something that no Prime Minister can consciously allow to happen.