Cut through the collective delusion that has engulfed the UK and the solution to the Brexit impasse could hardly be clearer. Everyone has to compromise, but no-one has to give up their long term ambitions – they’ll just need the will of the people behind them to get there. For those complaining about a lack of democracy, what could be better?
The problem is that having allowed a catastrophic mistake to befall the country on June 23rd 2016, we’ve spent the intervening period making everything worse. Once the chaos of the Tory leadership issue had been resolved, Theresa May, seeking to establish her Brexiter credentials, immediately capitulated to the ERG and drew a series of red lines which effectively ruled out any kind of deal that would be acceptable to Parliament. May’s government then wasted a few years in the mistaken belief that as the clock ran down sufficient numbers of ERG hard-liners would notice that reality exists and get behind the deal they referred to as the worst-of-all-worlds. (They were wrong about that too, as no-deal clearly had that honour, until the prospect loomed of no-deal combined with the office of Prime Minister being handed to Boris, the bastard spawn of Donald Trump’s reflection in a phlegm-strewn mirror and a puffy, over-privileged version of the creepy clown from that old 1970s TV test card).
As a result, we’ve spent over two years discussing the wrong issue. As far as most politicians and everyone in the media were concerned the difficulty was in working out exactly how to leave the EU, and yet all of the the actual problems revolve around trying to work out exactly how to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
It’s obvious isn’t it? How about we just leave the EU? We can revisit leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market later, when the pressure is off. When we’ve worked out exactly what that would look like. These are huge steps that are proving difficult to navigate. Let’s take them one at a time, and make life easier for ourselves. Let’s start with the only one that has a mandate from the people of the UK – which is also the easiest and least controversial one.
This plan respects not just the 52% who voted to leave the EU, but also the 52% of voters in the 2017 General Election who voted for parties that said they’d stay in the Customs Union. This plan is acceptable to the EU and (with promised future referendums on the Customs Union and Single Market) would get through Parliament. It delivers the referendum result. It solves the border problem on the island of Ireland without creating another one in the Irish Sea. It avoids a no-deal disaster. It pulls the rug out from under the attempts to shut down discussion by yelling ‘democracy’ in the face of anyone wanting to discuss the pros and cons. The hard-Brexiters will (dishonestly) claim that the referendum was about leaving the CU and the SM but at least that requires them to engage in conversation – a conversation in which the facts are on our side. That’s a far better position than having gammons thoughtlessly yelling ‘democracy’ at us, while we’re trying to explain what democracy actually entails.
Labour’s policy comes close to addressing this but they need to be clearer in their thinking and their presentation if they want to get their proposals through Parliament. Currently, labour’s policy looks like BRINO to the ERG, but presented as the first step of three the ERG could only oppose it by admitting that they don’t think they’d win any future referendums – that they know they don’t have the will of the people. (Obviously, this is already true of their opposition to another EU referendum but currently, there is too much opportunity for them to hide behind bluster about not respecting the 2016 result. Implementing the 2016 result ought to take care of that).
Those who want a hard Brexit can see this as the first step towards that and if the will of the people is with them, then that’s where we’ll end up.
Those who want to remain can accept this as damage limitation and if the will of the people is with them they can look forward to rejoining the EU at some future point in a much easier way than would be possible after a hard Brexit.
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