I sympathise. I really really do.
London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg whole-heartedly agrees with the public’s main demand for Brexit. But it is Remain that delivers, not any of the Brexits on offer.
The biggest desire of the British people is not to take back control or to have peace in Europe. It is that the whole question of Brexit should just go away. I sympathise. It is what I really really want. But neither the Government’s nor the public’s methods for ending the Brexit debate work. Here’s why.
Theresa May’s Deal
The Transition ties us into EU rules for two to four years with no formal say.
The country does not have a consensus about what Brexit means.
The deal settles nothing about our future relationship apart from the Irish backstop, which neither the Conservatives, Labour nor the DUP wish to see implemented.
So we would spend the next few years:
- Discussing new rules with the EU but from the outside, like a child tugging a grown-up’s sleeve to get some attention.
- Debating with ourselves what we actually want from Brexit now that we have it.
- In spite of not having an internally agreed view, we would be negotiating with the EU. As a rule-bound treaty-based organisation of several member states, it has a limited range of deals it can make. If we continue to demand deals outside their competence to deliver, there will be no progress.
- There would be a cliff edge at the end of the extended Transition Period. There is no commitment to extend it, although that may be possible subject to mutual agreement. Business’ worries about another cliff edge might again resurface and preparations for one might again be needed.
- Government would be totally consumed by negotiations on trading and other arrangements and keeping the show on the road with changes necessary in the transition period (UK institutions to replace EU institutions) and preparation for the end of the transition. Policy on anything not connected with Brexit (NHS, Defence, Education etc.) would have lower priority.
- The economic and fiscal position would suffer from uncertainty. Jobs and pay would continue to be adversely affected.
Only a small number think that No-Deal means Remain, and given the text of the questions it seems hard to believe that those answering opinion polls could think so.
But the real point is that few understand just how difficult a no-deal Brexit would be for the longer term.
- We would have had a disorderly Brexit raising real frictions with our neighbours in the EU. We would have failed to ensure there was no hard border in Ireland. We would have failed to uphold the Good Friday agreement thus undermining the core purpose of the EU: the promotion of peace between and within European states. We would have failed to pay the money we had already committed ourselves to paying. Our reputation as a respected global partner which honours international agreements and obligations will be severely tarnished, and our ability to conclude new international agreements will become far more difficult.
- Having reneged on our agreement to pay into the EU budget, the UK will be regarded as an unreliable partner. The disorderly Brexit will make us appear desperate and so a weak negotiating partner. It is hard to see that we shall get any good trade deals (which in normal circumstances can take five to ten years to negotiate).
- The Government would be focussed on just making things work, not on improvement. We would have to set up new institutions to replace the EU bodies that used to do the work. There would be new laws and additional bureaucratic burdens. These would be introduced with insufficient thought and preparation.
- The economic and fiscal position would be poorer.
Referendum and Brexit
A referendum would take four to six months from the date of introducing the legislation, so summer or autumn 2019. Public debate in that period would continue to be dominated by Brexit.
If the referendum agrees to any Brexit deal or no-deal, we would have had the disadvantages of a referendum followed by the problems of Brexit.
However, Remainers would feel that they had had their chance to argue their case not against Brexit the idea (2016) but against Brexit the plan. We would not like losing to Leave in 2019. But we might be satisfied that it had been a free and fairer vote on defined options, which had not been the case in 2016. So the country would have more of a chance to come together.
Referendum and Remain
At the end of any 2019 referendum campaign in which remain wins, we would be somewhere different from where we had been on 24 June 2016. We have all learned a lot. We have upset each other. Some have formed new political allegiances. There is a lot to do to piece the broken bits of Britain together again.
But in one sense we would be back to normal, to a place where we had been before 2016. Government would no longer be focussed on Brexit/ EU. Perhaps after another general election – sorry, Brenda from Bristol - we would get on with normal politics: NHS, education, economy. The Conservatives would address the “burning injustices”, Labour would seek to build “a country that works for the many, not just the privileged few”, Liberal Democrats would “build and safeguard a fair, free and open society” and Greens would “create a confident and caring Britain”.
Those of us in the centre ground would have to remain vigilant that a new generation of populists does not again hijack national politics and the machinery of Government to the detriment of the country.
Hard core Brexit voters and ERG MPs, whether still part of the Conservative Party or part of a new party, would continue to obsess about the EU.
But we could ask soft Leavers and Remainers about the time before 2016: how often did you think about the EU? What did the EU ever stop you from doing? Did you use to give more than an hour a year’s thought to the EU?
Remain is the only way to just make it all go away. A People’s Vote referendum with the option to Remain is the only way to achieve that.
Blogs are edited by London4Europe Vice Chair Nick Hopkinson. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.