Sorry for polluting the site with politics, but after a few tweets attracted some “You understand nothing, Jon Snow!” comments I wanted to set out a few thoughts in longer form.
I do not believe that leaving the EU is inherently bad. There are plenty of faults with the EU both in theoretical constitution and in practice. But there’s plenty of good in there too- not least of which is the power it puts in the hands of individual citizens to live, work, love and settle down where they please. If we are going to make a success of Brexit, we should start by acknowledging that. The stuff about a “British bill of rights” and repealing great swathes of health and safety law, turning Britain into a tax haven trouble me greatly. Nonethelss, I think some forms of Brexit could be perfectly workable- Norway and Switzerland are doing OK, despite what looks to me like an overly onerous way of doing things.
So given that I don’t believe Brexit to be inherently bad, why am I so upset about it? It’s because of the way it is being done and, consequently, my fear that the people leading the process do not understand what they are doing. Worse, they are refusing to listen when people who do understand try to explain it to them.
The referendum was appallingly constituted and alarmingly vague. But that should have been OK- it was an advisory vote to a representative Parliament in a democracy. We could have had a debate in Parliament over which bits of the EU we thought, on balance, would be sensible to stick with and which bits were not. White papers could and should have been written examining in detail the consequences of falling out of the EU in a hard Brexit on a two year timescale. What about the customs union? What about the single market? How about considering the ETFA?
Had there been some sort of functioning opposition, I believe they could have required the government to go through that process, in detail and in the open. Theresa May has no personal electoral mandate, not even from her own party. The Conservative manifesto of 2015 has a commitment to remaining within the single market. Even strongly pro-Brexit politicians had said that no-one was talking about threatening our position in the single market. May has a razor-thin majority in a party which has been riven by devastating divisions over Europe for the last 30 years or more. It would not have taken genius to get a few Europhile Tory back benchers on side to ensure that the options for staying in the Single Market, customs union, EFTA and so on were at least debated and studied.
Maybe we’d still have concluded that hard Brexit is the way to go. But at least we’d have considered the options, gathered some data, and made up our minds in an informed manner.
And yet here we are, the day that Article 50 is triggered, about to have our EU citizenship removed from us. And there has been no functional debate over any of this. Two weeks ago, the minister in charge calmly admitted to a select committee that they hadn’t studied in detail what will happen should we fall out of the EU with no deal in two years’ time! Now however unlikely you think that might be, it is the grossest dereliction of duty not to have studied it! If you are entering a negotiation, the first thing you need to do is to know where you stand, and the second thing to know where your counterpart stands. All Europe has to do for the next two years is nothing, and the UK is so comprehensively screwed that international trade will, at least temporarily, grind to a halt. We ought to be hiring tens or hundreds of thousands of people to guard against the possibility that this might happen. The scale of the potential mess is very alarming, and at very least we should understand what it would entail!
Last week, the pro-Brexit MPs “politely” walked out of a select committee detailing the possible consequences because it was too gloomy. These people will soon get a stuff dose of reality when they realise all the EU has to do is nothing for two years and our situation becomes nightmarish. As Michael Hestletine put it last night, we are now entirely at the mercy of the EU dictating to us the terms on which we will be allowed- ALLOWED! to trade with our largest market.
This is down to the failure of Parliamentary scrutiny in general, and Labour’s decision to vote with the government on invoking article 50 in particular. David Cameron is responsible for the incredible lack of detailed preparation and cavalier attitude to the referendum. But Parliament failed to demand a detailed plan and proposals then, and has continued to fail to do so.
I fear that this is going to be a watershed moment for our country, and not in a good way. When we look back on this I think we will ask why Parliament and the Opposition didn’t demand more scrutiny and more discussion of the various options that could have been pursued, but weren’t even considered. Parliament has rolled over and allowed the executive to perform a massive power-grab on the pretext of a slim majority in a badly-constituted vote in which both campaigns demonstrably lied like lizards!
I don’t buy the argument that the Labour party had no choice but to run a three-line-whip in favour of Brexit. That relies on short term polling and people will change their minds when it becomes apparent that we’re making a huge mistake as a country. I think we will remember that Parliament failed to even consider the alternatives to hard Brexit and history will not be kind.
For the record, I am also aware that the SNP are not supporting EU membership out of the purest of europhile motives, and I’m very annoyed that the Lib Dems keep harping on about being the ONLY party to oppose Brexit when they demonstrably are not- even leaving aside the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein, there’s still the Green party who now have more MPs than UKIP. Common courtesy would demand acknowledging them, and common sense would say that a progressive, pro-European alliance opposing Brexit and appealing to the 48% would be a good idea. And one might have hoped that a few more Tory rebels would vote against Article 50 rather than just poor old Ken Clarke. But no, party politics at its usual depressing best prevails on all sides.
I’m not saying it is “all Labour’s fault”. It’s not all anybody’s fault. But even leaving aside that I think the whole hard Brexit route is verging on insanity, I am saying that this has been a complete failure of the proper functioning of the legislature in exercising due diligence over the work of the executive. And you wonder why I’d like to retain my rights and protections against the stumbling incompetence of my own government as an EU citizen?
Here endeth the rant.