Saturday, 10 November 2018

The case for a second vote is intellectually and morally bankrupt

People didn't vote for this kind of Brexit we are told. Nowhere on the ballot, though, were voters able to specify what form Brexit would take. That much can only really be worked out between parliament and the executive. Bizarrely though, we now have Dr Phillip Lee telling us "As a doctor and an MP, I believe we need informed consent from the British public on Brexit – that's why I'm backing a Final Say".

So if informed consent is required for an exit treaty, why was it not required for Lisbon? If we are saying then that informed consent is required for complex treaties then Lisbon does not have it and it is, therefore, a parliamentary obligation to undo it.

The Lisbon treaty was a profound shift in our EU relations, giving the EU a formal legal personality to become essentially a surpranational government. We were told, though, that Lisbon was just a tidying up exercise and nothing we plebs need to worry about. In reality they knew exactly hat it was but they weren't going to give us a say precisely because they knew full well we would say no. They weren't worried about consent then, informed or otherwise. 

Here, though, there is need for discussion as to what constitutes informed consent. We can be informed of something and still elect to disregard such warnings - which indeed we did. We were told that any number of things *could* happen. Voters had to weigh that up against other concerns and preferences. Either we respect that verdict or we don't. Phillip Lee evidently does not. 

Arguably we can say we now know more about what will happen which is largely incompatible with what leavers thought we were getting. I certainly do not consent to a deal that carves up the UK customs territory or one that leaves us part of the EU customs territory. Assuming I did get a chance to vote on this deal I would still be forced to vote for it for the simple reason that the establishment would take a no vote as a mandate to remain. They have then used one vote to annul another and we remain in a political entity which never had original consent and one we voted to leave in a vote unrelated to the deal.

Here though, we simply have to go back to basics. The original vote was a basic binary question on who governs us. Not at all complicated even though the consequences of that decision are. This question, though is more clouded. Being that most MPs cannot adequately describe the function of a customs union or even explain the deal or even tell us what the longer term relationship looks like, how then can we be asked for consent? 

The brass tacks of this is that MPs want us to vote again because they never wanted to leave and they don't like the look of the consequences of leaving. They are second guessing us. The consequences, though, are not necessarily consequences of leaving the EU. Most of what we are talking about in terms of fallout is what happens if we leave without a deal or if we leave the single market.

Here, MPs could, had they got their act together, forced the issue. They could have forced an EEA vote or they could simply have toppled the government and formed a government of national unity. They did not. They gave their tacit consent through their inaction for the government to get on with it. The consequences, therefore, are consequences not of our decisions, but theirs. Instead of using their time productively they spent the whole time wailing about losing the original vote. Now they want us to save them from their mess. 

Moreover, were they not supine creatures wedded to their tribal constructs, those who did not like the present direction could have broken away from the Tories and Labour and put up their own agenda for the 2017 election some six months after the Lancaster House speech. They've had plenty of opportunity to wield their own powers. As to the deal itself, why do they need us to vote when they have the power to vote it down?

If they are taking it as a foregone conclusion that the public would reject a deal (the only reason they even want such a vote), then they should simply cut to the chase and reject it themselves. Which they probably will when they get the chance. The question then is what does that solve? Mrs May then has to scrap her deal or resign, all the while the clock is still ticking. That then begs the question of what sort of deal parliament would assent to assuming the EU agreed to extend the talks. 

But then the people's vote brigade know that there is then a danger we would crash out without a deal. which is why they're are legal moves to clarify whether we can unilaterally revoke Article 50. That is their nuclear option - to attempt a parliamentary coup and stop Brexit. 

That's when things get interesting. They can say they have done what a parliament is supposed to do and stop very bad things from happening. But then for all the fannying around and the wasted time, we are still looking at a scenario where parliament has countermanded the verdict of the people. We then remain in the EU with negative consent. So what then? Another in/out referendum or simply deny us a say ever again? Nothing is resolved. 

The popular narrative will then forever be that there was a twenty year long campaign to secure and win a referendum on EU membership only to have it reversed by a parliament that never sought consent to take us in. What then can we say about UK democracy and the legitimacy of the EU? How can the EU project the image of liberal democracy when even its own members are held in it against their will? Forced to remain simply because departure proved too ruinous for politicians to ever swallow it.

Constitutionally it would fly in that parliament is sovereign, not the people (which is why representative democracy is not really democracy) and they could simply do what they always planned to do and wait until the opposition literally dies off and then no living person ever remembers not being in the EU. They then go ahead with a new treaty that erases member states as independent countries.

The problem with that is that this whole Brexit episode has given euroscepticism a shot in the arm and so would a reversal of the vote. The independence movement lives on for another generation. As economy conditions worsen, which they are set to irrespective of Brexit, the "populism" unleashed in 2016 with gather apace and we will be back here again and again and again until finally we leave. Leave has always been a certainty.

There question, therefore, is one of whether we do bottle it and pass on this problem to future generations or whether we resolve this now. For sure, it's going to be a very messy business but you have to ask why that is. It's twofold. Our politicians, without seeking consent, have gone ahead and transferred political authority over the governance of the nation to Brussels and placed all of our external relationships under a single treaty framework. That is the systemic vulnerability they created.

Leaving did not have to be an economic calamity. There are ways to do it safely but in the end we lacked the political coherence and competence, not least because those responsible for doing this to us never had any intention of respecting the vote. Leave voters are especially uncompromising precisely because there is no trust in our politics. That is more serious and dangerous than Brexit is said to be. What do you suppose happens when you tell them we're not leaving because MPs don't like it?

The point of a having votes to to change the regime without bloodshed. This is why for all its faults it is the best system we have. Britain, for better or worse, has voted for regime change. As much as the EU was on trial in 2016, so was the establishment. It deserved to lose and it did lose and it must step aside and make way for change. To obfuscate and cloud the issue further only serves to delay the inevitable. If we are saying that the 2016 vote can be disregarded then we are saying votes cannot change the regime. From that point hence, democracy is over. 

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