Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Why it now has to be no deal

Brexiters for a variety of reasons have a problem with the UK being a member of the EU and after a long campaign, spanning decades, a referendum was held and Britain voted to leave. We need not explore the reasons. Some are valid, some are not, but we don't get to second guess votes otherwise we are saying some votes are worth more than others.

That then put it in the hands of Parliament. There were subsequent debates as to whether it should be a hard or soft Brexit where, through its own inability to get to grips with the issues and take Brexit sufficiently seriously, they failed to have any meaningful impact on the debate. Nor were they able to exert their collective influence on the executive by way of their overall lack of coherence. They failed.

Of course, Parliament can reasonably complain that the executive under Theresa May sought to exclude parliament for much of the proceedings, but even when given the opportunities they couldn't reach a conclusion between them.

As it happens, parliament had it muddled all along. They tried to force a decision on having a customs union, failing to fully appreciate that the trade aspect was to follow after a withdrawal agreement was secured. Too much emphasis was placed on defining the outcome in the first stage. 

As it stands there is a deal on the table, one which allows for any number of possibilities up to and including a customs union along with a number of inherent protections on labour rights and environmental standards etc. Put simply, there was no good reason for remain MPs to block the deal if they were truly sincere about respecting the 2016 vote. They themselves set the process in motion by consenting to Article 50. Now they are backtracking.

While Theresa May was focused on getting the deal through parliament, the remainer blob in parliament was busy cooking up schemes to prevent a no deal Brexit, inserting irrelevant amendments into procedural legislation, but ultimately ignored the fact that the one guaranteed way to avoid a no deal Brexit was staring them in the face.

Any MP who claims that their number one priority is preventing no deal who didn't vote for May's Deal is lying. No deal was something they were prepared to risk to try to achieve their actual top priorities: stopping Brexit altogether, or jockeying for party advantage - or both.

At that point this ceased to be about the shape of our future relationship with the EU and instead morphed into a constitutional battle as to who is ultimately sovereign; parliament or the people. There are plenty of good arguments for not leaving without a deal, many of them detailed on this very blog, but the referendum verdict is explicit. We must leave the EU.

On this, parliament has made itself abundantly clear on three occasions, more if you count the many other opportunities it has had to assert itself. It will not facilitate a Brexit of any kind. So now they are saying that a decision that they voted to turn over to the people is now to be disregarded because they do not like the result. Stopping a no deal Brexit is now spoken of as a euphemism for stopping Brexit altogether. They take us for fools.

Now as you know, I am not salivating for a no deal Brexit. I think it's a dangerous path to walk down and a leap into the long dark. But I am resigned to it. It wouldn't even matter if I changed my position to remain. We are where we are precisely because this parliament has brought us to this point. Remainer forelock tugging about Northern Ireland won't wash now. They had a deal in front of them that prioritised the preservation of the status quo on the border but they instead preferred to gamble.

That gamble has spectacularly backfired resulting in a Boris Johnson administration, no deal and by way of tribalism and party politics they are unable to bring this government down even when it's down to a majority of one. Even now, when we face what is described as the most serious crisis since the Second World War, parliament is still unable to get its act together.

They will, of course, play their little parlour games, with support from the outside by way of legal challenges, but they do not seem to comprehend that the game is over and they lost. Their every last effort has been inept and ineffectual. The ultimate decision now rests with Boris Johnson.

This is where we go through the charade of pretending a deal is possible but we all know it isn't. The EU knows that there is no sincere effort to conclude a deal. If they open the books once more, they know that it won't stop with the backstop and there's a risk of the whole deal unravelling only to end up in precisely the same standoff when parliament again refuses to ratify it. If the EU thought there was any sincerity and if the UK had a detailed alternative set out that was legally operable, with the scope of any renegotiation confined to the backstop, then one imagines they would be more receptive but such is not forthcoming. They know it. Johnson knows it.

Ultimately we have run out of road. If we do not leave on October 31 then there is sufficient time for Johnson to be deposed, or forced into calling a general election where there is then a strong chance that Brexit will never happen.

That now can't be allowed. This isn't just about a vote that happened one day in 2016. A mountain was climbed from half empty public meetings in rural pubs through to a national movement for change. Quashing Brexit would rapidly see parliament reverting to business as usual, and in so doing would be throwing democracy in the bin. We would be saying that the two decades of movement building; pounding the streets, hammering out the blogs and doing all the things democratic citizens are supposed to do counts for nothing. We would be sending a clear message that legitimate grassroots politics cannot affect change.

That then fundamentally changes the nature of government. It says that our votes are subject to the approval of a ruling class; a political elite that believes itself to be more moral, wiser and better informed, despite the last three years demonstrating beyond any doubt that they are none of the above. I will leave it to you to imagine what the possible consequences of that are.

This isn't about who is right about whether we can trade on WTO rules. Certainly that will be an argument to be had after we leave when it becomes apparent that the hardliners were far wide of the mark, but this is something more fundamental. Leave voters are watching and waiting to see if their vote, which they regard as sacrosanct, and the one meaningful vote they've had in a lifetime, will be obeyed.

The fact our establishment even talks about "respecting the vote" is an indication of how far we are drifting from democracy. I don't care if they respect it. I don't care if they don't. As a voter in a supposed democracy I demand they obey it. For Boris Johnson this exercise is really just about his re-election and the survival of the Tory party but for those of us who voted to leave, not especially caring if the Tory party survives, this is a test of whether our participation matters a damn.

You'll get no argument from me that a no deal Brexit will be a rough ride and will do considerable damage to our economy and standard of living. But this is not new news. These risks were spelled out in full before the referendum which leave voters elected to disregard of their own reasons. I voted to leave in the hope of an EEA Efta Brexit but I accepted the risk of no deal.

That seemed like tolerable risk being that two thirds of parliament were against leaving. I had just enough trust in them to believe they would recognise the gravity of the vote, and the obligation to act on it, but also the enormous risk that came from no deal. It is their arrogance, their stupidity and fundamental dishonesty that has brought us to this point. Their every effort to quash Brexit only hardened the resolve of leavers and at every pivotal moment proved to us that not only had they no intention of obeying the vote, there was no low they would not stoop to in order to kill our votes.

That parliament has been so devious and so inept has convinced me that we cannot go on like this, and that if the UK is to ever shake off its economic, political and cultural stagnation then we need a radically new political settlement and a clear out. If this is what it takes then so be it. There was a deal to be had but because our establishment could not see past its own vanity they've brought us to the brink. Johnson is just giving us the final shove. That's entirely on them.  

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