Tuesday, 10 September 2019

A new proposition needs a new mandate.


Leave won the referendum by a slim but respectable majority. There was a mandate to leave the EU. Leaving without a deal was a fringe thing. Then Brexiters started to realise that any deal would be, according to their own red lines, a bad deal. They wouldn't compromise and didn't see the need to compromise.

Those at the top of the Brexit food chain then decided amongst themselves that not only could we cope with no deal, it was inherently desirable, preferable to a deal and from there on in no deal Brexit became the only One True Brexit.

To Brexiters, no deal had become the ultimate escapism - to hide from the truth that if we wanted to maintain a viable trade relationship, preserving open borders on the Irish frontier, a compromise was necessary that would dampen their post-Brexit deregulation and liberalisation ambitions.

This puts the Brexiters in full tantrum mode, branding Theresa May a remainer and Olly Robbins a traitor. A bile filled lash-out at the adults in the room trying to navigate their way through intractable dilemmas. It was easy for the Brexiters to paint this narrative by deyong these dilemmas even existed. They took to writing in The Telegraph, Times, Spectator and elsewhere to tell us that "WTO rules" allowed us to trade as normal and we have nothing to fear.

Previously we had seen parliament dragging its heels, reluctantly passing the necessary legislation to enact Brexit, but as it became apparent that no deal was the primary objective of leavers, that parliamentary reluctance turned to outright hostility to Brexit. Leavers shifted the goalposts and the process became ever more polarised. A fight to the death.

Here we must not forget that politics also played a large part in shaping parliament's view. They could and should have steered us toward a softer Brexit but Labour, conscious of offending its working class leaver voter base, would not commit to anything that would see us retain freedom of movement. Early on the most viable avenue (EEA Efta) was closed down by consensus, refusing to explore the possibilities of Article 112 as a means to reshape freedom of movement.

That avenue was never revisited as the debate was then absorbed by the withdrawal agreement where parliament would find virtually any excuse not to ratify it. The backstop looked too much like a customs union that would likely become the frontstop, and remainers claimed it didn't contain enough on workers rights and environmental protection. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. Parliament was not going to ratify it even if their demands had been met. Both sides were playing double or quits. At that point it it as a winner takes all contests where the national interest didn't get a look in.

This brings us to where we are now. Theresa May hit a roadblock so she had to step aside. Leavers believed Johnson was the man to ram it home. That out Brexit in trouble. Johnson immediately set about a purge of the Tory party, making fresh enemies in the process, hardening parliamentary opposition. Johnson's critical error was behaving like a PM who'd won an election with a fresh mandate.

This is where I find myself conflicted. Parliament should have got its act together far sooner and worked toward facilitating a viable outcome. They neglected to do so. But at the same time nobody can reasonably expect them to roll over and simply let a no deal Brexit happen unopposed.

But then the Brexit blob have shifted the goalposts again labelling anyone who voted for the withdrawal agreement as a remainer. Tory rebels who are entirely sincere about respecting the 2016 vote but seeking to avoid no deal are just not Brexity enough for the Tory party. Now if you're opposed to no deal then you're opposed to Brexit. This is not an honest game.

Now it seems this can only be resolved by a general election. Parliament has fought itself to a standstill. I now assume we will go for another delay and an election where leavers will not only have to re-fight the referendum but also fight for a no deal Brexit - because that's essentially what you're getting if Johnson wins.

That, I suppose, is only fair and right. The Brexiters changed the proposition from leaving the EU to leaving the EU specifically without a deal. A new proposition needs a new mandate. Leavers could have caused in the 2016 win but instead went for another roll of the dice.

No doubt this will be an election fought on a people versus parliament narrative but ultimately the process has done its job. The deliberative process has (sort of) worked. It has stopped a wholly damaging no deal Brexit and allowed the public to have the final say through a general election. It's fairer than a second referendum which would either be a rigged question or a straight re-run which nullifies the first vote. A referendum wouldn't really solve anything, especially if leave won again. Which it could. A general election allows both sides to set out their stall and allows voters to decide if Brexit really is the central issue.

Brexiters will naturally wail and protest but this is a direct consequence of refusing to have a plan. Had there been a plan with specific proposals, Leavers would be able to say with greater authority what voters did or didn't vote for. They fought a deliberately vague campaign so it could be interpreted any which way. But that works both ways.

But then remainers are in equally dodgy territory. Their main hope now is a hung parliament where Labour and Lib Dems join forces which will likely lead to Article 50 revocation or a second referendum. More likely the latter. But the the duplicity, scheming and hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed. Moreover Labour still isn't an attractive proposition and I don't see the Lib Dems making the grade. They can perhaps recover their pre-wipeout status but it feels probably that Johnson will scrape a win.

At that point, there is nothing at all parliament can do to stop a no deal Brexit. Brexit will have cleared the final hurdle. Voters know who they are voting for and why and what happens if Johnson wins. Remainers then have to fight the election on the basis of no deal scares which didn't work in 2016 and probably won't work now. The full blown histrionics robs any scare of its credibility. They just don't learn.

If anything wins it for remain it will be Johnson's turnout problem. Many might well have concluded already that their vote isn't worth a damn. But if that's how remainers win then they need to look closely at what they'll have one - a bitter dispirited country, more divided than ever with a ruling class hated more viscerally than ever. Remaining is a non-solution that brings no closure. In either case we are looking at a long war for the final outcome. Both remaining and no deal are dead ends. The country is lost until we can agree on something.

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