Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Brexit: a mess of our own making

When Brexit goes tits up - and I say when because I really don't see a scenario where sanity kicks in, everyone will be asking who is to blame. We already know what the Toryboy line will be; those obstinate foreigners punishing Britain. To a point there will be a morsel of truth in this but for the most part it is our own fault. All of us.

The first mistake was campaigning on an immigration and economic platform. Immigration as a theme was a dick move in that ending freedom of movement is not the answer to our problems and notionally limits our post-Brexit options. As to the economic line (£350m etc), this was never going to stand the test of time and even in the most optimistic of circumstances Brexit was going to cost us. I made that clear in all my arguments and hoped that people would vote on the basis of a principle. The consequence of Vote Leave pushing that line is that we now have to make an issue of budget contributions, which again was an entirely spurious and peripheral issue. Vote Leave really screwed the pooch.

But then when it comes to closing down options, remainers have played their part by spinning furiously against the Norway Option, where even the BBC, quite deliberately, joined in on the hack job. Meanwhile, ever since the referendum the remainers have been so obsessed with blocking Brexit at all costs that there has been no coherent activity to shape Brexit. Had they respected the result they'd have had a lot more sympathy in pushing for a single market solution.

In this the Lib Dems could have taken a more intelligent path. They could have committed to Brexit and injected some kind of sanity into the approach. Had they set out a vision to soften Brexit and provided an alternative to kamikaze Tories they would have had my vote and I probably would have campaigned for them.

In the end they were unable to commit to any single approach. They could have chosen emphatically to remain without the hassle of another referendum. At least we would have know where they stand. What we got though was a permutation of all of the options. Spineless and incoherent. But that does seem to be a singularly Lib Dem trait.

As to Labour, this is as much a mess of their own making too. I think the crucial time to be making the necessary arguments was in the run up to Christmas and before May's Lancaster House speech. Labour couldn't field a single spokesman who could even adequately define the single market. It's only in recent weeks we have even been able to say that Labour definitely would take us out of the EU.

Then there was the parliamentary vote. I opposed Gina Miller's efforts, I even disagreed with the verdict but I accepted it, and when it came to the vote I urged MPs to make their views known. Instead they rolled over rendering the whole exercise useless. And what of Tory remainers? Is there even such a beast now? Why have they not spoken up?

In the end there wasn't enough wisdom or political courage to stop this inexorable slide into Brexit oblivion. Our political class is critically lacking knowledge in the subject matter largely because they themselves have treated the EU as an irrelevance. To them it's just something that runs in the background while they play their sordid games. They have failed to hold the EU to account and ignored our concerns. This is why Brexit is so bewildering to them.

Remainers can complain that the leave campaign lied but the remain campaign was also a volley of deception. The Cameron lie that he'd reformed the EU is one of the biggest bare faced lies of the whole campaign. If there was one thing the public were united on it was their shared disgust at the shallowness of debate coming from both sides.

From the outset the Tories planned to deceive us. The campaign was an insult to our intelligence. They fobbed us off with the usual stage managed charade and the entire establishment fell in behind it. You cant blame an electorate for turning away from you when you treat them with open contempt.

And that's really why we're headed for a kamikaze Brexit. The total disregard for voters and the casual contempt in ratifying Lisbon - the opening of our borders without consent and the cavalier way in which they ignored the consequences of their choices. There's just no trust left.

After that you can't explain the finer points of Brexit to the man in the pub. He knows he voted out, he knows leave won, so why the prevarication? Ever since the vote there has been a system wide movement of open defiance against the referendum result. Why-ever should the establishment be given the benefit of the doubt?

Ultimately our predicament is a consequence of years of casual disregard for democracy, years of head in the sand politics and an open conspiracy to deny the public a say. In so doing they have stored up years of resentment and now we reap the whirlwind.

I don't know if we can turn this supertanker but the only thing apparently standing in the way of our self-immolation now is the EU. The complexities of the Northern Ireland situation will have a substantial influence on the shape of the final settlement. The technicalities either mean a hard border or very deep levels of integration. The former has unimaginable consequences which may dictate that we take the sane option. In a roundabout way the EU will have saved us from ourselves.

But then I remind myself that we could be panicking over nothing. For all the talk of a "no deal" Brexit, somebody by now must have pointed out to the PM that it will mean a hard border in Ireland. If she has even an ounce of sense she knows it's not an option. If we trust that much then this rhetoric of hers is just electioneering. Tory activists swallow the line wholesale and they believe it and if it keeps the troops happy then that's just politics. From my perspective though, I'm not taking any risks. The WTO option fantasists must be confronted with their stupidity whenever they put their heads above the parapet.

Again though, this is a lonely task. Opposition to the Tory right has been feeble. The FT occasionally makes some useful observations - albeit it months behind the curve, but when they do they dress it up in the sneering and glib language of the referendum - tarring all Brexiteers as delusional old colonels in blazers pining for the empire. It plays well to the home crowd but in the eyes of the people who need to be convinced it's just more of the same establishment contempt. Then there's the trade associations and unions who have been mealy mouthed and complacent. It's the blogosphere making the running in attacking the Tories.

But then there is one defining factor that my remainer friends can unequivocally agree with. The government is simply not listening. For all the volumes of debate and discussion of the issues online, nothing seems to translate into any concrete realisation from the government. We are all shouting into the void. The government exists in a bubble of its own making with no intention of heeding the groundswell of opinion against the WTO option.

This though does not come as a surprise to any Brexiteer. This government is just one in a long line of governments completely oblivious to warnings. The Blair regime was famous for its indifference. This is in part why we are leaving. Whichever way you look at it our politics is broken. It is remote, unresponsive, under-informed and out of the hands of the public. That is what makes a political revolution necessary and it's why we must see this through to is crushingly inevitable conclusion. It's the only way they are going to learn.

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