Thursday, 30 May 2019

Just deserts for parliament

One thing we Brexiters are good at is whingeing. We can whinge about the EU til the cows come home and we can whinge about withdrawal agreements and we can whinge about politicians and whinge about each other. Collectively, we don't do much else.

Whingeing about the EU is the easy bit. We're all expert at it and on a long enough timeline, in a a one to one debate, most of us can make a convincing argument for leaving. Or at least that the EU is a bad thing. What we have never done collectively is examined what comes next. What the objectives are, what the obstacles are and whether we are any better off for doing it. We always thought whingeing was sufficient. For the most part, it evidently is.

Now that we are leaving, we somehow have to reconcile the fact that the more you travel in the direction of sovereignty the more you sacrifice in trade. Worse still, there doesn't appear to be an optimal balance in that the EU can and does exert considerable influence. As the regional trade and political superpower it can strong arm its neighbours into accepting their way of doing things if they want to do business with the EU. And being that most trade is done locally, they don't have much of a say in the matter.

At some point after leaving the EU there will be a formal trade relationship with the EU where the UK ends up following everything from food safety rules through to data protection laws. We won't be doing much services trade otherwise. This is precisely where Brexiters do not want to be. Pretty much all activity ever since the referendum by Brexiters has gone into pretending these facts of life simply don't exist and that there is some magical scenario where the UK gets to have its cake and eat it.

Here we see just how creative they can be. From MaxFac through to "regulatory alignment" through to creative readings of WTO articles where magically the EU is somehow compelled to break all of its own rules for the sole benefit of the UK. You can try telling them otherwise but it's now an article of faith. A belief system. Course we know the arguments don't stand up (and so do they) so they then shift the debate back to the comfortable ground of "democracy".

This is pretty much their only strong hand. We did have a vote, it wasn't tampered with and it was comfortably in favour of leaving - so leave we must. That, though, does not give them the exclusive right to decide how or when we leave. Since the the ERG brigade how now shifted the goalposts so that only no deal can ever be considered the One True Brexit, despite many of them having campaigned on a Norway/Switzerland/Canada ticket, they seems surprised that they face a wall of opposition.

Essentially they have turned a fairly pedestrian proposition into a hard right radical economic experiment for which they would never win a mandate for in a general election. You might even call it an attempted coup. They're using the 2016 referendum mandate as a smokescreen for an agenda that has no mandate and if parliament serves any purpose at all then it is to defend our country against that kind of attack.

To that extent, it's partly a good thing that we have an immovable establishment. It is right that it does not simply roll over to any passing demagogue. Any movement for change must win through force of argument. Which it has not yet done. The problem, though, is an establishment that is no longer acting in good faith as a defender. Rather it simply refuses to acknowledge any democratic impetus and is now acting in bad faith.

They are right to resist the ERG to the last breath, but at no point have they constructively engaged in the exit process to ensure that we do leave with a deal. This is a parliament determined not to deliver on the people's verdict. In so doing they have further emboldened the no deal radicals to the point where many believe that no deal is the only way we will ever get to leave and there is no basis on which to trust parliament - and that much they are very probably right about.

So it's parliament itself that created this constitutional emergency. If it will not vote to pass a withdrawal agreement, it is acting in direct defiance of the public will. That then makes this a constitutional standoff where all other issues such as trade become secondary.

Nobody is asking them to like the withdrawal agreement. Remainers are never going to like an instrument that takes us out of the EU. But that decision was made for them when they voted to hold a referendum. And whether or not Brexiters like the deal is neither here nor there. They actively resisted having a plan of their own, they failed to seriously engage in the process and now what they get is what they are given.

Irrespective of the noise of the european elections and the Tory leadership contest, it is for parliament to honour its democratic obligations and pass the deal otherwise it is they who hand the ERG everything they want on a plate. It may or may not be the right path for the UK to follow, but it is the inevitable consequence of the decision made in 2016. If parliament is not willing to uphold its obligations then no deal (and the mess that goes with it) is pretty much what the nation deserves.

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