Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Yes, Brexit is a shitshow, but my conscience is clear

Just lately I'm getting a lot of finger jabbing remainers telling me that I contributed to unleashing this "shitshow" and though I am in complete opposition to the ERG and no deal, I have in some way "climbed into bed with them" - and that I was naive to believe it would go any other way.

In answer to this we need to separate out the issues. I believe to my core that Britain should not be in the European Union. I do not support the aims of the project or its methods. That is about as much common ground as I could have with either Tory leavers or Lexiters. I do not subscribe to the dogmas of either camp.

Furthermore, this blog shows a record of fierce criticism of Vote Leave and Leave.EU before, during and after the referendum. I was warning about the ERG coup long before the remainers started to run with it, and was alerting readers to the shady linkage to Tory think tanks before they got to it too.

Those issues, though, are fundamentally separate to the question of whether we should leave the EU and largely relate to how we leave the EU and what comes after.

This blog was as much concerned with the question of how we leave as the question of whether we should. In that, I argued strongly in favour of a an EEA Efta based solution, and I have never subscribed to the free trade sunlit uplands dogma of the Brexit blob. I have been an outspoken part of the leave campaign the whole time.

My view is that the case for leaving the EU largely makes itself when framed in the proper context of whether EU membership is compatible with a healthy, functioning democracy. There was never any reason to lie. Some things I have written turned out not to be true but I am not immune from error. What I did do, though, was make the effort to explore all of the options impressing upon readers the consequences of each avenue. I have never sugar coated it and have always maintained that even in the best case scenario there would be economic harm.

In respect of that, though most of my readers are leavers, a few people have told me that it was this blog that persuaded them to vote remain. I was obviously disappointed to hear that but in a debate full of noise, I wanted to present the issues as honestly as possible and I can at least say those I influenced made an informed choice.

But then, of course, this "shitshow", was not inevitable as remainers often assert. They told us that if we voted to leave we'd end up crashing out and stuck with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Only by way of a freak set of circumstances has that turned out to be true.

For starters, nobody anticipated the wholly unnecessary snap election that pruned the Tories' majority, and if parliament had got its act  together it could have done far more to direct the process - and in the final analysis, if those who said they intended to honour the result of the referendum had meant what they said, they wouldn't have gambled our future by refusing to ratify a withdrawal agreement. It is that, more than any other factor, that brought about this freakshow of an administration.

As it happens, the working assumption of Leave Alliance bloggers during the referendum was that with a two thirds majority of MPs preferring to remain, they would have exerted their authority to soften Brexit, but that, for multiple reasons didn't happen.

This is as much to do with the dysfunction in the Labour Party as anything else which had been in a state of civil war ever since the election of Jeremy Corbyn. This dispute showed that the Labour Party was an uncomfortable coalition of cosmopolitan London liberals and northern working class communities. One clan voted remain, the latter voted to leave. From thereon in Labour's position was irreconcilable.

Being that the leave sentiment strongly suggested that freedom of movement needed to be terminated, and with the media unable to entertain the notion that freedom of movement was negotiable under the EEA agreement, Labour couldn't bring itself to support the single market option, but instead euphemistically spoke of the need for a customs union when they really meant single market. This added further confusion and with MPs being so hopelessly out of their depth on basic terminology, they we unable to come up with a coherent policy and subsequently were unable to act as an effective opposition.

This was not in any way aided by the Lib Dems taking a wholly opportunistic approach by declaring itself a remain party more interested in reversing Brexit that working toward a viable and democratically tolerable outcome. Then of course we had the psychodrama of Change UK. When the chips were down there simply isn't enough coherence, wisdom or knowledge to be found anywhere in parliament to make the difference. Some of this could have been anticipated but it's easy to say that in hindsight. Much of this dysfunction has only been exposed because of the vote to leave.

How and why parliament became so inert and inept is a whole other debate but it is not entirely divorced from our membership of the European Union. London liberals have done well from the opportunities afforded them by EU membership, and the cheap labour and services that go with it, but not so much the people of the North who live at the sharp end of mass immigration and live with the consequences of those trade liberalisation measures that ultimately destroyed their jobs.

This has contributed to the widening gulf between the ruling class in London and the wider UK and with politics conducted largely through a London media through the prism of London metropolitan values, we have developed an indolent, narcissistic class of politicians whose primary occupation is virtue signalling and grandstanding which made them wholly unequipped to tackle a seismic event like Brexit.

There are any number of peripheral factors we can also explore, but the fact remains our politics is fundamentally broken and the relative stability of EU membership had masked a long running decline. Furthermore we have to ask why we have a hardline core of ultra Brexit zealots. That's an easy one.

It starts pretty much with David Cameron who, from the moment he took office, decided that the traditional Tory base were votes he didn't want and instead went chasing after the mushy middle, pretty much abandoning core tenets of conservatism. Instead we were hugging hoodies and posing with huskies in the North Pole. A continuation of Blair's public relations style government, which resulted in Tories decamping to Ukip, forcing Cameron into a LibDem coalition.

Basically, anyone with eurosceptic views and a desire to see a slowing of immigration was told to get stuffed in precisely the same way Tony Blair had. So at least a third of the electorate had been marginalised, Lisbon had been ratified without a referendum and then when it came to Cameron's famed renegotiation, he told us that he had reformed the EU. Put simply, those who have been disenfranchised for so long have no trust left.

As fringe campaign, pushed to the sides by the Brexit blob in London, the Leave Alliance didn't make much headway in pushing the EEA Efta option into the mainstream debate, but the option was attacked on both sides. Remainers wouldn't admit there was an entirely viable solution and the ERG used more or less the same rhetoric in that an EEA deal would scupper their deregulation fantasies.

The option only really got traction when it got a parliamentary spokesman in the from of Stephen Kinnock who did a reasonably good job of articulating the merits of it, but being in the Labour party and having to demonstrate that he was not running his own leadership bid, he had to toe the line and adopt the Corbyn position. Subsequently he added a customs union to his EEA proposal which meant no leaver could ever back it.

Latterly the option was then picked up by one Nick Boles who made such a hash of it that it ceased to be a credible proposal when he turned it into a "Norway then Canada" solution - which was immediately shot down. The option was then permanently associated with remainer moves to "water down" Brexit. Unless the proposal came from an MP associated with Vote Leave it was never going to fly. It is worth noting that in the run up to the referendum that the Leave Alliance did have Owen Paterson on board and the Bruges Group, but they jumped ship when they saw which direction the campaign finance was headed.

So there were plenty of roadblocks, none of which could have been anticipated, and this failure is ultimately a collective failure of British politics. Somehow it seems fitting that a total failure of intelligence, integrity and decency would result in Boris Johnson as PM.

But being that it now has turned into the precise "shitshow" that remainers believed was a dead cert, I am still not inclined to humble myself and back remain. Nothing in all this time has persuaded me that we should be members of the EU and a botched Brexit is not reason enough to give up on democracy. This rotten sequence of events is the culmination of decades of internal political decay to which remaining in the EU provides no answers. To do so would be an invitation for politicians to sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened.

If Brexit has demonstrated anything it is that our political institutions are broken, the economic status quo is not working and the political settlement is far from the glossy Olympics love-in we are encouraged to believe was true. We need to have this out. This is a political reckoning we've needed for a very long time, and though we could kick the can down the road, the consequences could be worse even than a no deal Brexit.

But then this is as much as much the fault of the British public. We have chosen to live disengaged and obese lifestyles, deferring politics to the politicians, not bothering participate an that is what has left the party system so utterly weakened so that they can be captured by ideologue zealots on both sides. Even our own MPs would rather watch Love Island than get to grips with the issues. That too is in part a consequence of EU membership where technocracy actively encourages political disengagement. It seems we are all in need of a wake up call and, folks, Brexit is it. We are collectively responsible for it and we all own the consequences.

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