Saturday, 7 September 2019

All over bar the shouting?

Some time ago, and I can't say when, Brexit stopped being anything at all to do with the EU or seeking a viable outcome to this process. It is instead a fight to the death over the soul of the country. Are we to exist under a benign technocracy while our domestic politics is demoted to soft issues or are we going to be a serious self governing country? But it's more than that. It's about which tribe calls the shots.

In this I feel like a foreigner. I don't really have a dog in the fight anymore and the whole thing seems alien. I'd like a managed departure from the EU but that's not on offer. Instead I'm being forced to choose between two fundamentalist factions I despise in more or less equal measure. I still find the remain camp the more obnoxious of the two given their sense of entitlement and total lack of self-awareness but there's nothing much to like about the Brexit blob either.

None of this is as cut and dry as either side would have us believe. Whether remainers like it or not, leave did win the referendum and there is a mandate to leave. And whether leavers like it or not, parliament also sits with a slender mandate to steer the process and and scrutinise the executive. One does not cancel the other out.

No doubt remain forces in parliament are hoping to stop Brexit but there's more than a handful who can be taken at their word when they say that they are simply trying to stop us leaving without a deal. After all, there is no clear demand for a no deal Brexit and one rather suspects if that had been the proposition in 2016 then leave would have lost.

My hope is that parliament can succeed in forcing a delay for one last roll of the dice. If the withdrawal agreement can be rammed through then we have the basis for a Brexit with a viable destination. Though parliament has done nothing to deserve the trust I'm lending it, one last vote now they realise the very real danger of no deal will be the true test of their sincerity. If they get one last chance to avoid no deal and the still don't pass the agreement then we can say unequivocally that this really is the people versus their parliament.

But then most leavers already see it that way having already lost patience with parliament and at this point will support virtually any move to ensure we do leave at the end of October. The only reason I'm prepared to have another spin of the wheel is that prior to the coronation of Johnson, the penny had not quite dropped. Now it has and now it looks like MPs are starting to assert themselves the way they should have three years ago.

Right now parliament has considerable leverage over the timing of the general election. Giving Johnson his election would be to give up that leverage. The question is now one of how they intend to use it. I suspect, though, that Johnson will find a way to out manoeuvre them. They've probably left it too late.

Ultimately until the central dispute between the factions is resolved (ie one side comprehensively loses) all other debates go into mothball. Since the factions have determined this likely only goes one of two ways, all that remains is the questions to put to them should they win. The remainers, should they stop Brexit have some serious questions to answer.

Firstly what happens when half the country feels like their vote has been nullified on the say so of a ruling class widely perceived to be out of touch and acting in defiance of their electorates? How do they go about rebuilding trust in democracy? What is our Europe policy to be when half the country still wants to leave? If they attempt to carry on as before then it's only a matter of time before we are back here again. Without resolving this issue it looks like we are in a permanent state of uncertainty.

And here's the problem. The remainers haven't thought that far ahead. Stopping Brexit for its own sake is their sole objective with a view to returning to business as usual which just isn't going to happen. Should they get their way, they won't even realise that half their country hates their guts or even see the need for reconciliation measures. They're in a world of their own which is part why we ended up voting to leave.

Meanwhile, should we leave without a deal there are a whole heap of questions for what happens next, not least in respect of the shape of our future relationship with the EU and out international trade. Once their presumption and misapprehension collides with reality they are going to need good answer and fast - and since this is a movement that has scorned knowledge of any kind, they will find the cupboard is bare.

As it happens I rather hope that if we do leave without a deal, the Tories are left to pick up the pieces. They broke it, they bought it. It will be most entertaining to watch Boris Johnson floundering - to become widely regarded as the most incompetent Prime Minister in all of history. Neither the man nor the people around him are even close to competent enough to deal with the no deal fallout. It would be a shame if the Tories manage to slink away and blame the subsequent shambles on Corbyn. If there is to be a dividend from a no deal Brexit then it really ought to be the death of the Tory party once and for all.

One thing's for sure, though. What you or I now say has very little bearing on how this pans out. Democracy, it seems (or what passes for democracy in the UK) very much is a spectator sport. All we can do is watch and wait for the pieces to fall into place. All I can say is that if you are stockpiling for Brexit, be sure to buy in a truckload of popcorn.

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