Thursday, 5 September 2019

Turbulent times ahead

Three years in and we still haven't the first idea which way this goes. The possibilities have narrowed somewhat but this has now come to a standoff - with a leave voting public tired of the delays and shenanigans and wanting this interminable bickering to end.

I'm feeling the strain of it myself having to come up with something to say that hasn't be said a thousand times already. The public debate is going nowhere and we are recycling through the same old talking points getting nowhere closer to a resolution so anything that breaks the cycle would be welcome at this point.

The problem is that nothing on offer presents any kind of solution. No deal creates endless problems as discussed previously but then so does the prospect of remaining. Obviously there is no legitimate way to remain without another referendum - and though Labour would have it that they would renegotiate the deal and then have a referendum with the option to remain, it's doubtful this option would get past the electoral commission on grounds of fairness. It conflates the issues of whether we leave and how we leave.

If such a referendum goes ahead it would be widely viewed as a rigged referendum and if the remain establishment then accepts that verdict as legitimate then they will irrecoverably compound the perception that we have a ruling class where leave voters are disenfranchised. Essentially we'd be back where we started but with a larger and stronger eurosceptic anti-establishment contingent in UK politics and Brexit remains a permanent festering feature of it.

We then get to the point where leavers can justifiably say that if remainers won't accept a referendum result then why should we? We'll go again, only next time around there will be no votes or article 50 talks. We'll be in the territory of ripping up treaties and it won't stop there. All the while, with the UK still a member of the EU, the EU agenda is then stalled as nothing can go ahead without UK approval - where no government would dare approve further integration. At that point we would see violence directed at MPs.

The problem here is that the EU simply does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy in British politics for the UK to be a member. Even if we do a straight re-run of the 2016 referendum and remain wins by a mere two per cent, we then get calls for best of three. Any way you cut it, the EU is not popular enough as it is, let alone its stated destination.

Ultimately if remainer MPs are looking to keep this gaping division open and forever be fighting off a public who actively hates their guts then they are going the right way about it. It does not subside nor do the clock wind back to the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and we all sing Kumbaya. No. Things get darker and nastier. A lot of people are watching this process with one question in mind. Did my vote mean a damn? If it doesn't then Britain has got much bigger problems than Brexit.

To a very large extent this is no longer about the EU. This is about whether we have meaningful democracy. If we remain in the EU and ruled by a largely europhile political class where again general elections are meaningless then that famous British tolerance will evaporate.

There is no question that a no deal Brexit is a can of worms both politically and economically and nobody serious can claim we can do without a comprehensive formal relationship with the EU but at least any subsequent debate is on how we move forward as a country rather than being bogged down in the same stale tribal debates. Right now the nation is divided down leave/remain lines whereas if that dynamic is broken, having forced the issue on that question, we then get to redraw the lines toward a more collaborative discussion.

Of course there will be bitter recriminations over the damage. How can there not be. But the no deal destination is a collective political failure - not least because remainer MPs took an obstructionist stance from the get go. But then the right sought to provoke it by agitating for the most extreme exit possible and leavers soaked up their propaganda til it became a full blown culture war. Parliament could have asserted itself far sooner and sought to do the honourable thing but whatever it does now is probably too little and too late.

But then there is a silver lining to it. Though I don't relish a Labour government, Brexit will destroy the Tory party and the free market right and their obsolete trade ideas will stand wholly discredited. In respect of that, it is perhaps better if the Tories are in power for the first few years of Brexit so they don't get to scapegoat Corbyn. Then, once Brexit has devoured the Tories it will then feast on Labour as their decrepit socialist ideas fall apart at the first exposure to the fact that Britain is not the leading economy it once was. It may take some years but in my lifetime we will see politics transformed, breaking age old voting patterns - which can't come soon enough.

It's going to be a long time before we establish a new normal but if we don't get change then our sclerotic politics will fester on becoming ever more dysfunctional, out of touch and out of control by way of having proved the checks and balances are useless. Fundamentally Britain voted for regime change and it it turns out that votes cannot change the regime then democracy is dead. That's a whole heap of ugly that doesn't bear thinking about.

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