Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Is leaving now really an option?

Let me be clear from the outset that I was one of the 48 per cent who voted remain in the referendum almost two years ago.  I was also one of those who was not surprised by the outcome of the referendum…the remain side were complacent, thought no one in their right mind would vote to leave and have spent the last two years moaning about the result and desperately seeking ways to overturn it without really providing an alternative.  I also was prepared to accept the result of the referendum even though I did not agree because that’s what democracy is.
However, two years later I am beginning to change my view.  To say that the ways in which the government and opposition have approached Brexit has been inconsistent, shambolic and a bit like the blind leading the blind is an understatement and that the way the EU negotiating team is reminiscent of Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s…non, non, non…with you give us the money and we might consider a trade deal if not, then it’s back to the dialogue of the deaf.  The problem is that the British government does not appear to have, or has yet to articulate it, a clear idea of what it wants from Brexit while the Labour Party has dithered vacillating from a softish Brexit to a decidedly softish Brexit, its current position.  So both the EU and the UK have no clear idea about what the outcome of negotiations will be. 
Now I’m not in favour of a second ‘People’s Vote’ on the outcomes of the negotiation at all…chances are it would have the some outcome as there’s little indication that there has been a significant shift in public opinion in the last two years and another referendum campaign will simply reinforce existing positions.  What I am in favour of is the Government and Opposition acting in the interests of the nation rather than on party lines to satisfy the inconsistent and incompatible demands of their own MPs and party members.  If there was ever a need for statesmanship, this is the time.  Within Parliament there is—on a free vote--a clear majority in favour of membership of the EU.  There is also a broad consensus that leaving the EU will have challenging economic, social, cultural and political consequences.  I’m not one of those who believes that if we left the EU the heavens would descend and the UK would enter a new ‘Dark Ages’.  The issue, and it’s always been the issue, is what do we gain by leaving the EU.  If you take the two issues that dominated the referendum campaign—the question of sovereignty and control over immigration from the EU—the last two years has seen important shifts within Europe that would I think make it perfectly possible to negotiate a revised relationship with the EU on these issues.
There are people who are opposed to membership of the EU root and branch and their views are not going to change whatever happens but, I would suggest most people—including many of those who voted to leave in 2016—have a more pragmatic view of things.  It isn’t a case of voting to be poorer in 2016 but, as Gordon Brown pointed out yesterday, the failure (and nothing has really changed in the last two years) to challenge the gaping inequalities between London and its environs and the rest of the country that needs to be addressed and Brexit simply does not do this.  That was the true meaning of the outcome of the referendum---an almighty kick in the teeth for the Establishment.  What a statesmanlike government would do is say: we’re going to stop the Brexit process and we’re going to focus our substantial resources on dealing with the problems in our own country.  Brexit is essentially an irrelevance in that…it’s done its job in highlighting the real issues facing the UK.