Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Politicians return ‘to school’

Britain’s relationship with Europe over the past millennium has been one of ‘divide and rule’ and this has meant that we’ve fought against the French with the Germans, the Germans with the French, the Spanish with the French and against the French and the Spanish and so on.  In very broad terms, it’s been a successful strategy that has largely worked for the past thousand years until now…what the government has not been able to do in the Brexit negotiations is to peel off member states and get them to accept Britain’s point of view.  There are some countries, for instance the Netherlands, that are more sympathetic to the British position but that does not mean that they are willing to shatter the unit of the member states…so that’s one part of the British negotiating strategy that had been unsuccessful.  Given that EU unity is likely to be maintained and also that the EU negotiating team has said that they do not accept large portions of the Chequers agreement, you have to ask where the negotiations now stand. 
Former Bank of England governor Lord King, a Brexit supporter, has blasted preparations as ‘incompetent’. He stated in an interview for the BBC: ‘We haven't had a credible bargaining position, because we hadn't put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, 'Look, we'd like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can't agree, don't be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one.’  He predicts that we will find ourselves with what's been dubbed as Brino--Brexit in name only--which he said was the worst of all worlds. It's also a state of affairs that he fears could drag on for years. ‘I think the biggest risk to the UK, and this is what worries me most, is that this issue isn't going to go away, you know the referendum hasn't decided it, because both camps feel that they haven't got what they wanted.’  He contrasts the unity of the EU, the clarity of its position and the patience of its approach with the ‘the UK that’s been divided without any clear strategy at all for how to get to where we want to go.’
With Labour mired in the row over anti-Semitism for the past three months that has reinforced the often toxic relationship between Labour Party members, its contribution to the Brexit debate has been limited while the response from the Liberal Democrats has been one of studied silence.  There are growing calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ once the deal is agreed but, with the exception of the smaller parties, there seems no appetite for this amongst the leadership of Labour or Conservative parties despite the fact that, for Labour at least, it could be a general election winner.  The Prime Minister has her ‘plan’ that appears to satisfy no-one…the EU won’t accept it, many of her own party are opposed to it, Boris is as always stalking about for an opportunity to seize power, Labour’s ‘six points’ will almost certainly not be met so it will vote against any deal and a no deal solution won’t get through Parliament.  As it stands, there isn’t a majority in Parliament for any of the proposals being touted by the myriad of groups within Parliament or outside. 
This begs the question of whether Brexit is now a viable political option at all.  Polls suggest that as we move towards March next year, the number of people supporting Brexit is declining.  This is hardly surprising as, according to one study, a thousand Brexit supporters are dying every day…whether this is true or not, the support of the younger voters for remaining remains solid while that for Brexit is decomposing with some rapidity. So where does this leave the referendum result?  Could Parliament, for instance, argue that as it was ‘advisory’ and that we now find ourselves in a situation that could not have been foreseen before the referendum, the principle of representative government dictates that Parliament could vote to ignore the result and decide to remain in the EU?  Would that be an affront to the ‘democratic will of the people’?  Well, yes it would if you accept that the participatory principle trumps the representative one.  But if you do not, then there is no reason why Parliament should not exert its sovereign powers to reverse Article 50.  It would allow the country to address the real challenges ahead as Lord King said, "The biggest economic problems facing the UK are, we save too little, we haven't worked out how to save for retirement, the pension system is facing I think a real challenge, we haven't worked out how to save enough for the NHS and finance it, we haven't worked out how we're going to save enough to provide care for the elderly. These are the big economic challenges we face, but are they being discussed at present in an open way? No, because the political debate has been completely taken up by Brexit.  It's a discussion where both sides seem to be throwing insults at each other.’