Brexit means Brexit, as we have been told, remorselessly, since the UK electorate made the historic decision to divorce itself from the European Union. ‘Remoaners’ have been pilloried for trying to subvert the democratic will of the people, for bleating on and refusing to accept the result with the expected British grace and decorum.
But lately, there has been just the faintest glimmer that all is not well in the garden of Brexit, and the dawning realisation that actually, Brexit means a massive act of economic self-harm, hurting the country in ways which might take decades to recover.
Of course, many politicians of all parties are hugely reluctant to openly declare that Brexit was a huge mistake, least of all those charged with negotiating our withdrawal. And that’s hardly surprising, with both Conservative and Labour politicians keen to point out that the people have voted, and it’s now their job to carry out those wishes.
In light of Theresa May’s botched general election, where she was seeking a mandate (which, in fact, she already had) for a ‘Hard’ Brexit, the UK now finds itself in a far weaker position in its negotiations, and there is a Norway-style option being pushed now. This is where the UK would remain in the customs union and the free-trade area, which would please business and soften the economic impact of Brexit.
But this would come at a cost that many who voted Leave would find hard to swallow – the UK would be expected to pay a fee to the EU for this privilege, would be expected to continue to allow free movement of labour and perhaps most unpalatable of all, would be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Hardly ‘taking back control’ is it?
As Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg noted in a BBC interview this week, “If we are subject to the laws and rules of the single market, we are subject to the European Court of Justice, we are paying for the privilege and we cannot do free trade deals with the rest of the world, we are in the European Union. In that old and tired phrase ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck’.”
In, out, in, out, shake it all about
The UK would therefore remain as part of the EU in all-but-name, and would be subject to EU laws and regulations over which they had no control and no input. This is most definitely NOT what was voted for in the 2016 referendum. Why would remaining in the single market be more attractive than full EU membership? The answer is: it wouldn’t, and nor would the EU allow the UK to be in the single market on more favourable terms (or at least, the same terms) as full EU members – it would undermine the integrity of the Union and might encourage other member states to consider exiting.
A further ‘fly in the ointment’ would be that, were the UK to accept such a Norway-style ‘deal’ to ensure free trade with the EU, this would necessarily preclude the British government being able to strike deals with non-EU countries on an independent basis. Again, this defeats the object of voting to leave the Union.
According to the Financial Times:
“It is now obvious that this vision of a pain-free Brexit was an illusion. As the real choices become clear, the slim pro-Brexit majority could easily fall apart. That is all the more likely because opinion polls have consistently suggested that a majority of voters are not prepared to pay a personal economic price to secure Brexit.”
Based on the assumption that people are beginning to realise the implications of voting Leave, the article goes on to argue that the real issue is whether the British public can be persuaded into a second referendum, a question with no easy answer as “there is an understandable public reluctance to reopen a divisive issue.”
Writing in The Spectator, Remainer Matthew Parris has written an open letter to Brexiters, imploring them to admit their mistake before it’s too late. He has called on people to remind themselves that people never voted to “impoverish themselves in pursuit of national self-respect.” He argues that:
“…reassurance has been shattered. Voters have understood we’ll take a hit. Few now believe we’ll be richer. People are coming to fear we would be poorer. You do surely know this is the way the mood is turning. You know, too, how the same mood is growing within the Lords and Commons. You may think this faintheartedness is misplaced, but you cannot think it is temporary.”
It is the elephant in the Palace of Westminster. An increasing number of MPs realise the direction Brexit is headed, and the damage which will occur as they press on enacting the “will of the people.” Theresa May
herself was a Remainer, yet she is trying desperately to lead the country into the ‘hardest’ possible Brexit – how is this possible? The UK is determined to cut off its nose to spite its face.
Rather than remember that the referendum was actually only advisory, and not legally binding, parliament is dogmatically following the Brexit path for fear of alienating those who voted Leave, an increasing number of whom are now having second thoughts.
Professor Iain Begg, on The UK in a Changing Europe website, is calling for a politician “who dares to question whether Brexit still makes sense” to put their head above the parapet:
“…if no UK politician dares, even guardedly, to question whether Brexit still makes sense, an option for responding to the growing disquiet about leaving the single market and the attendant risk to British prosperity will be closed off. Is there anyone out there in the political system prepared to fill this vacancy in British politics?”
In truth, it will need more than one politician to do this, and to their credit, the Liberal Democrats at least tried to open the debate during their general election campaign. But until leading members of the Conservatives or Labour are prepared to do the same, the UK will continue headlong on this potentially, perhaps even inevitably, devastating path.