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Delay? Watering down? Will of the People? There’s a lot of nonsense being talked about Brexit

January 25, 2017

Brexit continues to divide the country. The cancer of ignorance and intolerance unleashed by last year’s referendum shows no sign of receding. It has poisoned political discussion and debate to an extent I cannot recall in my many decades following, being involved in and writing about politics.

The Supreme Court decision yesterday that Parliament must have the initial say in triggering the Article 50 process to leave the European Union has just stirred the whole malodorous pot further.

Let’s look at some of the nonsense being spouted today by those so blindly in favour of leaving the EU.

First, the demand that Remainers mustn’t use the Supreme Court decision to delay Brexit.

So far, the delay has all been as a result of the dithering of a Prime Minister and a government who until last week couldn’t get beyond the ridiculous mantra of “Brexit means Brexit”. It will be a full nine months from the referendum before serious negotiations start and responsibility for that long delay must be laid firmly at the door of 10 Downing Street.

The irony of this is that the threat of a further delay if Parliament prolongs the Article 50 debate could have been avoided if May hadn’t dithered so long. There was an opportunity to start the Article 50 process immediately after she was installed as Prime Minister. Opponents of Brexit were in disarray, the legal challenge in its infancy and the pressure from Europe to get on with it quite intense. She could have done it without consulting Parliament. It would have been wrong to bypass Parliament but she could probably have got away with it.

What is being watered down?

Similarly, the defiant noises about not watering down Brexit are rather nonsensical. Precisely what is in danger of being watered down? Until last week when May sketched out a route map towards a hard Brexit nobody had a clue what sort of Brexit we were looking at. The trouble with this plan is that it is very vulnerable to legitimate challenge. All the way through the referendum campaign the leaders of the Leave campaign were at pains to stress they were not looking to leave the Single Market. They constantly talked about the Norwegian option as being the most attractive to the UK. That would mean remaining part of the Single Market through membership of the European Economic Area.

Watering down May’s hard Brexit option to retain access to the Single Market is surely much closer to what Farage, Johnson, Gove et al campaigned for? It is hardly the fault of Remainers that they conveniently forgot that EEA membership also means accepting the free movement of people.

Finally, we come to the dramatic threats around the consequences of thwarting the “Will of the People”. These go far beyond the merely nonsensical: they are hysterical and dangerous.

Tyranny of the Majority

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Over 16m voters still want to be part of the EU

We seem to be in danger of forgetting that the result of the referendum was very close. Almost half of those who voted were in favour of staying in the EU. Those 16.14m people have a voice too in a pluralist democracy. We are in grave danger of turning the “Will of the People” into the “Tyranny of the Majority”. Like all tyrannies that is already showing itself to be intolerant, brutally ignorant, dismissive of democratic processes and the rule of law.

That is not a Britain I feel very comfortable in.

So, where to we go from here?

Parliament now has a say and it should insist on the fullest possible information on the government’s strategy and objectives. I would prefer if the final decision was also made by Parliament but I fear the tone of the debate and the myth that the Brexit lobby has built up about the legitimacy of the referendum means that the final terms should also be submitted to a plebiscite. That guarantee should be sought now, as Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats have urged.

Brexiteers should welcome a second referendum

Those who want to leave the EU should welcome this, not decry it. Victory for them in a second referendum to endorse the outcome of the negotiations would legitmise their cherished objective of a United Kingdom outside the EU. Are they such faint hearts that they doubt whether the British people will buy what looks increasingly likely to be a hard Brexit? Surely, they are made of sterner stuff than that?

From → Politics

One Comment
  1. Ron Iles permalink

    Hello David
    I take your point and should say first of all that I voted to remain.
    However I am troubled by the ongoing challenges to the result. What would be the attitude of the remainers if the result had gone the other way?
    Do we just carry on having referenda until we get the “right result”? ( the European way)
    I thought the referendum question was unequivocal – do you want to be in or out? To use insurance parlance, there were no subjectivities as I recall.
    Ron Iles

    Like

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