Friday, 8 September 2017

Brexit: we have peacekeeping responsibilities

We are now at a point where it has become close to impossible to generate any excitement over Britain's withdrawal from the EU. This is painful for nobody more than it is active, committed Leavers. It is bad enough that the government's Brexit negotiators have failed to consider our inevitable 'third country' status upon withdrawing from the EU and EEA. Futile is their keenness on trying to cobble together a series of arrangements which emulate the framework of the Single Market without actually being in it. Where Brussels is actually maintaining its commitment to WTO rules (such as those covering equal treatment) and the integrity and purpose of the Single Market, Britain is misreading this as cynical obstinacy. Some, like John Redwood, refuse to accept this. 

A similarly pressing worry, though, is this government's lack of concern for irreconcilable division amongst the wider voting public. This from Chris Grey is insightful:  

"Perhaps the most important reason why it is inane to expect remainers to ‘get behind’ Brexit is the way that the government has quite deliberately chosen a path which treats remainers with contempt. One might have thought that the leaderly thing to do after so divisive a period would have been to seek to bring the two sides together, and to reach out to the losing remain side - a group which includes most business leaders, professionals and what might diffusely be called the intelligentsia and which numbers almost half of those who voted in the referendum."

I think he is correct. His blog approaches Brexit from a different angle to mine and that particular post calls on Remainers to resist an exit from the EU at all costs. The highlighted quote above is not itself an argument for remaining, but it does draw attention to the lack of inclusivity with which the government has approached its exit strategy. Brexit, remember, is not an event. It is a process. By definition it must be a part of something bigger. An EU exit by itself, with no complimentary domestic or international action, is largely pointless and will mean wasted opportunity. 

One critique I have always had of large numbers of Brexiteers is their annoying habit of treating Brexit like some sort of personal plaything. Many forget that EU withdrawal is a national effort with consequences for the nation. They prefer to dismiss scrutiny and reasonable criticism as mere obstruction and frustration of the people's will. I particularly dislike the term 'remoaner', which appears to have taken on a life of its own and serves only to dismiss and belittle individuals who use their democratic right to express diverging viewpoints. Brexit voters, of anybody, ought to recognise the value in democracy. No longer do I have any patience or time for soundbites and namecalling. It was fun during the referendum campaign, now it merely distracts from the seriousness of wandering hopelessly through the Article 50 period. 

The referendum result was not a hammering. It never was going to be. 48% of the public opted to remain in the European Union, and I suspect that figure is still somewhere similar now. Many such people will be frequent travellers, either for business or personal reasons, drivers and shippers involved in cross-border transportation of goods or recipients of funding for EU-related initiatives. There are livelihoods on the line and such importance clearly transcends the need for mockery and narrow mindedness. That referendum divide will likely never disappear, one way or the other. This is why leaving in the right manner is so vital to national interests. 

It is not just the question of Brexit which promotes internal division in the UK. The question of participation within the Single Market also has profound electoral implications. Though EFTA EEA is about so much more than just compromise, it is the best way of healing a fractured, possibly frightened population. It respects the mandate provided by the referendum and takes into account the economic concerns of almost half of the country (and perhaps a large number of Leavers). Most Remainers don't care too much for ever closer union, they were just understandably unnerved by the prospect of stunted trade flow and a possible recession. 

Equally, most Leavers aren't especially interested in the trading terms provided by the Single Market. They care largely about immigration, which can be unilaterally halted under Article 112 of the EEA Agreement, unlike within the EU where such an action requires unanimity. The EEA is imperfect and needs reform, but one major benefit of pursuing it is the calming effect it could have on economic instability, expats and immigrants and the voting public, who are likely to use the Single Market as an indicator of who to vote for at the next election. Stability needs to be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. 

We have a responsibility to listen to people with concerns and promote domestic peace. If Brexit is not pragmatic then it has no future. Any pig's ear made of these negotiations will come back to haunt Leavers, as support for re-entry into the European Union will fester once more. 


  1. "The EEA is imperfect and needs reform,"
    In other words we will do to the EEA what we did to the EU, join on a transactional basis, demand opt out after opt out, blame it for all or ills and in the end leave.

  2. Thanks, Oliver. Worth saying that although you describe my post as calling on remainers to resist leaving the EU at all costs, what I go on to say, after the bit you quote is:

    “In practical terms this would have meant acknowledging the closeness of the vote and pursuing soft Brexit as a solution which would not be perfect for the hardcore on either side, but which called for compromise from each whilst being acceptable to the softcore on each side. For myself, although I would certainly have been unhappy about it, I could have ‘got behind’ such a compromise. Instead, everything has been pitched at placating the hardcore leavers”.

    It seems to me that such a compromise would have given most people some of what they want and some people all of what they want. I’ve never thought, since the referendum, that it would be possible to revert to the status quo ante, and that’s even more the case given what has happened since. So – coming as you say from a different angle to you – I pretty much agree with what you are saying as being from my point of view the least-worst scenario that’s plausibly available.

  3. It all sounded nicely inclusive until you used that word "fester" in the last line.