The Brexit Conundrum

Before I start with this article, first a brief declaration: I voted Remain. I very nearly didn’t vote at all, because surely no government would be foolhardy enough to leave the EU without a Deal and they would clearly get the best possible Deal from the EU. A Deal that protects our rights to live and work in the EU and our ability to trade freely with the EU. So why did I vote to Remain? Mainly because of the same reason that so many voted to Leave, a £350M bus. Looking carefully at the Leave campaign it was clear that we were being sold a black box, the campaign was all smoke and mirrors. Misdirection, outright lies, and unachievable promises. We were told we would be able to give £350M a week to the NHS, but we were being told the Gross figures, not the Net. They neglected to tell us how much we got back, in science funding, regional development funds, in subsidies. The numbers didn’t add up, so I voted with my head, and not my heart, as it were. I voted Remain.

The Remain campaign wasn’t totally innocent in this either, but by voting Remain you knew what you were voting for, the status quo. A continuation of a democratic system designed to bring the countries of Europe closer together. The grand project, that has evolved over the last 74 years, to ensure there could never be another war engulfing the whole of Europe ever again. At first it was simply an economic partnership, designed to alleviate many of the stresses of post-war Europe, a way to make Germany feel welcomed back into the fold after the defeat of fascism. With the rise of the former USSR steps were taken to increase the political power of the members of this trading club and the EU was created, acting as a bloc in order to counter the threat from the East. Remember, David Cameron did not say that leaving the EU would cause World War Three, that was Boris Johnson who responded to David Cameron’s warnings of increased instability and risks to world peace. David Cameron’s actual words were “Can we be so sure peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash to make that assumption.” Remember as well that this was said just 2 years after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsular by Russia, in an act of aggression against the Ukraine, a country within Europe, and one that is still fighting a civil war, a war in which Russia in an active participant.

Over the past few months our social media pages have been flooded with scare stories and myths. Many easily debunked. Others are wildly hyper-inflated, such as the claim that lorry drivers were planning on bringing the country to a standstill with rolling blockades that never actually happened. There was more disruption from traffic accidents than lorries, with a handful of protestors being arrested for inconsiderate driving. But no, the country was not brought to a standstill, and as with many claims that led to the Referendum result everything was blown out of proportion by the mainstream media.

The claim making the most traction, and again easily debunked if you were to simply check it, is the Lisbon Treaty. Most of the claims centre around clauses that are said to take effect in 2020, or in some claims 2022. These include the UK being forced to join an EU army, and the UK being forced to scrap the Pound and adopt the Euro. Firstly, the Lisbon Treaty does not take effect in either 2020, or in 2022. It is already in effect. And yet here we are with our soldiers still under Her Majesty’s leadership, and the Pound still struggling against the rest of the world’s currencies. The reason? As with many other countries in the EU who signed the Lisbon Treaty, we didn’t sign up to the whole treaty. We have exemptions, and vetoes. Yes, there is talk of an EU army, but it requires unanimous support from every member state. And given the current political climate with Russia, surely greater cooperation between EU member states for our mutual defence is a worthy goal? Remember we have seen 2 state sponsored assassinations by Russia committed on UK soil in the past few years, both reckless and brazen, putting the health of British citizens at risk. One using a radioactive isotope, the other a military nerve agent.

Another claim that has been spread far and wide, not helped by a handful of politicians, is that the public overwhelmingly wants to leave with No Deal. Further than that, that the country voted for No Deal. The problem with this claim is that without investigation it cannot be verified and allows those who want No Deal to justify their position. It enables them to be highly vocal advocates for a very dangerous and undemocratic hijacking of the Brexit negotiations. There is absolutely no evidence that No Deal is what the majority of people who voted Leave actually want. And it is certainly not what the majority of the public want, given that the majority actually voted to Remain or didn’t vote because a Deal that was promised to them or Remaining were basically a coin flip decision, they didn’t care which way it went. And yet we see people claiming that anyone who didn’t vote effectively voted for No Deal. Yes, people have claimed that because they didn’t vote their votes should be added to those who want No Deal, and that everyone else who voted to Leave should be seen as wanting No Deal. That’s where the majority claim comes from. The best we can do, unless someone was to poll the entire country, or we had another Referendum that actually asked the question everyone in Westminster has been ducking responsibility for, is to look at the recent petitions. I have always had a gut feeling, looking at how many of my friends have repeated this myth, that support for No Deal was around 10% and at the time of writing the petition to Leave the EU without a deal is sat on just under 600,000 signatures. The petition to revoke Article 50 is at just under 6 million. Ignoring the fact that the Revoke petition has been going for just a couple of weeks compared to the Leave petition’s 5 months and that does seem to agree with my 10% figure, that 10% of people who voted to Leave want No Deal. But the reverse of that means 90% of people who voted to Leave voted wanting a Deal.

So why has it been so difficult to get consensus on what the public wants from Brexit? This answer comes in 2 parts. Firstly, in the way the Referendum was conducted to start with, and a flaw in the way political campaigning is conducted. This is David Cameron’s fault, for calling a Referendum with a black box question, and for allowing the Leave campaign to perpetuate lies and myths as facts. When you ticked the box to Remain you knew what you were choosing. As stated above, the status quo, membership of an elite trading club, with special access to other members of that club. The collective bargaining power of every member state brought to bear in trade negotiations ensuring the best possible deal not for individual countries, but for the EU as a whole. When you ticked the box to Leave you voted for 17 million different interpretations of what you believed was inside that black box. The Leave campaign promised everything to everyone. You want to stay in the EEA? Done. Stay in the Common Market? Done. Leave, but trade on similar terms as Canada does? Done. No Deal, and trade as some sort of WTO superpower? Done. Give £350M a week to the NHS? Done. Everyone’s unicorn of a different size, shape and colour. Everyone voting Leave saw the Deal they wanted and voted under the belief that everyone else wanted the same Deal, because surely if I want to Leave for my reasons, everyone else who wants to Leave wants the same thing? And given that absolutely no one actually knew what exactly was being voted for, except a nebulous black box labelled Leave the EU, is it any wonder that nearly a third of voters felt unable to choose between the options? None of this was helped by the claims being made by the Leave campaign going largely unchallenged, even when clearly lying. What was needed was a clear plan before the Referendum detailing all the risks, both of Remaining and Leaving, independently fact checked, a vote that included a secondary ballot on what sort of Deal you would expect if we left. A Referendum that would have given the public the knowledge of what they were voting for, full consequences of that vote, and set a clear path for the government so they could achieve a Brexit acceptable to the majority of the public, including those who wished to Remain.

The second part is down to Theresa May. While the worst-case scenario is leaving with No Deal, the second worst scenario is leaving with Theresa May’s Deal. It was a Deal that was always doomed to fail, it kept just enough in to maintain basic trade relations, while forcing us to effectively remain with a toe in each of the EU’s institutions, but not actually being part of any. It was a Deal not designed with the country’s best interested at heart, but with her party’s interests. More specifically, aimed at bringing in line the hard-line Eurosceptics within the party. It was for this reason that all the different alternatives that would have been more palatable towards those who wished to Remain were removed from the table, her red lines in negotiating. Remain in the EEA? Red line. Remain in the Common Market? Red line. Right for travel to and from the EU? Red line. By setting red lines that only the hardliners would accept she created a Deal that the vast majority in government could not accept, and in trying to create a Deal the rest of Parliament could accept it was one that the hardliners couldn’t accept either. It was a Deal that was always going to fail because it fails for the same reason the Referendum failed. Only now instead of there being 17 million different Deals, there are 650 MPs each with their own different idea of what a Brexit Deal should be. This is why they have been unable to reach any consensus over what Parliament wants, and why the current Deal has been defeated now 3 times. The irony in all this is that Parliament, for possibly the first time in living memory, truly reflects the will of the people. The chaos, incompetence, stubbornness, and selfishness of our MPs in the way they are handling Brexit is a near perfect mirror for what the public wants.

Finally, I mentioned petitions earlier, and how they seem to be the only true marker of what the public wants at the moment. Another declaration, I signed one of the petitions mentioned. In case it wasn’t obvious I was one of the nearly 6 million who signed to Revoke Article 50, but possibly not for the reasons you might think. Another of the arguments I’ve seen repeated over and over again is that it would be undemocratic to hold another vote. Let that sink in, voting would not be democratic. This argument is increasingly being used by those who want No Deal, which as we’ve already ascertained is most certainly not what the majority wants. But apparently going against the wishes of the majority is seen as democratic, but only to those who are in the minority. What about the democratic rights of those who voted Remain who would now like a say in the sort of new arrangement we want with the EU? What about the democratic rights of those who didn’t vote because they believed it was a coin flip between staying or getting the best Deal possible? What about the democratic rights of those who have turned 18 in the near 3 years since the Referendum? You cannot state that your democratic rights are more important than another’s. When it comes to democracy we are all equal. But despite voting for Revoking Article 50 I also recognise that those who voted to Leave still have some valid reasons. This is why I firmly believe that there should be another Referendum, one that finally lets the whole country vote on what they now know, so that we can reaffirm if Leaving is truly what the public wants, but more importantly to confirm how we should Leave. In much the same way that our MPs have been trying to find consensus with indicative votes for a viable Brexit plan that the majority can support, I believe these options should be put to the public, along with a comprehensive, and independent, guide to what all those options actually mean. And it should be voted on as a ranked vote, so there is one clear outcome. In order, would you rather Remain, or Leave, with a Deal that keeps us in the EEA, or the Common Market, or a Deal like Canada has, or Norway, or Switzerland. Or even a combination. Yes, it’s messy, but the alternative is just another Black Box where no one knows what the public wants. What has this got to do with Revoking Article 50? Well if Article 50 remains in place, the default position is to Leave with No Deal, by April 16th. By Revoking Article 50 it gives the government the time needed to go back to the people and gain a mandate for a Deal that the public wants, and to show our MPs which Deal they should be pursuing. And given some control over what we want from Brexit who knows, maybe next time I might vote Leave, but I doubt it.

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