For the last three years, one thing has dominated the news. Many people, whichever way they voted, are sick of hearing the word Brexit. They’re bored. They want to move on. And here I am, writing another article about it. Whenever I write on important issues from sexual abuse to charity, from religious freedom to antisemitism, the number one comment I get back from people (even editors) is ‘I expected an article on Brexit’. Well, I am a member of the European Parliament, so that’s not too surprising. It’s my job.
We had a referendum in June 2016; at the time the government had promised to trigger Article 50 immediately, which would mean we’d have been out in June 2018 and back to the business of our daily lives already.
Instead, we had 9 months of waiting for Article 50 to be triggered. Then incompetence on the UK’s part and intransigence on the EU’s conspired to cause delays. We’re now 92 days from Brexit, and still neither the Westminster Parliament nor the EU Parliament has approved this shambles of a deal which doesn’t even try to deliver on anything (other than immigration) that Brexit voters wanted, whilst simultaneously annoying Remainers. This Brexit deal is the ‘best deal possible’ according to European Union negotiators; they mean it’s the best deal possible for them.
We won’t get our money’s worth for the £39 billion divorce bill. Theresa May used to tell us that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. She’s delivered on a bad deal…and gambles on three things to ramrod her deal through Parliament. Firstly, she’s relying on your boredom. She’s assuming that the public are so sick of hearing about Brexit that we’ll all say ‘yeah it’s a bad deal, but the EU won’t let us have anything better and at least we’ll be able to finally talk about something else’. Secondly, by holding the first Parliamentary vote in mid-January, two months before Brexit, she hopes to run down the clock to bounce Parliament into approving it. Thirdly, she’s relying upon Opposition incompetence. Their “will they, won’t they?” motion of no confidence, followed by the “did Jeremy Corbyn call Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’ or ‘stupid people’?” distraction, added to their confusion over Brexit, hardly inspires confidence.
Remember the Trump – Clinton election (the most unpopular candidate in American Presidential history versus the second-most unpopular candidate ever)? Both May and Corbyn would be 15 points behind in the opinion polls if they were facing someone competent on the other side. They’re not; they’re facing each other.
A consequence of Theresa May’s running down the clock is that the UK’s best option – to agree a simple Canada-style free trade deal with the European Union (as the EU itself said was on the table when Council President Donald Tusk proposed it) – is looking less feasible.
Many Brexiteers think May’s deal is even worse than Remain, fearing that we could be trapped indefinitely. We’re down to three choices: Remain (with all the attendant civil strife that would cause), May’s deal (which offends both sides in equal measure), or No Deal (short-term pain for long-term gain).
The European Commission has (as predicted) produced contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit which include areas such as aviation, financial services, customs checks, emissions trading schemes and the legal status of Brits living in the EU. This isn’t what I want, but what else can I back? I can’t support May’s deal, and I certainly can’t support Remain: millions of people voted four times (2014 European elections, 2015 General Election, 2016 referendum, 2017 General Election) to cause Brexit.
As a democracy, if the nation votes for the same thing four times and then it’s not delivered, or actively torpedoed, those people will believe that democracy is dead. I’ll just say this: of the 17.4 million Leave voters, I’d guess between 4 and 8 million of them aren’t bored; the ones who’d feel utterly and irrevocably betrayed. If between 10% and 20% of the adult population of our nation were to lose trust in our democracy to such an extent, the social breakdown would still be felt two generations from now.
I hate to say it, but No Deal now seems the least-worst option; perhaps from that starting point, we’ll finally be able to negotiate a reasonable trading relationship with the EU.