Thursday, 1 September 2016
MPs should say "No" to Brexit.
Although straight after the referendum result in favour of our leaving the EU I signed the petition calling for a second referendum since I felt the issue should be debated I argued that it would be wrong at that stage to try to overturn the decision. The "people" had spoken and that was that. Yes, the referendum was technically only advisory, yes the margin for Leave was very narrow, and yes there was a lot of misrepresentation and some downright lies in the campaign. But these matters should have been anticipated dealt with before the campaign, not as an afterthought becasue in the eyes of the establishment the wrong decision had been made.
At that time I felt that the preferred option was for the negotiations to take place, to see the result which I expected to be much less favourable than the Leave campaign had pretended, and that a groundswell of public opinion would demand another referendum.
However, it is now clear that that option is not available. Once Article 50 has been triggered there is no going back. However inadequate the terms, however far they fall short of the promises made by the Leavers during the campaign, that's it. Two years from the triggering of Article 50 we are out, like it or not.
It is also now clear that our government neither knows what it wants not has the resources to achieve it. The choice is between the extremes of "hard Brexit" - leaving the European Economic Area (EEA), thus trading over the tariffs and restrictions on WTO terms like the rest of the world, but having control over migration from the EU, or "soft Brexit" - remaining in the EEA but accepting all the regulations including free movement.
So far here is no sign whatsoever that the remaining 27 are interested in a "bespoke" deal giving us the best of both worlds, as the Leavers liked to believe. Indeed the major Brexiteers, who within 48 hours of the result withdrew most of their promises with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders ("You didn't really believe that did you? Just campaign rhetoric!"), Farage has walked away and Boris Johnson ducked trying for the top job.
Be it Brexit hard or soft, since trade negotiations have been an EU function for the past 40 years the UK has nowhere near the number of trained and experience negotiators to cope with with the multiplicity of deals which will be needed to negotiate with the 164 WTO members, and re-negotiate the 50 or more free trade deals which the EU has already negotiated on our behalf, but which wlil no longer apply to us. Private sector staff will need to be recruited, many from the discredited giant accountancy firms which are partly if not largely responsible for the economic crash of 2007/8.
And at a cost to the public purse of up to £5 000 per person per day (yes, per day) or secondment at £250 000 per year
Jon Henley, the Guardian's European affairs correspondent, estimates that the process could last up to ten years and the administrative costs to the civil service would amount to £5bn. More seriously, in my view, the whole process will distract government, civil service, parties and media from focusing on solving Britain's real problems: housing, youth unemployment, low productivity, sustainable energy, climate change, a frighteningly-high balance of payments deficit,growing inequality, to name but a few.
Consequently it is a nonsense to plunge the UK into this massive and damaging distraction on the basis of an unnecessary referendum called by an inept prime minister to solve an internal problem within his own party and which demonstrated all the flaws to which referendums, alien to our constitution, are prone (see earlier post).
MPs, the majority of whom are in favour of Remain (as are overwhelming majority of the Lords) should be true to their function, which is to use their experience, wisdom and judgement to make wise decisions on our behalf, refuse to authorise the triggering of Article 50, and tell the government to go to the EU Commission, apologise for the distraction and disruption we have caused, and promise to be good in the future.
And no nonsense about another referendum. That could be prone to the same distortions as the one we've already had. Of course, some Brexiteers will make a fuss, some of the Leave voters will feel let-down, the red tops will howl blue murder and some people's faith in our politicians will receive a further dent.
But it will all blow over far more quickly that persuing the Brexit route, and give us time and opportunity to attempt to solve some of those issues which caused so many to feel left behind and that the system doesn't work for them