Brexit: What Next?

With at least 100 Tory rebels, the DUP, the SNP, collected others and most of Labour planning to reject ‘The Deal‘, it’s hard to see it getting through parliament on the 10th December.

What happens then?

Anyone who might know is keeping their options open. Bim Afolami, My local MP, held a town hall meeting last night to explain why he’s voting for it. Basically, he’s in favour of discharging the instruction of the people from the referendum, reinforced by manifesto commitments voted for in the last General Election by 87% of the vote, with as little damage to the UK and its economy as possible. This is a reasonable line to take, and I was impressed with his delivery. “The options are” he said “the deal, or no deal”. Put like that it’s hard to argue. If the deal passes, I will be satisfied Brexit can be delivered at acceptable cost. However, he’s wrong about the options. “No deal” is opposed by most of the Tory party, an overwhelming majority of the Labour party and most of the other opposition groups, it’s not realistically on the table, unless Parliament agrees nothing else, and behaves recklessly. Remaining in the EU, on the other hand, is back on the table, though few have admitted it publicly yet.

Brexiters make much of the need to strike “Free trade deals”, but these are worthless next to the single market. Why? The EU/EEA single market is the largest economy on earth, and it’s also the nearest to us, and we share our only land borders with it. To imagine that a deal, even with all of the USA, China, India, Australia and New Zealand could match the benefits of the single market is just delusional, as the Treasury and Bank of England made clear. Equally clear is the extent to which Brexiters deny that there are any costs at all to leaving. Any discussion at all of the myriad downsides is dismissed as “project fear”. The level of analysis, from the parliamentary European Research Group, to the local pub bore is the same: Brexiters have persuaded themselves, despite every expert on international trade, and more or less everyone who can spell in the UK telling them otherwise, there are no costs and vast opportunities on leaving the EU. Their only reasoning boils down hate of the EU, appeals to patriotism, confirmation-seeking and total dismissal of the entire subject of economics. No? Patrick Minford, the only “economist for brexit” assumes, for example, distance doesn’t matter in trade. One side of the debate is simply not amenable to reason.

Brexiters petty spite and cruelty is obvious to anyone who looks. Half a dozen people in the meeting spoke up about real, practical costs of Brexit – EU citizens who lose reciprocal rights, farmers who lose vital markets, businesses who will face higher costs throughout their supply chains, students who have lost opportunities for life-enriching travel and study. Lives are being disrupted and attenuated, and the old man sitting next to me simply shrugged. He actually laughed at the disabled woman and the Asian man who mentioned the climate of increased hate crime. The hurt they are causing is the point. By hurting those whom the brexiters blame for their deep personal inadequacy, immigrants, foreigners, people who paid attention in school, they feel better about themselves. That is where brexit is coming from. It’s a mood, not a policy.

‘No deal’ is overwhelmingly supported by people whose pensions will not be affected by the decision, but will be paid for by people whose incomes will be, for life.

So what is likely to happen when the deal is rejected by parliament? Afolami said he was working with Nick Boles on the EFTA/EEA plan as the next option, and I suspect that is what the Government will try to offer next. This will require an extension of Article 50 to draft an agreement. The problem is, I can’t see many problems solved by EEA/EFTA that isn’t solved by “the deal”, and I suspect it will fail for exactly the same reasons he laid out in his opening remarks about May’s deal: it’s neither fart nor shit, satisfying neither the atavistic hate of the people who wish to leave, nor the fears of most of the people who wish to remain in the EU. Indeed thanks to the Irish border, the EEA option would include the Customs union, leaving the UK closer to the EU than Norway. The only thing we’d have done is removed ourselves from the decision-making body, to literally no benefit to anyone except the French. And we’d still have Brexiters whining about being in the EEA, for life. Nevertheless, this option, rubbish though it is, is the Brexit that is most acceptable to me.

Predictably, the People’s vote people were there in force. And like lefties at every public meeting, at any point in history, their sanctimony and verbosity didn’t help their case. Nevertheless, this is, of the likely scenarios, my preferred outcome, as there is some hope of reversing the initial referendum result. (But what question do you ask… and what if ‘leave’ wins again?) But what I really want is parliament, the overwhelming majority of whose members back remaining in the EU, to observe there is no way to leave the EU that doesn’t catastrophically wreck hundreds of thousands of lives and careers, and no way to minimise the disruption in a way that satisfies the inchoate loathing of the EU. You can vote yourself a unicorn that shits gumdrops, it doesn’t mean the Government can deliver.

Nigel Farage trying to get a refund on the Norwegian Blue Option

The referendum was advisory, the country is bitterly divided whether or not we leave or remain. Worse, it appears likely the leave campaign conspired with a hostile foreign power, breaking British electoral law by pumping dank memes and dark money, using stolen data, to win their wafer-thin mandate, and they did so with a grotesque smirk on its face. So why is the “mandate” taken so seriously? So let’s be divided, nothing but the relentless march of time can change that, but be a bit richer and remain in the EU. Eventually the mood will pass. And I expect, if the outcome is ‘no brexit’ the vast majority of Brexiters will sink into a sullen silence rather than kick off. Many I suspect will breathe a sigh of relief, in private, that they no longer have to own this feeble shit-show. They may protest, but they will be shouted down, derided, ignored and ridiculed, much like the Tory party was after 1997, and deservedly so. The Tory party will split, of course, as it should have done when “the Bastards”, Lilley, Portillo, Redwood and Howard, crippled John Major’s administration, and undermined every leader since. However, purged of the Brexiters, the Tory party will find itself electable again much quicker without the baggage of failure (does anyone seriously expect Brexit to stink of anything else?). Fear of blood on the streets, openly expressed by Brexiters, yet dismissed when raised by remainers,  is no reason to do as the quitlings demand. What did Thatcher do when confronted by people who believed political power lay at the point of production, or in the barrel of an armalite? We have defeated nativist hate and threats of violence before in the 1930s and 1980s. Brexiters are utterly unappeasable, and want nothing that can be delivered at reasonable cost. So meet them head on.

As Afolami pointed out, Parliament is sovereign, we live in a representative democracy, an MP is a representative charged with doing what is best for the country, not a delegate charged with delivering on constituents’ moods. It’s leadership the people need. Simply reject Brexit. It’s a stupid policy, utterly without upside, and vast potential costs. Parliament, and the people who kill this insanity, will be thanked, in time.

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