Theresa May has written to request an extension to June 30. The EU will suggest a year. I am not going to use the horrible Portmanteau of “Flexible” and “Extension” that’s doing the rounds. But the prime minister will concede, accept Donald Tusk’s plan, but still, for now have June 30 as her target date for Britain to leave the EU. This date will slip. With each slip, Brexit gets even further away.
All this means we’re taking part in the EU parliament elections, which will inevitably become a poll on Brexit. And with each such election, the “mandate” from 2016 gets a little more diluted. Neither party is in a position to fight an election, least of all the Tories, who’re broke, split and utterly demoralised and labouring under a leader of quite exceptional unpopularity. As are the Labour party, who’re a little less broke, a little less split, but too have a leader they can’t get rid of, who is still rated even less favourably than the hapless Prime Minister. It’s up to this parliament therefore to deliver, or not, Britain’s exit from the EU.
And I think everyone’s position in this Parliament is no longer really open for discussion. May doesn’t have the votes to get her deal through. The Labour party, barring a handful of rebels won’t vote for it. The DUP won’t vote for it. A significant number of nutty Tory Brexiters won’t vote for it. The only thing there are the votes for, is against “no deal”. May will either offer a referendum, which Remain will win at a canter, or at some point in the next year, she’ll lose a vote and parliament will make “revoke article 50” the default option, should no deal be agreed by whatever date is chosen. And then all the remainers have to do is run down the clock.
Brexit is over, and the UK now has a large, enthusiastic and well-motivated pro-EU movement, something it never had before. The Brexiters defeat will be overwhelming, complete, total and final. They will be a derided footnote to history, and quickly forgotten.
Is this failure to deliver anti-democratic? No. Parliament is the source of democratic legitimacy in this country, however much brexiters tried to turn the Referendum result into an enabling law, which is why once we’ve stopped Brexit, we should never, ever have another. Brexit failed because its supporters massively overreached their mandate. Their view, Europa Delanda Est, precluded any compromise. In refusing to compromise, they were forced into absurd logical contortions. “No Deal” isn’t a desirable outcome. The idea the UK could secure a better deal with the EU from without than within didn’t stand any serious scrutiny, which is why no grown-ups are seriously considering it. And ultimately, there are no benefits at all to leaving.
Brexit has already cost the UK far more than we’d have paid in “fees”. The “£36bn” wasn’t a bargaining chip, because most of it is the net present value of a great many British Citizen’s pensions, as well as payments to take part in projects to which we’d already agreed. The UK doesn’t default on it obligations. If you think this sum is material to the EU, you’re a twat.
The desire for “our own trade deals” likewise was an exercise in post-hoc rationalisation for an incohate loathing of the EU. The EU is the most valuable and complete trade deal on earth, creating the largest market, a market which is right on our doorstep. We need a deal with the EU, and to pretend otherwise is stupid. The only possible deal that could be worth leaving the EU for is with the USA, but that will be one-sided, will be spun as harming the NHS, and will require a drastic reduction in food standards. And in any case, any deal which created a hard border in Ireland would be vetoed by congress. So to secure a deal with the USA, we’d need to have at least a customs union with the EU. The Irish border was always going to be the problem, but the Brexiters were too blinkered, ignorant and stupid to see it.
All that mindless grunting about immigration was likewise illogical, even on its own, grotesque terms. Are we really going to send Frenchmen home in order to secure a trade deal with India, with its attendant demands for more immigration from the subcontinent, in order to appease racists? Brexit would inevitably increase the black and minority ethnic population of the UK relative to the white, and make the country proportionally MORE muslim. Which is not, I think, what Tommy Robinson and UKIP wanted, is it?
However, we can’t argue against Brexit on logical grounds. That has proven utterly pointless. The Brexiter unicorn has fallen badly at Beacher’s Brook, the curtain has gone up, and a reality is striding towards him wearing a white coat, carrying a rifle under his arm. It is now up to those of us who have kept our logical faculties (even if I’ve at times lost control of my emotional faculties) to diagnose and treat the mania that drove so many otherwise rational people to support with all their soul a project so contemptible, illogical, stupid and self-defeating.
What is wrong with the Brexiters?
First they believed that something was being created: a country called Europe. It isn’t. Some people think there should be a plan to create a “country called Europe”, but they are few in number. And second, the Brexiters mistook the single market for something that prevented, rather than facilitated trade with the Far East, and with other fast-growing countries. And they mistook intragovernmental co-operation on trade and business rules for a loss of sovereignty. Finally, even in a deep and complete union like the UK, Scotland has not surrendered one iota of its identity. The EU isn’t a threat to whatever a Brexiter thinks of “Englishness”.
This sovereignty argument is worth addressing in full. Because it sounds and feels like something fundamental, but it too is revealing of a misunderstanding. Independent nation-states have never existed stably anywhere in the world, ever. Nation states have always needed to be part of empires in one way or another. Look at Ukraine. Is it independent? Not really, it’s still in the Russian sphere of influence. It is not sufficiently sovereign to choose freely to align with the EU. Look at Venezueala who have invited Russian troops. Watch what the USA does in response. Venezuela isn’t truly sovereign either. North Korea? Often cited as the only sovereign country on earth, is just a buffer state for China. The UK itself, formed in 1707 was already an imperial project and has never really been independent either.
The exception is the nations of the EU. The EU is the first time in history that independent nation states could be truly independent. Look at Ireland. Thanks to the EU, little Ireland was able to impose its will, no hard border, on the mighty UK and the UK was forced to concede. Absolutely and on everything. Britain’s humiliation was both total, and absolutely deserved. And the Brexiters will never understand why the EU didn’t throw Ireland under the bus at the behest of German car producers (who were in any case, unanimous from day one that the integrity of the single market was more important to them than the UK automotive market). Everywhere you look you find the corpses of Brexiters unicorns as these animals were driven into a minefield called ‘reality’.
But the EU isn’t a conspiracy against the UK, as Brexiters fervently believe. It enhances the UK’s influence and power too in the great councils of the world. France and the UK run the EU’s foreign policy and stand with the vast resources of a united Europe at their back. The UK and Germany ran the EU’s trade policy, and wrote, by extension much of the world’s trading rules. France got the conciliation prize of setting the agricultural agenda, and they’re happy with it. Bless them. Britain’s status as a world power rested not on our size, or history, but our position, uniquely, at the centre of all the big democratic rich world clubs: Permanent 5 of the UN security council, 5-eyes, G7 and of course the European Union.
Influence, you see is like sovereignty but much more useful. The UK is big enough to be influential in alliances, but no longer big enough to control them. The Brexiter’s imperial fantasy is just the last unicorn to die. No European country is any more. But ultimately we share a continent, a culture and tradition of democracy with our European friends in an increasingly uncertain world. And the EU offers a model of hope that free peoples can coexist peacefully; one that will, I hope, continue to expand.