Brexit Bear Growls

28 Feb 2019

Brexit has been hibernating, but unseasonal weather has caused him to emerge into the pre-Brexit sunshine. He collects his thoughts.

Where are we?

Between a cliff edge and a swamp, sort of a European Rock v hard place. The public voted to leave, Parliament wanted to remain (and not have the public running the country). A weak and arguably unstable government seems unable to implement its policy, being held to ransom by a triumvirate of hard-line Brexiteers, Remoaners, and an opposition that seems able only to do that – oppose.

How did we get here?

Through a comprehensive failure of Democracy. A previous Prime Minister decided he could win an election if he could spike the guns of UKIP by offering a referendum on Europe that they could never deliver. He wiped out UKIP, secured a reasonable majority and buoyed by “winning” a Scottish Independence referendum toured Europe with one Donald Tusk to “renegotiate” the EU treaties. The EU weren't having any, and he came back virtually empty-handed and called a referendum anyway, a year earlier than he was obliged to. The campaign was messy, misinformation was everywhere, and the issues were not well understood by either side, however in this atmosphere of ignorance the “leave” vote prevailed.

Bad losers rushed the gates, refusing to accept the will of the people and the new Prime Minister called an election and lost her majority, now relying on 8 Northern Ireland MPs to keep her in Government. The EU stretched out the process by insisting on agreeing a departure fee in advance of the future terms of trade. Having out-negotiated the UK side and having secured £39 billion, they then found that they were negotiating with a side that had no policy and the negotiations slowly unwound as the UK asked for the undefined and indeterminate, somehow expecting the EU to make an offer that would tell the UK what it wanted. The EU were pretty clear what THEY wanted, but when an agreement of sorts was thrashed out the UK didn't protect the Northern Irish position and allowed the EU to dictate a “backstop” which effectively meant that they received £39 billion and the UK stayed in the EU system but with no vote (but no contributions…nobody is sure because the plan is little understood by the public). The Leave campaign didn't accept this plan, nor do the remainers, nor do those that think there should be a second referendum. We may be able to delay our departure or non-departure, but a delay without agreement is a very messy “remain” that will leave us electing MEPs, continuing to support the EU budget, and even getting involved in negotiating the next one. In a choice of the negotiated deal or leaving with no deal, Parliament is slowly taking control of a process it cannot govern.

Where do we go from here?

EU history records at least three instances when Referendum by member states have brought those countries into direct conflict with the EU. Denmark had a second referendum and changed its mind, Ireland had a second referendum and changed its mind, and the Greek government abandoned its referendum result in the face of Brussels intransigence. So that is the precedent. If the present draft treaty can't be modified to accept the Irish situation then the “no deal” option is all that is left. Since MPs seems bent on stopping a “no deal” Brexit and also won't accept the deal on the table unless it is modified which Brussels refuses to do we have what the French might call an impasse… other terms are available.

A bear of moderate brain might be confused by the Irish issue which says that there must be a “backstop” keeping the UK in the EU system in order to avoid a hard border until such time as it is agreed that a technological or other solution makes a “hard” border un-necessary. A few days after the scheduled Brexit the UK in implementing the next stage of making the entire tax system on-line and digital, with the objective of eliminating documentation and speeding up the system, while thousands of cars cross the Thames each day paying the toll electronically via number-plate recognition. No need to be confused, however, as both the Irish and the British governments have made clear they will not impose a hard border. So we are arguing over a backstop to something we agree we won't put in place!

Before heading back into his cave, Brexit thinks that we will postpone a Hard Brexit while trade agreements are put in place and then leave, but such pragmatism may seem un-bearable for some.