Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections (and THAT referendum)

I agree with Tony

It’s worrying when it comes to this. I read an article by Tony Blair and find myself agreeing with it. My unease probably underlines why he is a voice in the dark and why his prescription – even if stated by a more acceptable voice (but who?) will be ignored.

And yet …

Realistically, 2018 will be the last chance to secure a say on whether the new relationship proposed with Europe is better than the existing one. And to insist that the ‘deal’ contains the necessary detail to make the say meaningful.
Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 3 January 2018, Tony Blair: Brexit – What We Now Know

Ignore the highfalutin Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and read what it says:

The issue is whether as facts emerge, as the negotiation proceeds and we have clarity over the alternative to present membership of the EU, we have the right to change our mind; whether the ‘will of the people’ – this much abused phrase – is deemed immutable or is permitted to mutate as our perception of reality becomes better informed.

Leaving aside that this is said by a committed Remainer, even the most rabid Leaver must recognise the Legacy of Cameron.

However much we may dislike him, even distrust and suspect his motives, Blair’s analysis seems horribly plausible.

In essence, there are 4 options in approaching the Brexit negotiation:

  1. To re-think and stay, best done in a reformed Europe, where we use the Brexit vote as leverage to achieve reform.
  2. To exit the political structures of the EU, but stay in the economic structures ie the Single Market and Customs Union.
  3. To exit both the political and the economic structures of Europe but try to negotiate a bespoke deal which recreates the existing economic benefits and keeps us close to Europe politically.
  4. To exit both structures, to make a virtue of leaving, to negotiate a basic Free Trade Agreement and market ourselves as ‘Not Europe’.

Here is the rub: all the last three options are Brexit. But they have vastly different impacts and outcomes.

The Government has ruled out option 2, is seeking to negotiate option 3, but a substantial part of the Tory Party is prepared to go for option 4.

The problem with option 3 is that this is simply not negotiable without major concessions which make a mockery of the case for leaving.

The problem with option 4 is that it would involve significant economic pain as we adjust our economy to the new terms of trade.

We need someone to speak up against this madness. Perhaps Blair thinks he is the man to do so. I fear that in doing so he has rendered a very reasonable argument toxic.

Brexit is not a political choice, it is an emotional choice.

Emotionally a large proportion of the British electorate believe that the EU is malignant (prejudiced against the UK) and bureaucratic (straight bananas etc.). They also believe that because of the EU our public services are suffering – not due to underfunding by a government that believes in a small state, but due to enforced mass migration from the EU that is swamping the country. Emotionally we have also been persuaded that our future is as a nineteenth century style imperial power bestriding the globe rather than as a mere vassal of Brussels.

These beliefs are now deeply embedded and cannot be over-turned by detailed analysis such as offered by the Tony Blair institute for Global Change (ref: Brexit – What We Now Know). The fact that emotionally we don’t want to hear Tony Blair doesn’t help.

But who will make the case and make it on a basis that can over-come the emotional bias? The post-referendum Language Wars has made opposition almost as toxic as Blair. It is apparently now “undemocratic” to provide effective opposition, parliamentary scrutiny or an alternative to Brexit. (Another emotional belief – it’s certainly not rational.) A politician who will have to face the voters in four years (probably before all the Brexit chickens have come home to roost) would hesitate before being brave enough to raise an anti-Brexit standard.

But someone has to.

Realistically it has to be a large political group and Labour (despite Blair’s urgings) can’t because they have already abdicated the role of HM Loyal Opposition and become the “handmaiden” of a Tory Brexit. The combination of all other parties does not have sufficient mass to have an impact at UK level (principally due to the Electoral System). At Scottish level – or Northern Ireland level (if they can get the Power Sharing Executive back off the ground) there already exists a pro-EU majority – but that only leaves us with a “Catalan” dilemma. (Perhaps the DUP see failing to re-establish the Power Sharing Executive as the best way to secure the Union with Great Britain.)

Is the Union lost?

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