Monday, August 27, 2018

Be careful what you wish for

I voted Remain but believe that the decision taken by the majority of British voters should be respected and carried out. The consequences for democracy in this country if it is ignored do not bear thinking about.

Journalist and former MP Matthew Parris would like to stop Brexit, but understands that, in his words,

"In its present febrile state our politics makes overruling the result of the referendum impossible for elected MPs, and calling a second referendum to do the job for them very tricky indeed unless led by an evident public thirst for a new say. For the moment that thirst is simply not there. I enormously admire Remainer comrades who are campaigning for what they call a 'people’s vote' but in the end a defensible new referendum has to feel like a response to popular demand, not a tetchy instruction to voters to think again."

Matthew thinks that, ironically the most likely chance of Britain remaining in the EU lies in the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson and Arron Banks.

In the words of the subtitle of his latest Times article on the issue, "Here’s to the success of Brexit headbangers,"

he thinks that

E.g. He hopes that the faction who are campaigning for the hardest possible Brexit "wins this struggle and wrecks the negotiating strategy launched by Theresa May at Chequers this summer. For in that wreckage lies the last, best hope we have of avoiding Brexit altogether."

He adds that

Contrary to current conventional wisdom, I think the prime minister stands a decent chance of avoiding the cliff’s edge and confecting with EU negotiators a compromise draft deal to be presented to MPs in the “meaningful vote” they’ve been promised, probably around Christmas. 

It will be the mother of all fudges, effectively pushing big decisions forward into the 'implementation period' after March 29 next year. It will be highly unsatisfactory: confusing, decision-ducking and incomplete. 

Serious Brexiteer Tories will hate it. So will Remainers. But some Brexiteers will vote for it. Why? Because this fudge will take us over the line and out of the EU.

I don't agree with every word of this analysis but I think that he's right to argue that the best hope of hard Remainers lies with those who want to wreck the chances of a deal. However, I think this is also true the other way round.

Not for the first time in the recent history of British arguments about Europe, when those who are most in favour of the EU vote together with those who are most opposed to try to defeat the middle, both are playing with fire.

Because the Maastricht treaty as signed by John Major just squeaked through, we never found out which half of the unholy alliance between those who voted against the "Opt-Outs" because they wanted more integration and those who voted against them because they wanted to scupper the whole thing would have sabotaged their own position had they "won." But we can be certain that someone would.

Similarly, just as Matthew Parris argues that those he calls the "Brexit headbangers" are the best hope of the hardline Remainers, nobody on either side can be certain what will happen if those who want a "pure Brexit" and those who want to overturn the referendum result join together in the "Meaningful vote" which MPs have been promised on any final deal.

Just as the those who want a harder Brexit might find out they end up with no Brexit at all if they wreck such a deal, those on the hardline Remain side who join with them to vote down what the government proposes might end up with a hard Brexit.

Those who want to argue for a more clean break with the EU than Theresa May and the cabinet agreed at Chequers have every right to do so. So does anyone who believes it is in Britain's interests to argue for a softer Brexit.

But anyone who thinks that labelling the government's attempts to find a solution as "treachery" is a good idea, or who would like nothing better than to see attempts to reach an agreement crash and burn, should be careful what they wish for.

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