I’ve just read a brilliant A-Z of Brexit, which I can’t replicate because it’s been done. However, I do like to unpick definitions, so instead of a longer piece on the current situation around Brexit here is a little something based on the words and phrases used so often in this mess that we think we know what they mean – but do we?
Btw, I’ll aim to curb my tendency to rant as this gets us nowhere. We’re a rather divided and techy nation at the moment, not helped by the constant heat of this never-ending summer. What happens is that we talk amongst ourselves agreeing to be appalled by, for example, the incompetence of the UK negotiators, or are amazed by our inability to simply walk away from the EU. And with the latter, after all, shouldn’t the will of the people prevail to do just that? Hence this glossary and, I hope, some discussion with people who don’t agree with me.
The will of the people? We all know the result – it was 51.89% for Leave and 48.11% for Remain. However, the turnout was actually 72.21%. That means that only 37% of the total eligible British electorate voted for Leave (51.89% of 72% = 37%) and to support my argument that this is absolutely not a good enough majority, I’ve just read a very dense statistical article that argues that the result shows a tie. How is that the will of the people?
Sovereignty The majority of people who told me they voted to leave have said it was ‘sovereignty’ that governed their decision. But what does that word actually mean? Some said quite bluntly that they don’t want the European Union to dictate and have control over our nation state. The thing is, we were part of the EU and we dictated enough times when we were there. Are you therefore looking forward to lower standards in air pollution and so many other things too many to write that we’ll regret when they’re gone? Or is it that sovereignty conjures up a mighty nation going it alone without those foreigners just over that bit of water interfering all the time? Read Boris Johnson for that kind of thinking or, on the other hand, don’t! It’s an attitude that I find distressingly untethered to the reality of our place in the international sphere. Globalisation anyone? Or put simply, car parts and aeroplane parts that come from all over, are we are now to pay tariffs on these and get said parts delayed at the ports? No, the idea of sovereignty, as in no ‘interference’ from outside, is an impossible ideal.
Brexit This is us, Britain, leaving or exiting the EU. Although don’t forget that this ‘exit’ is very much an English thing as Scotland voted 62%-38% to remain, as did Northern Ireland 55.8%-44% and don’t forget Gibraltar at 96% for remaining in the EU.
Let’s be clear what Brexit means One of Theresa May’s favourite, albeit derided, phrases has been Brexit means Brexit. This is meaningless, but it is however, important that we understand the terms; hard Brexit and soft Brexit.
Hard v soft A soft Brexit would mean the UK staying in the EU single market and/or customs union for goods and services with some freedom of movement of peoples.
A hard Brexit, meanwhile, involves the UK leaving the EU with no deal or any other kind of agreement so it would then trade with the EU (our largest trading partner) under World Trade Organisation rules. Actually, we would, at that point, have no trade deals with any other country either. See also ‘crashing out’ and the ‘no-deal Brexit’.
The cabinet’s decision making Have you seen the usual pics of the Cabinet? There seem to be a lot of people around that rather large table. Apparently, there are 22 Heads of Departments there, plus a few civil servants. That’s actually not a decision-making body, as no decision could be made with that number of people. During my working life I ran focus groups, of which the perfect composition for a fruitful discussion was eight participants.
There are of course many Cabinet sub-committees and recently Theresa May divided the Cabinet into two sub-committees so that members could decide how best the UK could leave the EU, because, as I expect all of you know, the Cabinet is riven with differing views on just that. They cannot agree AT ALL. You’d think that they might have agreed on the way the UK would leave the EU before activating Article 50 in March of last year, no? Hmm? And I expect you are aware that negotiations are meant to be finished by October of this year with our exit scheduled for 29thMarch 2019 at 11.0pm precisely.
The latest version of the game this government seem to be playing at, as in ‘what are we going to do and let’s decide right now’ was the Cabinet away-day at Chequers, one Friday not so long ago (6thJuly).
That Friday at Chequers Have you ever experienced those away days some companies and institutions seem to think are a ‘good thing’? I have, and thought they were ghastly. My experience was of a lot of talk and a lot of ‘games’, both intentionally supervised and games-playing of that other kind. Who knows what happened at this Chequers away-day apart from that we know that Cabinet members had their phones taken from them. And wow, whatdya know, the Cabinet apparently agreed a policy! But. Not for long.
The short-lived agreement Gosh – they agreed a soft-Brexit! What was decided upon was, amongst other things (see full Statement) a common harmonised ‘rule-book’ on standards and goods, a customs deal that would avoid hard borders (that’s absolutely to be avoided between Ireland and Northern Ireland) and a ‘combined customs territory’. Yet, at the same time, the UK would have an independent trade policy alongside this frictionless trade with the EU. My first reaction was that this would never ever be allowed by either the EU negotiators (it hasn’t) or the Brexiteers in May’s Cabinet (see below) who obviously hadn’t the courage on the day to do anything other than ‘play the game’.
So, what happened? Well, it didn’t take long for it all to fall to pieces. May has had two resignations David Davis, the Secretary of State for exiting the EU (good riddance to an absolute dunce) and Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary (good riddance to an absolute buffon), a debate in Parliament, which nearly resulted in her losing the vote, but also stymied much of that soft-Brexit watering down that customs thing through various amendments, and a lurking (as in, it’s threatened but not actually happening) revolt of a possible no confidence vote. The latter I see as the typical bullying tactics of many of these Brexiteers – they barrack from the side-lines but don’t actually want to take on the truly horrendous role that May is burdened with.
We’re all going on a summer holiday And then, please note, they’ve all gone on holiday, Parliament that is. But not, I daresay, the negotiators. And I forgot to say that the new Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Dominic Raab, who seems to have an IQ a tad higher than Davis, (but has some interesting links with a think-tank that is dedicated to leaving the EU) has been side-lined as there’s been an announcement that the Cabinet Office, with May in the lead, will take over negotiations. So, no holiday for the Cabinet Office nor May either.
A no deal Brexit or ‘crashing out’ of the EU There’s been quite a lot of talk about this scenario. What happens, if all the negotiations come to nothing, is that at 11.0pm on 29thMarch 2019 the ports of Calais and Dover put up the barriers, and custom checks begin, which will lead to a huge tail back of lorries trying to get in and out of the UK. Plus, amongst many other things, the status of both EU people living here and the Brits living in the 27 EU countries would be somewhat uncertain.
For those of you reading this outside the UK did you know there is talk of having a plan for this, which would include stockpiling food and medicines? Naturally such talk and having such a plan has been condemned as scare-mongering by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European (not much) Research Group but to even to have such talk shows you that there is some concern that a no-deal might happen.
Why do people want to crash out? I mean, they actually do want this, so why? Well, take Rees-Mogg, who, one person I met on holiday said would make a jolly good Prime Minister, because he’s such a gent, isn’t he, and he’s not Boris Johnson. All said with a lot of good humour, but on questioning, he really did think the world of Mogg. But think again, my friend, he has a Hedge Fund for one. Look, by all means have a Hedge Fund, I’m not stopping you. But maybe his true colours showed when he said the Brexit dividend might only happen 50 years hence (see below for some more figures on that). People like him, often closely connected to the think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, see a hard crash-out as the road to a more flexible vibrant economy with less protectionism and regulations. In other words, they truly want the freedom of lower environmental and consumer standards, all in the name of (their) profit.
Should we have a second referendum? There’s also a lot of talk of a second referendum. I once thought we should have one but be careful of what you wish. We are a very divided country. Rather like the States. And who would win? Not sure. I think we might get another very close result or another tie – see above for the link to that article. But a referendum 10 years on? Yes – the youth of this country will want to return I’m sure.
And would we be let in again? I think the EU 27 must view us in many different ways: pity, irritation and, indeed, some anger as we are not the only ones that will suffer once we leave. But if we asked now, at this late stage, to come back in again I think we’d be seen as utterly untrustworthy. We’d be pariahs. What a mess, what a situation for a nation to be in.
Btw, is there any opposition to all this? I despair at the Labour Party. Jeremy has never been keen on the EU consequently it shows with Labour’s rather weak opposition. Because with the Tory Party riven with dissent around the question of Europe, Labour should be way ahead in the opinion polls, which it is not. The Lib Dems, btw, are actively opposing exit from the EU, but as the Lib Dems have never been forgiven for going into coalition with the Tories they are ignored by all and sundry. Mind you, there’s another story hidden away there, as the leader of the Lib Dems apparently missed the key vote on the Chequers White Paper because he was in talks about setting up another party – nope, me neither.
What is going to happen? Actually, nobody knows. Theresa May could be ousted, she could continue as PM. A soft(ish) deal could be brokered, we could crash out. If we do leave (well let’s be clear, we are) there are a few certainties of which one is that immigration from the EU will be restricted, which is both good and bad. I’ll just say that higher education, academic research, the NHS, and don’t forget the arts, will be impacted and not in a good way.
What is certain is that our economy will be irreparably damaged. There are too many reports to note here (apart from this link and another from a US perspective here) but the broad consensus is that the UK will be poorer as a result of leaving the EU. Our own government’s analysis is that economic growth will be stunted by 2-8% for at least 15 years depending on how we leave with crashing-out and WTO rules leading to the worst scenario.
This is, by far, the worst decision made by this country for decades.
Penny Kocher 27thJuly 2018