Friday, 23 September 2016

Brexit: trying to tame the monster

George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer – the quaint British term for Finance Minister – who campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU and was unceremoniously dropped by his boss David Cameron’s successor as soon as she took over – has said that “Brexit won a majority. Hard Brexit did not.”

One of the other figures who disappeared in the wake of the vote was Michael Gove. He’s a real hard case. He betrayed his old friend David Cameron by campaigning for Brexit alongside his new friend Boris Johnson. He then betrayed Johnson by announcing he would stand against him for the Conservative Party leadership, in effect forcing him out of the contest. He then went on to be soundly trounced. By then he had become too toxic even for the Tories, which is pretty remarkable in that company. So he found himself relegated from any kind of office, cast so far into the outer darkness that he can’t even hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Even so, he’s managed to make his voice heard, and even he, unworthy he, has a point worth making:

George Osborne is absolutely right that a hard Brexit has no mandate and would be no answer to the problems Britain faces.

In fact, it would put jobs and livelihoods at risk by erecting new barriers to trade with Europe. As he said, being close to Europe despite the Brexit vote is vital for Britain’s future.

Our economic future depends on membership of the single market, while cooperation with Europe on security is crucial in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

So even Gove, keen Brexiter though he was, is panicking now that he sees just what benefits Britain would be giving up. His solution is to stay in the single market.

Mike (top) wanted us out, George wanted us in
Now they have to try to stop the runaway train
I’m afraid that might cause some ructions. Because a great many of those who voted for Brexit did vote for a hard Brexit. They want out, and completely out. In particular, a great many of them want to get out of the EU to put an end to what they see as the sheer horror of immigration – they belong to the growing camp of xenophobes who are rounding on people they feel they can scapegoat, but don’t realise that it isn’t they who will gain from attaining their aims.

As I argued before.

Interestingly, even Theresa May, Cameron’s successor, who started off constantly repeating “Brexit means Brexit” (whatever that means) has been softening her tone on the single market recently. It really is possible that we shall see her government come up with an arrangement whereby Britain would remain in the single market despite leaving the EU.

That would be gloriously ironic. Because staying in the single market means accepting continued freedom of movement of people. Norway, which never joined the EU but is in the single market, has long had to accept that EU citizens can freely move there, live there, work there. It also means continuing to pay contributions to the EU budget. As Norway does. Finally, it means accepting EU regulations. As Norway does.

Leaving the EU in these conditions only means giving up any say in making regulations or setting budget levels. Amusingly, the Norwegians used to rely on Britain to speak up for them in EU deliberations. But who now will speak for us?

The Brexit backers who were voting for a hard Brexit won’t be at all happy about that state of affairs. Their dissatisfaction is more than likely to lead to tensions within the Brexit camp.

The statements by Osborne and Gove rather suggest that they’re trying to head them off. Gove and his mates let the Frankenstein monster out. Now they want to prevent his doing the damage they have at last learned to fear.

I don’t think they’ll succeed. Instead we shall simply see another phase in the debate, in which the Brexit camp itself splits, into the hard and soft trends. That only strengthens my conviction that we need another referendum. Not a second referendum on the EU, but a completely new referendum on what the alternative to the EU actually means.

You see, we know what the majority in the first referendum were against: they wanted no further part of the EU. But it didn’t make clear what they were for. And I suspect they won’t be able to agree on being for any one option.

In which case, given no satisfactory alternative to the EU – hey, why not decide to stay in after all?


Anonymous said...

Let's see there is a long long way to go and all sides, in out and the EU have big puffed out chests with big words at present. Much will change before the end. The point may well come when politicians just have to climbe down and shut up, its big business that will determine the eventual outcome and the politicians will resume the role of puppet. Money will win and high morals will fail is my best guess. Europe is also far from a unified force and has growing internal pressure and fragmentation there is growing pressure for a less burocratic dictatorial form of controll from many different directions. Maybe a rather more relaxed and democratic style of EU would benefit everyone.

For many in the U.K. Strong words and rhetoric from the EU will simply fan the flames, I am not sure they understand this British carecteristic. If only they had given Cameron a few olive branches.

Anonymous said...

Interesting momentum vote today, lets have no say for the next ten to fifteen years, or until Mr C is buried and dea, I think the vote was long live the spring of May. What a total staggering hijack!