Sunday, 14 January 2018

Brexit: hope born in an unexpected place

It feels as though a sea change may be under way in Britain. Just may be. And if it is, it’s not a moment too soon.

Nigel Farage:
not the obvious source of encouragement for the pro-EU side
Even Nigel Farage, former leader of the bizarrely named United Kingdom Independence Party – he’s a fan of Donald Trump and apparently keen on making the United Kingdom even more dependent on US whim than it already is – has now suggested that it may be necessary to hold a second Brexit referendum. Why, he’s gone so far as to suggest that Brexit might be defeated in a re-run vote:

I think the Leave side is in danger of not even making the argument. The Leave groups need to regather and regroup, because Remain is making all the arguments. After we won the referendum, we closed the doors and stopped making the argument.

What he hasn’t yet conceded is that, if the Leave side isn’t making much of an argument, it may be because it doesn’t have much of an argument to make. During the referendum campaign in 2016, both sides advanced wildly overstated claims, but Leave’s distortions (£350m a week released for the NHS, a world anxious to beat a path to Britain’s door to sign trade agreements…) won more votes than Remain’s.

Since then we’ve watched a hapless government, faced by an opposition still sitting on the fence, attempting to negotiate a good Brexit deal with the EU. That process quickly revealed that far from saving any money, Brexit was going to cost Britain a great deal. Equally, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is no great appetite around the world to hurry up with trade deals favourable to Britain. The United States has specified that a trade deal would require Britain to drop its food standards and other regulations. In any case, deteriorating relations with Trump now make it look as though no trade deal of any kind. is likely to be finalised soon

Though the inept leaders of the Remain campaign overstated their case, the picture that is emerging looks a great deal closer to what they were forecasting than to the rose-tinted optimism of the Brexit side. That may lead to swinging enough voters away from Brexit to reverse the results of the June 2016 referendum. So one can understand Farage’s concerns.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of this will happen. Nobody in government is ready to call for a second referendum (actually, the third: the first referendum took place in 1975 and confirmed our membership of the EU; another would allow the electorate to reverse the sad effect of the second in 2016). The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has again stated that there is no call on his side for a further referendum either, and it is not Labour Party policy.

Even if there were another referendum, there is no guarantee that Remain would win this time. There is a core supporting departure from the EU which is fiercely attached to its views, and unresponsive to any argument. Remainers can only hope that the necessary 2% or more of voters may have switched to their side of the debate, in the light of real evidence. Given the chance, they might just block Brexit at the eleventh hour.

At most what we have are some straws in the wind. Some cause for hope that we might be able to prevent this toxic step. No guarantees of success, but maybe the beginnings of a change in the climate.

Odd that the glimmer of hope has been given some impetus by Nigel Farage. In general, I’d feel no more inclined to turn to him for encouragement than I would to Trump. But in the rather bleak and deeply confused conditions of today, I’ll take whatever comfort there is, wherever it comes from.

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