12 July 2018
Alternative title? Hotel California Option
Politicians vs Politicians vs People
By Lynda Goetz
“People didn’t know what they were voting for” said a good friend of mine on Monday evening as we (briefly) discussed Brexit and Boris’s resignation. How often have I heard that sort of patronising comment from those who wanted us to continue having ‘a seat at the table’! We had a seat at the table for many years and what good did it do us? Perhaps had the other members of the EU listened and heard what Cameron was saying back in 2015 (not to mention what Margaret Thatcher was saying back in 1990) then we might not have been where we are now. The UK has never wanted to be part of a federal Europe, even though we wanted to be part of a Common Market. Most of us who voted Leave had a very good idea of what we were voting for – and it certainly wasn’t the total shambles we are currently facing. (I was going to say ‘ended up with’, but of course we have not yet reached the end of this sorry saga).
Why has it happened this way? Well, firstly, as many have pointed out, we have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor, both of whom voted Remain and neither of whom appear at all convinced about the merits of leaving the EU, indeed, both appear fearful at the consequences. It does seem extraordinary that one of the most monumental decisions for this country is being implemented by a leader who does not seem to believe in what she has been charged with carrying out; a leader moreover who also seems to believe that the best way to deal with a divided Cabinet, a divided party and a divided country is to ignore the will of the people (who, you might recall, did win a majority vote) and to treat her party and Cabinet rather like recalcitrant schoolchildren. What is more she has appeared to favour unelected advisors (initially, ‘temporary civil servants’ Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy and since September 2017, civil servant, Olly Robbins) over her elected Cabinet Ministers, to put into place what she sees as the best available compromise.
Compromise was never what it was about. The time for compromise had long since passed. The EU bureaucrats made that quite clear to David Cameron and have continued to make it clear to Mrs May. They do not want compromise. In spite of what they say, they now want punishment, submission and an example set for any others who may be hesitating in the face of ‘ever closer union’. What we needed was leadership with belief, not just in herself, which to be fair Mrs May appears to have, but in others, which she doesn’t; belief in the ability of the rest of the country to get on, to take back sovereignty and to trade with the world, as well as the EU. As a contributor to the letters page of The Daily Telegraph pointed out quite reasonably, ‘exports to the EU need to meet EU specifications, so must exports to the US meet US specifications, while those to China must meet Chinese specifications. That does not mean that such trade confers on them a right to impose and control our domestic laws’.
I am a fan of Boris Johnson, as those of you who have followed at least some of my Shaw Sheet contributions will know, but I readily appreciate that many cannot stand him (Boris like Marmite). The friend I spoke to the other day falls into the latter camp and was therefore delighted that Boris had had the decency to resign. He certainly would have had no enthusiasm for the idea of him being leader of the Conservative Party and hence Prime Minister, as might have been the case had he not been ‘shafted’ at the eleventh hour by fellow Brexiteer and originally supporter, Michael Gove. Would things have gone differently had Boris been in charge? Many would shudder at the thought of this clown, this buffoon, this politician lacking in ‘gravitas’ as Prime Minister, but there is little doubt that it would have been different. Boris did not have the support of many in his party, so he could never have been like Theresa May, a consensus leader. This in itself would have created difficulties (although perhaps no more than faced by Mrs May), but what we would have had is rumbustious belief in the ability of this nation to survive outside the EU (not outside Europe, of which we will always be a part, of course). That belief, that optimism, indeed that Romanticism of which he is currently accused (as opposed to the boring, pusillanimous realism and pragmatism being displayed elsewhere) would probably have ensured that at least some of those waverers and non-believers might have felt uplifted, encouraged and emboldened to take on the sneering EU bureaucrats, Messrs Barnier, Juncker and Tusk and make a go of this opportunity.
Had the Remainers won, as was expected, I have no doubt that the matter would have been put behind us and life continued, not as before, but with this country being swept into ever closer union with the other 27 (and counting) nations which make up the EU. In another generation it would have become even harder to extricate ourselves from the octopus arms of the mighty bureaucratic machine engulfing us. What would almost certainly not have happened is that those who voted Leave would continue agitating (à la Ken Clarke and Tony Blair) to try and instigate another referendum to get the result they wanted. What we appear to be seeing now, as the former Labour MP for Edgbaston and Chairman of Vote Leave, Gisela Stewart, pointed out on Radio 4 the other day, is politicians fighting politicians (either out of self-belief or personal ambition) whilst ignoring the people. People who, whether they voted to leave or to remain, are now just desperate for some leadership and cohesion from those they have elected and for an end to all the dithering and secretiveness which seems to have characterised their performance so far.
Mrs May should perhaps at this point, as Allison Pearson suggests in her Telegraph article, stop clinging to power and step aside to make way for a leader and a Cabinet committed to making our exit from the EU work. If this means a ‘no deal’ Brexit, then so be it. As Mrs May herself said at some point in the now-distant past, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. Given the dangers and difficulties of that situation, that may, of course, have simply been a negotiating tactic (one incidentally she has never shown any signs of using until her very recent and belated instructions to all departments to step up preparation for a ‘no deal’ Brexit). What we seem to be looking at currently is a deal which satisfies no-one and which one imaginative letter writer to The Telegraph (Robert Ward) likened to ‘getting off the bus… my foot stuck in the door… and dragged along helpless’. Boris Johnson’s image in his resignation letter of moving forward into battle with ‘white flags fluttering’ is also apt. As things stand at present it looks as if we are preparing simply to become a vassal state of the EU – a disastrous scenario. The Hotel California option (from the Eagles song*) was not what Article 50 was supposed to lead to.
* ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’