Issue 195: 2019 03 28: Please May, We Leave?

28 March 2019

Please May, We Leave?

And You Too.

By Lynda Goetz

So, nearly 6 million people have signed a petition demanding we revoke Article 50, have they?  President of the European council, Donald Tusk, has thundered that the EU must not ‘betray’ these people and should give Britain a long extension for the UK to ‘rethink its Brexit strategy’.  Interesting that he seems to consider that 6 million trumps the 17.4 million who voted in 2016 to leave.  Interesting, indeed, how those (Remainers?) who signed said petition (presumably sitting at their computer and clicking the bar which says ‘Sign now’) consider that it should somehow overturn the views of those poor misguided fools who went down to their local polling stations nearly three years ago and put an X in the box marked ‘Leave’.  Interesting too that there is a lot of noise about the ‘one million’* who turned up in London for the Remain protest last weekend and the mockery over the paltry few hundred who have joined the march from the North of England to London in support of Leave.  The only foolish thing about the Leave voters is quite possibly their misguided belief that those in power would abide by their word and that the majority vote would be acted upon by the Government and by Parliament; quite possibly too a naivety in believing that come what may (no pun intended) ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ and we would be leaving on Friday 29th March.  The only betrayal here is of the 52% who voted to Leave.

We all know that ‘there are lies, dammed lies and statistics’, but the numbers around Brexit have been crucial and, of course, still are.  Not the numbers in polls or articles which variously report such things as ‘Remain would win a second referendum’ (presumably why they think they want one) or ‘more than half of voters think politicians want to stop Brexit’ (ComRes poll), but the numbers of MPs in Parliament who in fact are more than happy to defy their voters or deny their party’s manifesto.

Leaving was never going to be as easy as staying in.  How could it?  Had the vote gone 52-48 the other way, little more would have been heard about it.  We would have continued to roll our eyes at the European bureaucracy, but in our British way would have shrugged our shoulders and continued to enact it and on the whole abide by it, because at heart we Brits are not too bad at bureaucracy.  We may have our entrepreneurs, our buccaneers and our free spirits, but on the whole we are a fairly law-abiding lot.  The French or the Italians on the other hand may have politicians who believe in an ‘ever-closer union’ and over-arching Federal rule, but at a local level there is much more likelihood of ‘accommodation’ or, where there is real dissatisfaction, of burning barricades.

It is actually very sad that after nearly three years all that Brexit seems to have produced is division, disappointment, disillusion and deception (not to mention vitriol and vituperation from politicians and journalists* as well as members of the public on social media).  The country is divided; Leavers and Remainers alike are disappointed and disillusioned and so many of our politicians are guilty of deception.  Yesterday, in The Telegraph, Prof John Curtice (NatCen senior research fellow) is reported as saying, “What perhaps is particularly remarkable is that Leave voters have become just as critical as Remain supporters of both the process and the outcome.  That is not an outcome that would necessarily have been anticipated and does not help the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure parliamentary approval of her deal.”  Is the man mad?  Why on earth does he regard this state of affairs as a surprise?  As has been pointed out by any number of prominent Leave supporters, the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement is a flawed document, even leaving aside the dreadful backstop.  Basically we have had a stubborn (by her own admission) PM who has insisted on carrying out negotiations personally, even though she clearly has no negotiating skills.  She may have a well-developed sense of duty, but it is certainly not accompanied by any imagination or vision and she has always seen Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than any sort of opportunity.  She has surrounded herself with Remain-supporting civil servants and a largely Remain cabinet and has managed to alienate and side-line all her Brexit Secretaries.

David Cameron’s pathetic and ‘weaselly’ withdrawal from politics, having initiated a referendum which he arrogantly didn’t see himself losing, was the first of a series of events which have led us to this appalling and humiliating mess; there have been so many points along the way at which things could have been different.  Unfortunately, they are not and as so many Brexiteers are now conceding ‘we are where we are’ and it is looking as if the best strategy at this point, if we are to escape most of the tentacles of the EU (and avoid increasing chaos and uncertainty – arguably far worse for business than leaving on WTO terms would have been), is for MPs, however grudgingly, to endorse Mrs May’s terrible deal– if, that is, ‘Parliamentary Master’ (PM) Bercow will allow a third meaningful vote, which is far from certain.  It would almost certainly be helpful if, in exchange, Mrs May would step down and allow someone who actually believed in Brexit to step up and deal with the next stage of negotiations.

It has been easy during this long-drawn out saga to lose sight of the fact that passing the Withdrawal Agreement is only the second phase in what the EU has turned into a three-stage process.  The next stage is the transition period, during which we need to agree a trade deal with the EU.  It would be reassuring to feel that whoever we had negotiating at this point did not consider we should hand everything to the EU bureaucrats on a plate.  Granted we are one small country against a block of 27, but we are the third largest contributor to the EU budget and, in spite of Remainer panic about EU grants of all sorts, we actually contribute more than we take out (Full Fact).  This does give us a reasonable negotiating position; as should the fact that taken as a whole the EU is Britain’s largest trading partner (House of Commons Library) with 53% of UK imports coming from the EU and 44% of our exports going to EU countries.

Please, Mrs May, step down now for the sake of your country; for Leavers and Remainers alike, it is time to let go as graciously as possible and leave others to attempt to heal the divisions which you have appeared only to exacerbate.  Britain now needs a leader with vision, imagination and conviction.  There must be at least one, surely?

*Wired, the online magazine ran an article about the numbers, which calculated there were 300-400,000.

*articles such as this one in The Guardian seem childishly poisonous.


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