A feeling of anti-Brexit momentum is in the air. Perhaps it’s just the silly season that accounts for it and such ideas will seem quaint come the autumn; perhaps the tide really is turning against the UK leaving the European Union. Yet for all of the James Chapman hits Twitter inspired hope stirring Remainers the truth is, Brexit still looks pretty healthy as an immediate destination (where that leads us and what happens after we get there in terms of public opinion is another matter). Here’s why: the politics of Brexit stack up. For now at least.
One, we haven’t seen any sort of real turnaround in public opinion on Brexit. Yes, they don’t like how the government is handling it (39% approval versus 61% disapproval) – but that is very different to the public wanting to see Brexit abandoned. Two – and this is actually a much bigger point – the leadership of the two largest parties in the House of Commons, with 578 out of 650 seats, is determined to see Brexit through. Unless something changes to that equation, I don’t see how remaining in the EU somehow is even a remote possibility.
Yes, anti-Brexit Labour and Tory MPs can join forces and try and vote together on things they agree on. But that will never, ever have the cohesion of an actual party – never. Look at the Chuka Umunna amendment around single market membership to the Queen’s Speech – no Tory MP would touch it. And I understand why, of course: it wasn’t a good time to break ranks, the Conservative Party needed to come together after the general election result, I could go on here. The thing is, it is never a great time to break ranks with your party – that’s one of the built-in features of political parties in the first place. They demand loyalty and communitarian action. Pro-EU MPs saying they will defy the whips of the parties which hold almost 90% of all the seats in the lower house enough to make derailing Brexit a possibility is a fantasy.
Some Remainers say that when the public mood turns against Brexit, the main parties will turn against it as well. Let’s say the view of Brexit amongst the electorate were to change, drastically. You would still have a Conservative Party that is ideologically wedded to the idea of leaving the EU – and a Labour leadership that is just as ideologically committed to the concept as well. Corbyn isn’t going along with Brexit because of some clever political calculation – he really believes in it, and has done for decades. Maybe enough political pressure gets applied to him that he drops it (and he has done this plenty of times previously on all sorts of issues) but it would have to be a massive sea change before I think he’d come close to considering it.
No, anti-Brexit Labour and Tory MPs would have to split off and start SDP Mark 2 to have any hope of stopping Brexit. And it is very hard to see that happening. Remainers, by all means, continue to rally – I just wouldn’t get your hopes up about halting Brexit.
Paul W says
I largely agree with your comments about Brexit here.
But I would add, did you notice the pertinent comments about the Brexit process made by Rupert Harrison (George Osborne’s right hand at Treasury) on Twitter (Aug 7 2017) and subsequently picked up by the press a day or two ago?
In summary, he noted that:
1. The consensus on Brexit progress is ‘too gloomy’
2. The outlines of the UK’s position are ‘pretty clear’
3. The idea of ‘no UK emerging position on most of these [Brexit] issues is out of date’.
Following the Brexit debate closely, I had picked these trends up myself, but they were obscured by the general election and post-election hubbub.
The point Harrison was making is that the popular discourse in some quarters about the EU exit negotiations going badly and being handled by a clueless and unprepared UK government – hence the talk about “a feeling of anti-Brexit momentum” building or “stopping Brexit” altogether – are simply behind the political curve.
The question now is what sort of Brexit?
So the UK government is merely giving an impression of internal disagreement? Is that supposed to be some sophisticated negotiation ploy? – To what end? What progress towards Brexit has happened and on what side?
I fear that public reaction against Brexit will only become overwhelming when it is too late. At such a time you can expect Corbyn to perform a volte face, because it will be expedient to do so..
What is happening at the moment is that we are seeing increasing alarm from business, industry and pubic administrators. These are people who deal with realities and who as April 2019 looms will be telling the government that they will not be able to manage, so the biggest opposition to Brexit is not amongst the politicians, nor in the general public but is in basic realities: border customs, running compliance procedures, Northern Ireland etc. while the economy and government revenues decline.
Paul W says
Haven’t you noticed? Much of the commentary we hear on the Brexit negotiations is sourced from the EU side – ‘grandstanding’ is, I think, the appropriate term for it. The British contribution to this is actually quite thin and comes mainly in the form of media speculation and guesswork. There is a reason for this: British government made it clear that it does not intend to negotiate in public right at the beginning of the process.
As to progress, take one of the trickiest issues – Citizens’ Rights. In the official note, dated 19 July 2017, and published on the Department for Exiting the European Union’s website: out of about 48 listed items, 22 – half in other words – have already been greenlighted by both sides at their second session (first main negotiating round).
A lot of Remainers seem to be pinning their hope on leaving the EU turning out to be too complicated.
I wonder: do they think that if the message from the Remain campaign had been, ‘Don’t vote Leave, even if you think it’s right, because it’s too complicated and we can’t manage it’, the referendum wouod have gone the other way?
I suggest it wouldn’t: leaving or remaining in the EU is (or at least has become) a matter of principle, and on such matters practical concerns will always be secondary.
Besides which, we were always assured that the UK hadn’t given up its sovereignty when signing up because it was always, in theory, possible for it to leave. So it must be possible to do Brexit, or that would have been a lie.
(And also, if it’s complicated to leave now, after forty decades, then it will be even more complicated in another decade, or two: so if we’re going to leave, then better to do it now than wait until there are even more Euro-institutions and regulators and so on to disentangle ourselves from).
Sorry, four decades, forty years.
Paul W says
“I wonder: do they think that if the message from the Remain campaign had been, ‘Don’t vote Leave, even if you think it’s right, because it’s too complicated and we can’t manage it’, the referendum would have gone the other way?”
It sometimes seems so, but it is not much of a winning argument is it?
Oops, I nearly forgot. It didn’t win!
George Lee says
A senior quitling minister will defect to the remoaners and create a crisis in government. The vile rees mogg will be triumphantly shoved forward to claim the crown. A political bloodbath will follow leading to a further general election (very good for Nick Tyrone) which will result in an hung parliament beyond the DUP fix.