I wanted the country to vote Remain last year. I wrote about why I thought it would be a good idea at length. Alas, the country voted differently.
This election gives the Lib Dems, a party campaigning on a second referendum (what amounts to an ability to block Brexit from occurring), a chance to gain seats. How this works out will be one of the more interesting aspects of the whole spectacle. Yet imagine for a moment what it would take to actually reverse the Brexit process and not leave the EU. Essentially, the Lib Dems would have to get a parliamentary majority. And given the party is currently polling at 12%, this is not going to happen or even come close to happening.
Some have speculated that the Lib Dems could win enough seats off the Tories to produce another coalition, this one based on stopping Brexit as a red line. One, this is not going to happen, but even in a universe where it was possible, why would Theresa May do such a thing? If she were somehow short of a majority after June 8th, she could just run as a minority government for a while – with Corbyn in charge (and he would definitely be sticking around if May failed to get a majority), it’s mostly the same as having a Tory majority anyhow, as he just goes along with whatever Theresa May wants, particularly on Brexit matters.
I’m telling you all this because I think a lot of Remainers are still in denial, even post-Article 50. That there will be some way to stop Britain leaving the EU. But I just don’t see it. Better still, liberals should spend time thinking about how to get the best Brexit possible and go from there. Yes, there is a desire for some Remainers to see it all go as horribly wrong as possible in order that “Bregret” may set in quickly. Wishing the country to fail is a poor place for liberals to find themselves in, and I think we should instead try and do what we can to make it work. That is not the same thing as accepting Brexit as a good idea, let me be clear – simply that since there is no way to avoid it, we need to make it as painless and fruitful as possible.
By all means, put some thought into how Britain might one day rejoin the EU. If you want to register a vote against Brexit, vote Lib Dem (the only way to really do this, in England at least). But I think you need to accept that we’re off and there’s no way to stop it. That will become very clear to everyone after June 8th.
Alfred Larsson says
Here are some not entirely unrealistic scenarios by which we may not leave the EU.
1. Theresa May wins by only 10-20 MPs, and is subsequently mired in the expenses scandal so has to call a second election. She has to resign for wasting everyone’s time with this election thing. Negotiation plans totally fucked, chaos ensues, the markets panic, we retract article 50 to save the economy.
2. Theresa May wins by 50+ MPs but she cannot secure any kind of deal with the EU which meets her promises to the electorate, and other countries are reluctant to do a deal with the UK and jeopardise their relationship with the EU without some element of free movement as part of the bargain. As we near 2019 the markets panic, we retract article 50.
3. Northern Ireland descends into chaos at the prospect of a hard border, Theresa May concedes that the only way to avoid a return to the troubles is to accept that NI will remain part of the Single Market. Scotland demands the same. It’s clear that Scotland and NI being part of the EU is unworkable while the rest of the country is not. TM puts the survival of the union ahead of brexit.
There are many more. The first of these is actually something worth fighting for in this election, even if it’s unwinnable for the remainers. The main target here on in for us should clearly be chaos and sabotage for the UK. That won’t be popular but it’s the only shot.
Option 2 would just cause a full hard brexit, WTO rules and all and Option 3 is covered by an existing treaty that will go into force as soon as we leave EU. Scottish referendum is also not on the cards till after EU deal is done.
Option 1 is confusing to me, are you talking about the current election expenses scandal or do you expect there to be another one in this election? Either way it is not just the Tories involved there so whilst there may be some turmoil I would expect party activists to fall on their respective swords to keep MPs in place and remove the issue from parliament and place it in the local party arena.
Natural facts could stymie May. A vote to suspend gravity or hold back the tide changes nothing, whatever this election does it cannot make Brexit a miraculous cure all.
Alfred Larssen outlines a couple of cracking points and there are many more economic issues: inflation and a rise in interest rates could put banks under pressure, several major manufacturers could walk away. We know Brexit will be damaging, we just do not know how damaging. Moreover we know that the proponents of Brexit have diametrically opposed impulses, ultra protectionists side by side with ultra free-marketeers. Brexit cannot be Brexit for both.
One reason that May is currently popular is that she has done so remarkably little since becoming PM, the contradictions have not caught up with her and when they do she may not be able to find a way out. A problem for her is that although Brexit is a project, stupid and harmful as it is, it is not really a mission, though free traders could claim otherwise. It does not reform manufacturing, education or social structures, in fact it is more of a spoke in the wheels.
Reality may stop Brexit.
A slight snag for the theorising about the circumstances in which the UK might “retract” Article 50 is that once Article 50 has been invoked there’s no mechanism for retracting it. We automatically cease to be a member of the EU after two years if we haven’t already left.
What’s required to abort (or rather suspend) that process is the unanimous agreement of the other members of the EU. Of course we could try to achieve that, but there would be nothing to stop them attaching conditions to that agreement. If any one of them thought it would be a good idea to reduce the British rebate – for example – they would have the power to insist on that.
“once Article 50 has been invoked there’s no mechanism for retracting it”. Well maybe, but unfortunately (or fortunately according to taste), the EU has a habit of ignoring legal inconveniences for political reasons. That in itself is a reason to leaving the EU, by the way.
But what puzzles me most is Nick’s sensible point: “liberals should spend time thinking about how to get the best Brexit possible and go from there.” Why wasn’t this the aim from the day after the June 2016 referendum? Instead energy has been wasted on calls for second referendum. As is all now too apparent, it’s a political dead-end. Without forthcoming support for the idea from either or both of the Labour and Conservative parties, a second referendum isn’t likely to happen (and probably never was). Britain now needs to look forwards and plan to adapt to a post-Brexit world, not look backwards to a Cold War construct.