Thursday, 1 September 2016

MPs should say "No" to Brexit.

Although straight after  the referendum result in favour of our leaving the EU I signed the petition calling for a second referendum since I felt the issue should be debated I argued that it would be wrong at that stage to try to overturn the decision.  The "people" had spoken and that was that. Yes, the referendum was technically only advisory, yes the margin for Leave was very narrow, and yes there was a lot of misrepresentation and some downright lies in the campaign.  But these matters should have been anticipated dealt with before the campaign, not as an afterthought becasue in the eyes of the establishment the wrong decision had been made.

At that time I felt that the preferred option was for the negotiations to take place, to see the result which I expected to be much less favourable than the Leave campaign had pretended, and  that a groundswell of public opinion would  demand another referendum.

However, it is now clear that that option is not available. Once Article 50 has been triggered there is no going back.  However inadequate the terms, however far they fall short of the promises made by the Leavers during the campaign, that's it.  Two years from the triggering  of Article 50 we are out, like it or not.

It is also now clear that our  government neither knows what it wants not has the resources to achieve it.  The choice is between the extremes of "hard Brexit" -  leaving the European Economic Area (EEA), thus trading over the tariffs and restrictions on WTO terms like the rest of the world, but having control over migration from the EU, or "soft Brexit" -  remaining in the EEA but accepting all the regulations including free movement.

So far here is no sign whatsoever that the remaining 27 are interested in a "bespoke" deal giving us the best of both worlds, as the Leavers liked to believe.  Indeed the major Brexiteers, who within 48 hours of the result withdrew most of their promises with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders ("You didn't really believe that did you?  Just campaign rhetoric!"), Farage has walked away and Boris Johnson ducked trying for the top job.

Be it Brexit hard or soft, since trade negotiations have been an EU function for the past 40 years the UK has nowhere near the number of trained and experience negotiators to cope with  with the multiplicity of  deals which will be needed to negotiate with the 164 WTO members, and re-negotiate the 50 or more free trade deals which the EU has already negotiated on our behalf, but which wlil no longer apply to us.   Private sector staff will need to be recruited, many from the discredited giant accountancy firms which are partly if not largely responsible for the economic crash of 2007/8.

 And at a cost to the public purse of up to £5 000 per person per day (yes, per day) or secondment at   £250 000 per year

Jon Henley, the Guardian's European affairs correspondent, estimates  that the process could last up to ten years and the administrative costs to the civil service would amount to £5bn.  More seriously, in my view, the whole process will distract government, civil service, parties and media from focusing on solving Britain's real problems: housing, youth unemployment, low productivity, sustainable energy, climate change, a frighteningly-high balance of payments deficit,growing inequality, to name but a few.

Consequently it is a nonsense to plunge the UK into this massive and damaging distraction on the basis of an unnecessary referendum called by an inept prime minister to solve an internal problem within his own party and which  demonstrated all the flaws to which referendums, alien to our constitution, are prone (see earlier post).

 MPs, the  majority of whom are in favour of Remain (as are overwhelming majority of the Lords) should be true to their function, which is to use their experience, wisdom and judgement to make wise decisions on our behalf, refuse to authorise the triggering of Article 50, and tell the government to go to the EU Commission, apologise for the distraction and disruption we have caused, and promise to be good in the future.

And no nonsense about another referendum.  That could be prone to the same distortions as the one we've already had.  Of course, some Brexiteers will make a fuss, some of the Leave voters will feel let-down, the red tops will howl blue murder and some people's faith in our politicians will receive a further dent.

But it will all  blow over far more quickly that persuing the Brexit route, and give us time and opportunity to attempt to solve some of those issues which caused so many to feel left behind and that the system doesn't work for them


  1. The tricky thing, though, is that we have a majority government which was elected with a promise in its manifesto to hold the referendum and respect the result.

    So for the Commons to stop the process would require MPs who were elected on a manifesto to vote deliberately and specifically against one of the main promises of that manifesto.

    That would be… politically difficult. Normally when a government breaks a manifesto pledge it is by simply 'forgetting' about it. Being elected on a manifesto, being given the chance to vote on it, and voting against the very thing which got you elected (and defying the whip to do it, too), well, that would be quite a… courageous decision, Minister, wouldn't it?

    I couldn't see any MP from a Leave-supporting constituency who did that, surviving at the next election. And seeing as almost all the constituencies in the UK were Leave-supporting, to some degree or other (the Remain votes came from a very few constituencies that had high Remain majorities, so those MPs would be safe, but that's only about a hundred, I think), would it really be worth sacrificing their careers and their credibility, only for the next election to produce a government which would almost certainly be dedicated to triggering Article 50 and repealing the relevant acts as its first order of business, be worth it?

    The electorate wants out (they certainly don't want to go crawling to the EU Commission and 'apologise' for doing the right thing) and so all the Commons can do is delay it by the time until the next general election. If it hasn't happened by then, the government will be replaced by one which will deliver.

    1. According to the BBC:

      before the referendum there was an overwhelming majority (454 to 147) of MPs in favour of Remain.

      I'm sure you're right and that some will change their stance in view of the wishes of their constituents, (though many of those will now have changed their minds) and some will feel that the Referendum result should be respected.

      But I'm sure the majority will do their duty, which is to use their judgement to do what is best for the country. In the jargon they are not mandated delegates, but representatives. John Stuart Mill has something to say about this but I can't remember the quote.

      There is also a massive majority for Remain in the Lords

      True, taking the action I advocate would open up a can of worms, and it is hard to predict what would follow. But what ever it is would be better than blindly following the Brexit route

    2. In the jargon they are not mandated delegates, but representatives

      It's funny how people always trot out this line when the stance they happen to favour is unpopular, but then switch to the opposite when the outcome they prefer is ('Why are MPs blocking the will of the people?')

      It is almost as if it is not democracy they care about, but getting their preferred result by whatever means…

      In reality of course they are both, or why have manifestos at all? We accept that they are supposed to use their judgement, that circumstances can change, that attempting to implement policy might run into unforeseen difficulties, and there are always 'events, dear boy' to deal with.

      But on the other hand we do choose party A over party B in part because of the things that party A promised to do in its manifesto. So a party, or any individual MPs, who go against that, well, their constituents could reasonably say that they stood for election under false pretences and therefore they are not going to re-elect them.

      I can easily imagine either UKIP or, if UKIP has dissolved into a seething bubble of its own incompetence by then, a new 'Leave' party, standing candidates against every Tory MP who defies the whip to block Brexit, with that as their sole policy; I can imagine a fair few of them getting in; and that, combined with a Corbyn-led Labour party's inevitable electoral collapse to 200 seats or less and the Lib Dems' continuing irrelevance, could quite conceivably mean the next government would be a Conservative/[UKIP/Leave party] coalition. And then Leave would definitely happen.

      I presume the reason you are against a second referendum is because you realise that it would deliver the same result as the first, except probably with an even bigger margin of victory for Leave?

    3. (Imagine if, say, before same-sex marriage had been legalised, a party had been elected with it in its manifesto; but that there was a majority of MPs against it [this is not an entirely implausible situation, given how many defections there were over the issue: all it would have taken was, say, a narrow Labour victory with a few more socially conservative Labour MPs]. Somehow I doubt in that situation you'd have been saying, 'They are representatives, not mandated delegates, they should use their experience and wisdom to save us fro the mistake of same-sex marriage', would you? I rather think you'd be saying the MPs concerned should stuff their private opposition and get on the right side of history and implement their manifesto.

      I suspect you'll respond, 'The issues are different' but I submit that the only difference is that you happen to be in favour of one and against the other, so those who disagree with you and wish to see the UK leave the EU can fairly take the position you would have over same-sex marriage and demand their representatives carry out their manifest commitment to respect the result of the referendum.)

    4. You accuse me of a hypocrisy of which I am not guilty: in all circumstances I would prefer MPs to use their judgement rather than be slaves to a constituency mandate or the party whips. Where an MP disagrees with the constituency (for example, on capital punishment, on which I suspect most do) she/he should be brave enough to make the position clear and argue for it. We could do with much more of this on immigration.

      More MPs prepared to defy the Whip would in my view lead to wiser government in that decisions would have to be argued for rather than imposed arrogantly, willy-nilly. having thought for himself is one of the attributes that make Jeremy Corbyn's attractive to so many voters.

      I think you give too much credence to the doctrine of the mandate. As you're well aware, the overwhelming majority of voters (and perhaps even some MPs) have little or no idea what is in the parties' manifestos. The parties themselves choose to highlight a few slogans, but not even all of these get through. The parties themselves, as you admit, chose to ignore them when convenient but make a great fuss (eg Jeremy Hunt and the seven day National Health Service in his tussle with the junior doctors)when suits them. The mandate not to impose a top-down reorganisation of the NHS was and is conveniently fogotten.

      In the case of the manifesto promise of a referendum on the EU, we cannot be sure but it seems highly probable that Cameron dared to include it as a ploy to fight off UKIP only becasue he did not expect to win a majority and expected Liberal Democrats in coalition to prevent his implementing it. Not a sound basis for going ahead with the worst political cock-up since Lord North lost the American Colonies over an argument on a tax on tea.

    5. I withdraw my accusation of hypocrisy, then, and assume you support those MPs who rebelled in order to vote against same-sex marriage.

      Not a sound basis for going ahead with the worst political cock-up since Lord North lost the American Colonies over an argument on a tax on tea.

      Well you see the thing is, a lot of people — over 17 million, in fact — disagree with you that leaving the EU is, in actual fact, a cock-up.

      They were asked; they answered; if the MPs are going to ignore their answer, why bother having elections at all? Why not just appoint a board of technocrats to run the country according to the 'right' answers to questions?

      Anyway, as I say, the most MPs can do is delay leaving until after the next election, when, if we haven't left, this Parliament will be replaced by a Parliament which will.

    6. 1. If that's how they feel, after due consideration of the debate, then fine.

      Actually I'm not all that enthusiastic about same-sex marriage myself. I'm all in favour of partnerships equal to marriage, including pension rights, for same-sex couples, though I believe the equal pension rights are not yet include.

      My reservation, which doesn't quite amount to an objection, is semantic: if someone tells me that their daughter is getting married I don't expect to add, after "How nice," "Is it a boy or another girl?" Maybe we should invent another word. "Parriage?"

  2. 2. The 17+ million. We cannot know what motivated all of these to vote Leave. Some would simply want to give the establishment a kick in the teeth, regardless of the facts and the consequence; some will have been prejudiced by the way governments of all stripes have blamed as many unpopular issues as possible on the EU; some, metaphorically waving Union Jacks and looking back to periods of former glory, would want to assert Britain's independence; some would believe that the EU is holding us back,that the rest of the world is desperately anxious to trade with us, and we can achieve more prosperity outside the EU rather than in it; some would believe the Leave campaign's assertion that we can have our cake and eat it -remain in the EEA without paying the subscription and without obeying the rules, particularly in respect of free movement.

    You may see it as élitist, but I prefer to respect informed opinion, which happens to chime in with my own, that we shall be economically poorer and politically diminished outside the EU.