Thursday, 12 January 2017

Brexit: just say "No."

An alternative title to this post could be:  "When you're in a hole stop digging."

As far as I know only two politicians, the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and the newly-elected Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park Sarah Olney, have so far stated bluntly that, given the chance, they will vote against the triggering of Article 50. Others try to face both ways with weasel words on the lines of :" “I am not seeking to reverse the EU referendum result. but . . . "

The case for no Brexit at all is perfectly clear and it is shameful that  our parliamentarians, Lords as well as Commons, who got us into this mess by their negligence, lack the courage to try to get us out of it.

The grounds for opposition to triggering Article 50 are perfectly clear:
  1.  The referendum was not binding but advisory.  This was made perfectly clear to all parliamentarians even if, sadly, not too much was made of it during the campaign.   But the law is the law, and the truth  is that the government and parliament have received advice, not an instruction, and it is up to them whether or not to act on it.
  2.  Parliament failed to include in the Referendum Bill the higher bar normally necessary for such an important decision.  Organisations as inconsequential as golf clubs and music societies require more than a simple majority to change their constitutions.  All parties, presumably as a result of complacency, were remiss in not including special previsions, such as a two-thirds majority over-all and at least a simple majority in each of the four constituent parts of the UK, for a "Leave" vote to be valid.
  3. "Leavers" are fond of mouthing that "the people have spoken" but the actual result of the referendum  (37% of the electorate for Leave, 34% for Remain and 27% did not vote) was far from a clarion call that must be obeyed.  The 16-17 age group who, in terms of years, will be  most affected by the long term effects of the result, were not allowed to vote.  Some argue that the actual percentage of the adult population who voted to leave was a mere 28%, barely more than a quarter. In two  constituent parts of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the majority voted to Remain.
  4.  The campaign, without the constraint of any means of challenging misleading statements in the courts*,  was seriously misleading; on both sides, yes, but most seriously on the Leave side.  Promises made by Leave have been unravelling from day one: there is no £350m per week for the NHS, we can't "have our cake and eat it.".

Our MPs are elected not as mandated delegates but as allegedly mature and rational representative expected to use their judgement for the general good. In the present climate this will take courage, but a united call from a Rainbow coalition of respected  voices ( Ken Clarke, Paddy Ashdown and Ed Miliband perhaps, and  preferably jointly led by  Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon, two of the most sensible and respected politicians on the scene at the moment,) should  carry sufficient weight to  stiffen the sinews of our cowardly MPs and avert  an error which will harm Britain, Europe and the rest of the world.

Then, instead of wasting time haggling over the details of an exit that the majority of MPs  believe shouldn’t happen, we can concentrate on remedying the serious problems which face our nation: inequality, housing, low productivity, an alarming deficit on the balance of external payments, race relations etc. But the greatest of which is inequality.

Leavers, who cleverly constructed the most persuasive catch-phrases during the campaign ("Take back control,"  obsession with "unelected bureaucrats") are now adept at painting those of us who oppose Brexit as "unpatriotic" and "undemocratic."  This should be vigorously resisted.  It is not unpatriotic to be realistic about Britain's weakness outside the EU compared with our strength and significance within it.  Nor is it undemocratic to argue that our elected representatives should fulfil their obligation to use their judgement for our long-term good.

So, now that we're in a self inflicted hole dug , not for the benefit of or even by demand of the nation, who did not regard our membership of the EU as a top issued for concern**, but for the domestic purposes of the Tory party, we should stop digging

True some MPs may feel that taking a stance and standing up for their beliefs might endanger their seats.  So what? -  a small sacrifice to make to avert the biggest political misjudgement since Lord North lost the American colonies over an argument about the tax on tea.  And, as this article in yesterday's G2 shows, there may be more support for principles over bullying than they suspect.

* In General elections provisions in the Representation of the People Act of 1983 make untruthful statement actionable.  There was not such constraint in the referendum Act.
* * An examination of Ipsos-Mori Issues Indices for the years 2008 to 2016 (and earlier under another format) shows that our membership of the EU did not appear  among the top ten issue which concerned the electorate until July 2014 (at number 9).

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