Monday 21 October 2019

Brexit - where now?

In my training as a Reader (lay preacher) in the Church of England more than thirty  years ago I was taught that  "the Kingdom of heaven is now, but not yet."

There's a similar ambiguity about last Saturday's vote on Brexit in the House of Commons.  The government's withdrawal deal was not exactly defeated, so it's still with us now, but may only be implemented if and when all the necessary legislation is in place to ensure that a "no deal" Brexit cannot be engineered by the back door - something which the Johnson-Cummings team are thought to be quite capable of engineering.

Like Mr Johnson I should have preferred a decisive vote: Johnson for acceptance of the deal, me for chucking it out. 

The government is anxious to have a repeat vote this afternoon, which their supportive press is  trying to bounce us into thinking they could win. Both the press and the government seem unaware of the irony of their desire  for a second vote in parliament only two days after the last one, along with their adamant refusal to allow a repeat vote on the Referendum itself, which is now three years out of date.

Minster after minister appears in the media mouthing three flawed arguments.

1.  "The people" just want us to get this done - to just get on with it.

 That's actually a good argument for Revoking Article 50 here and now, by far and away the neatest way of getting it "done" and clearing the way for tackling our real problems. 

For those who are still anxious to create a deal for leaving that does the minimum of damage, surely finding a solution to the most crucial problem we've faced in the last 40 years requires  serious and in-depth consideration.  Just "getting it done" is a lazy and facile argument.

2.  They argue that we must "put an end to uncertainty." 

Any deal to leave the EU will be no means end the uncertainly - merely open the gateway for the commencement of further negotiations which will take years.

There is no doubt that uncertainly is doing considerable damage to the UK economy (a much more serious matter than the public allegedly getting bored with the issue).    Phillip Inman pointed out in his Observer column last week (13/10/19) that since the Referendum business investment in new plant, machinery and technology in the UK grew by barely 0.1% per year, compared with 7.4% in 2014 and 6.5% in 2105. 

It is such investment that creates jobs and improves productivity.  Leaving the EU on the 31st October , or any other date, will not change this situation overnight.

3.  We must "Carry out the instruction of the British People."

 But the "British People" however defined, gave no such "instruction." 

The "people" of Scotland,voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, as did the "people" of Northern Ireland.  Of the whole United Kingdom only 37% of those entitled to vote  opted for leave and it is now recognised that the referendum was seriously flawed in both its construction and conduct.  

A lawyer, David Allen Green, writing in the November issue of Prospect, claims that :"Had that Referendum  been legally binding, as opposed to merely advisory, there is little doubt the result  would by  now have been set aside."

Of course, it takes time to argue the above.  "The people's will" is quicker and punchier.  But serious decisions should be made on serious consideration of the facts, not simplistic and highly questionable  slogans.

I have no more idea than anyone else how events will develop in these last ten days of October.  My own preference is that  the Brexit issue should be settled, preferable by revoking Article 50 but if not, by a People's Vote, before we have a General Election, and I urge the Remain-inclined parties and politicians to work toward this sequence.


  1. But the British People" however defined, gave no such "instruction."

    They did though.

    Here's a thought experiment. It's not totally implausible.

    Say the withdrawal agreement bill passes, with an amendment mandating a second referendum. That referendum is held. Remain wins by 52% - 48%. Then a general election happens, and the Conservative are re-elected, an a platform of ignoring the second referendum result and leaving anyway.

    In the current wacky state of politics this could conceivably happen (especially if, say, a number of Leavers boycott the second referendum but then vote Tory in the election). and the Lib Dems have already established that it it legitimate for a government that wins a majority to ignore a previous referendum.

    Would you not then be arguing that it was illegitimate for the newly-elected government to carry out its policy of leaving the EU, on the grounds that 'the people had spoken' in the second referendum? And wouldn't you be relying in order to do so on exactly the same arguments that Leavers are making now? Don't you have to then admit that those arguments, which you yourself would make, are valid?

  2. I do agree that Referendums and Representative Government don't mix. Hence my preference for "getting on with it by "Revoking Article 50" here and now.

    1. Then given your preference for representative government you would agree that, even if Article 50 is revoked now, should the Conservatives win the next general election on a manifesto promising to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and leave, they would be fully entitled to do so (and to do so immediately, without wasting time re-invoking Article 50 and having another pointless two years of negotiations)?

    2. If EU rules allow a member to leave without revoking article 50, or some similar device, yes indeed. In our system Parliament is sovereign and any party with a majority can expect to be able to implement a manifesto commitment, however damaging, providing it's legal (eg not contrary to the Human Rights Act or International Laws already agreed to. A Parliament elected by a more representative electoral system would have even greater moral authority.

    3. What has it got to do with EU rules? EU rules only apply in the UK due to the European Communities Act 1972, which can be repealed at any time because no Parliament can bind its successors (so the Human Rights Act could be repealed too, by a majority in Parliament).

      Anyway, good. Now, back to the current situation. Both the largest two parties in the current Parliament were elected with commitments in their manifestos to leave the European Union, as were some smaller parties (ie the DUP). True, individually no party got a majority, but together there was definitely a majority for leaving.

      How, then, could it be reasonable for this Parliament to revoke the article 50 notification? Surely if that course of action — the exact opposite of manifesto commitments — were contemplated it would be the moral duty of Parliament to go back to the people in a new general election and seek their permission for such a reversal?

    4. 1. If we'd rejoined the EU we would presumably have (re)agreed to its rules.
      2. You have a point, but even manifesto commitments can be modified in the light of experience."When my information changes I change my mind. What do you do Sir?"

  3. If we'd rejoined the EU we would presumably have (re)agreed to its rules.

    (We wouldn't have rejoined, in this hypothetical, we'd have never left, but that's irrelevant).

    'Article 50' is so-called because it's the fiftieth article of the European Constitution, which was passed as the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. Before 2009 there was no set process for a nation leaving the European Union. Does that mean that before 2009 it was impossible to leave? Of course not. We could simply have repealed the 1972 treaty and then we'd no longer be members.

    It would have been messy and chaotic, of cours,e because there was no process to follow, but it would have been possible. Article 50 was added not to make it possible to leave — it was always possible — but to give a process to follow to try to make it easier.

    That was the theory of course. In practice it turns out to have been just as messy and chaotic to use Article 50 as not. So if we were to revoke Article 50 it makes sense to use the old, pre-2009 method for leaving. It can hardly be worse than the last three years, after all.

    You have a point, but even manifesto commitments can be modified in the light of experience."When my information changes I change my mind. What do you do Sir?"

    As I keep pointing out, no information has changed since 2016. Your only argument is that the people have changed their mind. Well, in that case, is it not the moral duty of Parliament — especially as it is in stalemate with the executive — to go back to them in a fresh election?

    1. There can't be many people as convinced as you are that "no information has changed since 2016."

    2. Name one fact information that's changed, then.

    3. See:

      for 19 of them.

    4. That article is dated August 2016, so it can hardly count as facts that have changed since 2016, now, can it?

      Have you actually got any facts which have changed since 2016? Or any new information which has come to light?

    5. August 2016 was after the referendum.

      However,try this one, published 2018:

    6. None of those are facts that have changed, though. Every single one is an ambition that has been thwarted by enemy action. None of them change whether leaving the EU is the right thing to do.

      (And, frankly, I knew at the time that it wasn't going to be easy and that the EU would fight dirty to keep us in; and I was pretty sure that we'd end up leaving without a deal for that reason. I doubt I am the only Leaver to have foreseen that. The only thing I didn't expect was the determination of the EU's fifth column within Parliament.)

      Obviously no plan survives contact with the enemy, but you don't stop fighting a war because of a few setbacks, if fighting the war was the right thing to do in the first place.

      Leaving the EU is still the right thing to do, just as it was in 2016, regardless of how badly May handled the negotiations. Nothing material in the natrue of the EU has changed: it's still an over-centralising foreign power trying to absorb the UK against its will into a pan-European federal super-state.

    7. I note your opinion, vigorously expressed. It confirms my opinion that on this issue feeling triumph over facts. I admit that my feeling are uppermost on this issue too, but I think the facts support them. You don't. I think we'd better leave it there

    8. I admit that my feeling are uppermost on this issue too, but I think the facts support them. You don't.

      The point of this discussion, though, is that the facts have not changed. You and I both looked at the same facts in 2016 and came to different conclusions; now we are still looking at the same facts and still coming to different conclusions.

      You are fond of the line, 'When my information changes I change my mind.' The corollery, presumably, is that if you have not changed your mind then the (relevant) information has not changed. You, clearly, have not changed your mind. So does your very consistency of opinion not prove that the information has not changed?

    9. Not at all. I believe I was right at the time. Events since then have confined that view. To take but one example, the £ sterling has depreciated by around 15% since the referendum and there has been no improvement in our export performance. So that is bad for our economy, prosperity, and ability to care for the less fortunate in our society. Those who need to change their minds are those who believed the Leave promises, and now realise that they are not being fulfilled.

  4. I notice that this morning the latest government "thinking" seems to be that we've spent over three years talking about the issues, so let's stop thinking about them and just pass any old nonsense that's put in front of us.

    1. Yes , that's exactly what Johnson's mantra "Just get on with it" means. Never mind the facts, just go with what you've been encouraged to feel.