How I would Brexit
How has Brexit come to this?
How has Brexit come to this?
Monday’s rejection of soft Brexit options means that the UK Parliament has only now voted a majority for no-deal. This means an extension is now likely.
In 2016, David Cameron blew his own Brexit referendum. Three years later and it looks like ‘Brexiters’ are risking doing the same with their triumph. And it will not be the first time; it is a thirty-year story of failure. But it is not too late to do it properly – and I would start with abandoning Article 50 altogether.
1988 Unleashing 30 years of Brexit failure
Brexiters have spent years undermining their own best opportunities of leaving the EU. Probably the most important slip-up was in 1988. Following a call by the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, for more European social cohesion, Margaret Thatcher made her seminal speech on European relations in the Belgian town of Bruges. Reading the text, it is clearly a pro-European speech about containing the reach of the European social cohesion project.
But Brexiters misinterpreted it as a call to retreat – not attack, as Thatcher had intended. They then became obsessed for the next thirty years by Brussels whilst the rest of the country worried about negative equity, Iraq, financial crises, schools, knife crime and foodbanks. It made them irrelevant to political debate and side lined in elections for decades under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. Brexiters made Blair’s march towards European integration all too easy.
Mar 2017 – Triggering Article 50 2-year exit clause
Having finally won a majority in the House of Commons in 2015 after twenty years, Brexiters obtained and won their cherished referendum. But they then handed the whip hand to the EU by triggering the 2-year exit clock of Article 50 in March 2017. This was always biased towards the EU, enabling it to hold firm on resolving the Northern Ireland question before progressing to the future trade agreement talks. Since the Brexiters had no viable strategy to provide a successful outcome it made a no-deal or Remain inevitable. And Parliament was never going to accept the catastrophic effects of the former. Brexiters cast their own failure two years ago.
Jun 2017 – General Election
Calling the General Election to secure a strong Brexit majority seemed clever politics with the huge poll lead at the time. But the whole campaign was botched – remember the ‘Dementia Tax’ (I say that without irony)? It also closed off government for two months just when Brexit negotiating strategy should have been in full swing. The result was a coalition deal with the DUP that has made any Brexit near impossible.
Brexiters couldn’t have tried harder to sink their own cause. All of these missteps have been exaggerated by a habit of not changing direction when things were not going to plan. The result is Remain parliamentarians have now been given the opportunity to seize back the initiative and popularise a soft Brexit or even a 2nd referendum as a less disastrous alternative.
Apr 2019 – Brexit can still be saved
Brexiters are losing; but Brexit is not yet lost. Leavers need to come up with a path that avoids an exit on bad terms or one without any terms at all if they are not to squander their opportunity. This means overcoming: the Northern Ireland problem; the Article 50 mechanism stacked in the EU’s favour; and an EU negotiator in a league way above that of the UK.
Here is how I would Brexit from this point:
Will Brexiters adopt such a bold about-face? It would require a big change in character which flies in the face of thirty years of misjudgements. But that is poor political leadership rather than an unfair legal bind which is where they are in danger of losing now.
If Brexit is lost, it will be the Brexiters’ fault. Again.