Brexplaining the UK’s Future

Brexplaining the UK’s Future, by Helen Dale. Far and above the best summary ever on Brexit. Read it all if this very British mess is of interest, but here are some excerpts:

Since the 23rd of June 2016, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, colossal fissures — hitherto obscured from view — have opened in the body politic. More Conservatives voted “Leave” than Labourites, but Labour represents the most passionately pro-“Remain” constituencies in the country and the most passionately pro-“Leave” ones. This means both parties have taken to destroying themselves internally rather than dealing with the vote’s implications. …

May and her Cabinet Office hangers-on made a complete hash of negotiating Brexit. They failed to appreciate — while slow and ponderous and beset with terrible problems of its own (Italy, Greece, Hungary, people in France attempting to re-run 1789) — the EU must defend itself on Brexit or risk being torn asunder. The Withdrawal Agreement — which went down to catastrophic defeat three times in the Commons and precipitated May’s resignation — was widely (and accurately) seen as a national humiliation. …

Northern Ireland:

The backstop will also subject Northern Ireland to different regulations from the rest of the United Kingdom. Those regulations will emanate from a political entity of which the UK is not a part. An arrangement like this is not compatible with Northern Ireland being a sovereign part of the UK. …

To quote Bernard Woolley of Yes, Minister fame: “Ireland doesn’t make it any better; Ireland doesn’t make anything any better.” Nonetheless, the colonization of the Ulster Plantation and surrounding counties was a terrible and immoral mistake and the Irish border problem is our punishment for the sins of our ancestors. Northern Ireland has become the UK’s catflap of doom, simply because the EU is (rightly) concerned that importers could use it as backdoor into the customs union.

It was clear from at least the 2017 General Election and probably before that the EU was wholly inflexible on this point. We could either keep Northern Ireland in a customs arrangement (and the Single Market) or leave with no withdrawal treaty. This meant “no deal” was the only constitutionally viable option. …

Project Fear and the Commonwealth:

It is not Project Fear to point out that tariffs will make our goods unappealing to buyers in the EU; that is their point. A large number of British businesses will be affected and many of them will go bust. Industries that cannot relocate, such as Welsh lamb farmers — who depend overwhelmingly on exports — will go to the wall and they will not go quietly (nor should they).

On the other hand, shoppers will be free of EU tariffs on imports and will be able to buy generally superior Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Canada) agricultural produce at a lower price. This is an undoubted benefit of leaving the EU properly but is also a reminder that neither EU nor UK agriculture is remotely competitive with Australian or Canadian agriculture. …

Labor and a second referendum:

Jeremy Corbyn … is a lifelong Euroskeptic forced by the Blairite wing of his party to support Remain in 2016. He was frank that his socialist policies — extensive renationalization, including the railways — could not be enacted while the UK was in the EU. …

Corbyn … has made it as clear as he dares that he wants to see Brexit happen and he is going to avoid a second referendum if he can. …

What has not been widely discussed is the large number of Labour MPs who are desperate to avoid a second referendum — and for good reason. They fear it would give a huge boost to unpleasant populist politics and radically destabilize the country, particularly if the vote is a narrow one for reversing the previous result.

They’ve also pointed out the elitism and classism of the second referendum campaign. This includes the tin-eared idiocy of calling it a “People’s Vote”, as though everyone who turned out in 2016 was not, ahem, human.

Britain’s governing class have lost their skills since the EU took over:

The effect of all this is that the Tories, the civil service, and Labour are tripping over each other and falling down separate flights of stairs while the nation looks on in baffled consternation. We used to be good at running things. That was Britain’s superpower. And yet we’ve somehow lost the knack. …

UK politicians have legislated and governed within such a constrained field for so long they are now literally out of practice. Westminster is no more than a Big Electric Trainset. The concomitant loss of capacity among civil servants is notable. It is difficult, for example, to imagine the Home Office replicating Australia’s points-based immigration system, even if it wanted to.

The people versus Parliament:

2016’s vote to Leave was the first time in the full flower of British democracy — that is, since female and working-class male suffrage in 1918 — where a majority of people outside Parliament demanded something that a majority of people inside Parliament didn’t want to give.

Any political party that won an absolute majority (52 per cent) of such a large turnout (72 per cent) should be in legitimacy clover. It would be able to do anything — even more than, say, Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher in their pomp — during its term of office. But this colossal fissure is between governors and governed, not Government and Opposition. As a result, the Mother of Parliaments has transformed itself into a legislative Blunderdome. Brexit is blowing up Parliament where Guy Fawkes failed. …

Traditionally, the way to break a logjam of this type in Britain is to call a general election, but because Leave v Remain cuts across Conservative and Labour and are views now held far more passionately than traditional party loyalties, doing so would generate more heat than light. Last month’s European Parliament elections showed the extent to which the electorate rewards clarity on Brexit. Nigel Farage’s new vehicle The Brexit Party won handily, with Remain ultras the Liberal Democrats performing solidly in second. …

Conclusion:

In days gone by, superannuated elites refusing to accept defeat on existential questions of this type finished up with their heads on pikes. Democracy put a stop to that by doing what democracy does best: facilitating the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. But democracy means you elect a new parliament, not a new people. That, in truth, is the only deal that matters.