We are leaving the EU. The referendum is history, the arguments have ended and we must now move forward. Unfortunately, as it happens, it’s not that simple. For starters, the leading Brexiteers have now started to back-pedal on some of the things they campaigned on, the £360 million a week that was going to go into the NHS, immigration controls–or to be more specific, they are now smoothly saying that what at least some of the 51.9% of UK citizens might have supported, they are not going to be able to deliver. THEY are now saying that people voted for immigration controls, not to actually reduce immigration–I wonder what those who voted Leave will think about that.
What is now emerging is we have a shortage of skilled trade negotiators. This comes from a former senior civil servant, who speaking on the BBC Today program stated the situation has come about because for the last 40-odd years trade deals have been negotiated by the EU and not by people who work in Whitehall. He opined that perhaps 20 civil servants had the necessary experience to conduct the negotiations, and we will need several hundred. France has said that they will not negotiate a separate deal with the UK, and whilst Angela Merkel might be a pragmatist when it comes to German companies’ profits, it is also becoming obvious that she will want this divorce to hurt, to act as a deterrent to others who may seek to follow the UK’s example. Jean-Claude Juncker has explicitly said that this is not an amicable divorce, and is demanding that the UK trigger clause 50 now, whilst Cameron has made it clear that will be the prerogative of his successor. It must be clearly understood that what the EU is saying now is not meant as a warning to stay or else, we have voted to leave. What is being said now is what is meant, and it would be a grave mistake to dismiss it as mere posturing before the negotiating starts, although undoubtably there is an element of that. We need skilled negotiators, and we need time to find them. We need a clear vision of the way forward, we need a capable leader, and we need this things pretty damn quickly, because the longer the negotiations drag on the greater the uncertainty. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the economic risk.
So now what?
I am angry, bloody angry. I am one of the 48.1% and I am as mad as hell. Unfortunately, for most of yesterday–Friday 24th June–I was as mad as hell at the 51.9% of this country. I very nearly came to blows at work, but we both stepped back. Later, we shook hands, we both made the first move, if that makes sense, and apologised for our display of temper. I sincerely hope that others who find themselves in similar circumstances take the same approach, because like it or not we are in the same boat, we sink or swim together. The arguments about the EU are over, it’s a done deal and we are out, subject to the negotiations. Until those negotiations are completed, and they will not start until we have triggered clause 50, we are still in, but there is no going back. There will be no last-minute deal, no further referendum on our membership of the EU, it’s finished, we are on our way out.
There is a bigger question here, and it’s one which retired politicians are vocalising, and current politicians are trying hard to ignore, but they do so at their peril. I hope not at their physical peril, but bearing in mind there has been one assassination associated with the question of our EU membership already, and bearing in mind that passions really are running high at the moment, I fear that other acts of violence may follow. Maybe from one of the 48.1%, but more likely from an extreme member of the 51.9%, who feels let down when things don’t quickly change. And make no mistake, things will not change quickly. The negotiations cannot start until we have a new PM, and the process will not be hurried because we have no clear idea of what sort of deal we want to negotiate. The Brexiteers never really spelled this out, they concentrated on what they saw as referendum-winning arguments. The Remain camp were no better. They fought an entirely negative campaign, and never attempted to sell people on the EU. It is clear, now, that if we want access to the free market, we will have to accept the EU rules, and those include the free movement of labour–a thing that most Brexiteers appeared to be campaigning against. But this is all history.
The real question is, why did people vote to leave? Of course many voted to leave what they saw as a failing, all-pervasive institution, but I cannot help but feel that many took the opportunity to protest against what they saw as the political élite in the UK. They were protesting against not being listened to, about being lied to, about the economic direction of this country, as it affected them. It is simply no good saying to a person on a zero-hour contract, or a person on the living wage, that all their money problems and job insecurity are actually for the overall good of the country. They are not interested in the bigger picture–how many of us are, when we look at our bank balance?–they/we are interested in how economic policies affect us as individuals or families. We accept that politicians are economical with the truth, that is an integral part of politics, but we are fed up with being told outright lies. As the dust on the referendum begins to settle–that has not started yet–the politicians are going to have to address this problem, and by addressing it I do not mean promising us that they will really, really listen to us in future. We will simply not believe them, and in any case even if they really, really did listen, there is no point if they do not then take into account what people want them to do. Of course, in a sense this is part of the problem. We elect people to run the country, and let us not pretend that the citizen in the street has much of a clue as to how to do this. Yes, one person’s opinion is as valid as anybody else’s, but running a country is a complex business, with many factors to be taken into account. So, we elect people that we think we can trust to elect the country–and I feel that a fair number of us have decided that we just don’t trust them any more.
The state of the Labour party makes my point for me. Currently, the Parliamentary Labour Party would dearly like to be shot of Comrade Corbin. In their eyes he makes the Labour Party unelectable. The rank and file members of the Labour Party, and some unions, rather like him. He’s a sort of cuddly old leftie, who really (probably) does have the plight of ‘the workers’ foremost in his mind. He wants to protect workers rights–yes, even the rights of immigrant workers. The problem is, when he said to the rank and file that their interests would best be served by voting Remain, they ignored him in droves. The old party loyalty has been tested, and it failed the test. The same is true of the Conservative party. Dave Cameron was/is a one nation Tory, and when he said the interests of the nation were best served by remaining in the EU, the party faithful ignored him as well. The truth of the matter is the Tory party is no longer a single party, it is an increasingly fragmenting loose grouping of those of the centre-right, and those of the increasingly far right. Substitute the word left, and that sums up the Labour Party as well. What to do?
Possibly not for much longer. I think that we’re going to have to start thinking in terms of England and Wales, an independent Scotland and possibly some sort of Irish federation.
Let’s consider the Scottish dilemma. They voted to remain in the United Kingdom, but part of the reason for rejecting independence was the Scots wished to remain part of the EU, and there was no guarantee that an independent Scotland would be able to join the EU, and if they did they would have to accept the whole package, including the Euro. The situation has now materially changed. The UK has narrowly, but decisively, voted to come out of the EU. The Scots did not. They voted in every district to remain in the EU. The problem facing the ruling SNP is that part of the support for an independent Scotland springs from the wish to be just that, independent. An independent Scotland which was not part of the EU has a decidedly iffy economic future. The SNP will have to consider where the best economic future of Scotland lays, and this depends on how they see the future of the UK outside of the EU, and how they view the long-term prospects of the EU. It is true that previously Spain would almost certainly have voted against Scotland joining the EU because of the situation vis-a-vis Catalonia, but now the UK is leaving the EU, they may see an independent Scotland joining as some sort of punishment, and most EU members will almost certainly wish to give the UK ‘a bit of a slapping’. We are causing them problems. That may also be a factor in the independence question in Scotland. The question taxing Sturgeon is, why was independence rejected? Was it a desire to remain part of the Union, or was it a decision based on an uncertain alternative?
The situation in Norther Ireland is more complicated–it was ever thus. NI voted to remain in the EU, but not as decisively as Scotland. However, there is an added dimension, NI will have a land border with the EU. Since 1923 there has been a free movement arrangement between Eire and the North. When both Eire and the UK joined the EU (as it is now) this was not a problem, the old arrangement simply morphed into the Eu free movement arrangements. With the UK leaving the EU, there is no possibility of reverting to the old arrangement. Why is that? Because Eire is part of the EU and it would have to be an agreement between the EU and the UK. In effect, this would mean free movement between the EU and the UK, but only on the island of Ireland. Not an impossible thing to negotiate, given good will, but I have a shrewd suspicion that good will is going to be in short supply in the coming years. The question here is how will the Irish, north and south of the border, react to border controls being imposed? Sin Fein’s Martin McGuinness has called for a border poll on the subject of a United Ireland. Under normal circumstances this would be an almost impossible vote for Sin Fein to win, however NI receives a great deal of EU money as a peace dividend. Where will this money now come from if NI is no longer part of the EU? One solution to the border question might be to allow free movement between north and south, but impose border controls between NI–a part of the UK–and the rest of the UK. I can’t see this being an attractive option to the NI Loyalists. Their loyalty might be severely tested, and if there were to be an imaginative offer of, say, NI being an autonomous area of Eire, then the idea of NI seceding from the UK might just gain some traction.
We live in interesting times:
And if it transpires that the interesting times have been in part brought about by politicians lying through their teeth, and if they are not able to deliver what they promised, then we might witness a real revolution.
Perhaps a solution might be a reform of the voting system in the UK–whatever remains of it. Maybe the answer is a form of preferential proportional representation, where voters can feel their opinions actually carry some weight, and the resulting government represents the nation as a whole and not just, as is the current situation, around 43% of it.