Monday, 29 August 2016
If it helps, don't think of it as Brexit
During the referendum just about every remainer uttered the words "we know it isn't perfect, but we should reform it". And that really was the downfall of the remain cause. It is the ultimate conceit. Not only was reform of the treaties and institutions not on the table there was nothing in Mr Cameron's deal that suggested the EU was being reformed and there was nothing in it that suggested powers were being returned.
There was one other further conceit. That it wasn't the fault of the EU. The blame was directly aimed at David Cameron - the subtext being that a Labour government would have got a better deal. Put simply, if a conservative prime minister is disinclined to seek a new relationship with the EU then the chances of a Labour centrist government even asking for talks would be somewhere around nil.
And so we have a double deceit here don't we? "We know it isn't perfect" they say - but they know what we know. Reform was never on the table. Our political class had no intention of seeking reform, in truth saw little wrong with it and then proceeded to spin an elaborate web of lies that reform was on offer. Add to that a torrent of scaremongering, threats and insults and it's not difficult to see why remain lost the vote.
In the end the vote to leave was an act of defiance against apolitical establishment who had laid down the law. The message was clear. Our relationship with the EU is not even up for debate nor will there be any reform of our immigration policy. But they didn't have the decency to say so outright.
But that's ultimately why this referendum is primarily about democracy. An establishment that says no to its people is one that has outstayed its welcome. And I use the word establishment rather than government because what we have is an immovable political class where the policy is the same regardless of who is the ruling party. In this, the establishment is in open defiance of all of us. After all "we know it isn't perfect" and "we should reform it".
Some would have it that Brexit is cutting our nose off to spite our face. But really it's absolutely necessary. Even a soft dictatorship is intolerable. If there is no dialogue between a government and its peoples then we simply do not have a democracy. If it takes a seismic vote to force them to come to the table then that is what the people are obliged to do.
Now that the deed is done we have their full attention. They must now listen. The majority of people think we do need a significant change in immigration policy and the majority of people think we need a new relationship with EU. Given that the EU was not minded to even debate reform and no government was inclined to ask, we are about to push the one button that compels both our own government and the EU to initiate a root and branch reform of our relationship with the EU.
In this we have certain choices. What we want is a looser relationship where the EU does not have legal supremacy and a relationship based on cooperation and trade rather than supranational subordination. There is every advantage to both sides in negotiating this. The EU gets to reform to its own agenda without the UK being a blocking influence and the UK has the more flexible relationship the people demand.
We are now in a position where there is no possibility of full divergence from the EU and we couldn't have it even if it were desirable. Irrespective of the EU we are seeing ever more interdependence and economic integration. It is neither realistic nor likely that we could put up walls to Europe. So really Brexit is about how we define that relationship and placing limits on the power of the EU.
As yet we do not know what the government has in mind. What we do know is that the Tory Brexiteers want all the way out and all at once. If you have a familiarity with the issues you know that this is not at all a likely outcome. Nobody gains from it, nobody but them even wants it and it's difficult to see how it could be achieved. So it looks like we will have some form of single market membership with some more convincing reforms of freedom of movement. Nobody wants to disrupt trade and though Brexiteers may have won the vote they lost the argument on freedom of movement. It's the most popular facet of the EU.
In this it really is time to stand up to the likes of Ukip because their conflation of freedom of movement with open borders is a lie and pandering to this lie may well mean taking a hit to our economy for no real reduction in immigration and for no real purpose. Remainers say this was always going to be a possibility - that we would needlessly take such a hit - but ultimately that is the price we pay for our establishment burying the issue for as long as they did. Ultimately it is our democracy that needs to be safeguarded over and above the economy and for me that is the priority every time.
In the past we have shed blood for democracy. And I suspect we will do so again. But this time we have won a rare and precious thing. A chance for political change without bloodshed. A clear message has been sent that we need a change of direction and that the government must listen. Now we need a constructive dialogue as to what that new relationship looks like. Reform is what the people voted for and that is what we must have. If our establishment did not want to leave the EU then they should have heeded the warnings.
What we have now is a clean slate whereby we decide the path our relations will take for the next century. It's not a disaster. It's not a calamity. It's just a democratic corrective. A change of course away from the scheming of our political class. Nowhere does it say that necessarily means "turning our backs on Europe" nor does it mean turning inward. It's just a chance to plot a course that works for everyone. If that then inspires you to work toward overturning the referendum result, then that rather makes you the bigot, doesn't it?