A tale of deceit and betrayal.
Ask practically anybody in any country in Europe and they will tell you that they love Europe but they hate the EU. It’s the Brussels bureaucracy and the lack of transparency they hate, and so do we, but unlike some of us, they have no wish to destroy the Union. Being a part of the European ideal means something. A united Europe in the minds of most Europeans is about peace and security; about the creation of a safe, mutually beneficial environment that allows European nations to bond, to grow and to prosper.
The European ‘ideal’ is a big idea a hundred years in the making, something few in Britain understand or want to understand. In modern Britain we don’t do ‘big ideas’. We find big ideas difficult, difficult to conceive, difficult to implement. We are a country that no longer has a vision, a country with no desire to be a leader in Europe, to contribute to the success of the ideal. Our desire to even promote our own national interest sometimes seems barely lukewarm. We have become selfish and insular, a mean, callous small-minded state. How has this come about? Because of a failure of politics.
Our politics is both dysfunctional, and corrupt, morally and financially. Our politicians have become political technocrats, their parties political corporations, and both funded by corporates and the wealthy elite – to do their will. The primacy of parliament has been deliberately diminished, our political leaders choosing to sideline parliament and govern through the media. The consequence is a major transfer of power to media proprietors who are now able to set, or certainly influence, the political agenda for their own benefit – or amusement. And the electorate? To careerist politicians set on self-enrichment and a pass into the ranks of the ruling elite, a necessary but annoying embuggerance.
The consequences of all this? A divided nation with the dubious honour of having the second highest rate of inequality in the Western world. A nation where social mobility is a thing of the past and whose working people have been marginalized and ignored by an incompetent, divisive and selfish political class; where working people have become so cowed by the neglect of successive governments that they have turned their backs on politics; for them, no matter what political party is elected, nothing ever changes. Millions of British working people have been left powerless. Well, that was the case until David Cameron, the man responsible for visiting upon them a cruel and unnecessary austerity, asked for their help to win his ill-conceived referendum.
A supreme act of political folly, the referendum, had very little to do with Britain’s membership of the EU and everything to do with placating troublesome Tory Eurosceptic MPs, and fending off an imagined threat from UKIP. David Cameron put his party before his country – and it backfired.
Millions used the referendum as an opportunity to be heard. Their protest certainly helped to seal Cameron’s defeat, that and a totally uninspiring and lacklustre Remain campaign. Leave on the other hand, pressed every emotional button they could find with little regard to the truth, perfectly happy to deceive the nation to achieve the outcome it wanted, their campaign driven and orchestrated by a handful of personally ambitious celebrity politicians.
The fact that a referendum on such a major constitutional issue should have been decided on a simple majority vote shows just how little thought went into the decision to hold a referendum. The risk was huge, but Cameron was so certain he would win, and so detached from reality that he had no idea of the amount of pent-up frustration and anger in the country; no idea that it would rise up and bite him – hard.
But what of the referendum result, what choices did Parliament and the new prime minister, Theresa May have? She did have options because the referendum was NOT legally binding. The European Union Referendum Act 2015 said nothing about implementing the result of the vote. It just provided that there should be one. The reality is that a referendum will only have the force of law if the Act setting it up says so, the European Referendum Act did not. The High Court made the point that “a referendum on any topic can only be advisory to the law makers in Parliament”
So how did Theresa May react? In the blink of an eye she transformed herself from a supporter of Remain to a hard-line Brexiteer, declaring on the first day of her premiership that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, that she would respect ‘the will of the people’; perfectly happy to declare her intention before the consequences of Brexit had been fully evaluated. Like her predecessor, she had decided that the interests of the Tory party were more important than the national interest.
To leave the EU is a major constitutional decision. It will have huge economic implications as well as threatening the peace and security of both Britain and Europe. It is inconceivable that any major country in the world would consider taking such a decision if it was only supported by 37% of the population. However, this didn’t deter Mrs May. She decided, purely in the interests of her party, not her country, that she was going to ignore the option to treat the referendum result as advisory, and drive through Brexit, whatever the cost.
She had no plan for Brexit, no clue as to what it might mean, no idea of the long-term consequences. But with the Labour party in total disarray and no effective opposition in Parliament, Mrs May was astute enough to realise that with the help and support of Rupert Murdoch and Dacre of the Daily Mail, she had a degree of absolute power that few, if any, prime minister has ever enjoyed. Effectively, she could do what she liked.
One of the first things May did was to skilfully direct the conversation not to the pros of cons of Brexit, but to one of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. She changed the language to normalise the acceptance of Brexit. Soon Parliament and the people would be talking as if Brexit was inevitable – and they have.
So successful was she that 498 MPs voted to support the triggering of Article 50 so convinced were they of the inevitability of Brexit, and terrified to be seen to go against the ‘will of the people’. Surely one of the greatest betrayals in British political history.
Nine months after the referendum, there is still no plan for Brexit. Confusion and uncertainty grows by the day. The purpose of Brexit? There is still no identifiable benefit, and the question remains – ‘Brexit, what for?’ The downside of Brexit is becoming clearer by the day. Prices are rising, living standards are falling and companies are packing their bags and leaving. Very soon the hard reality of Brexit is going to hit home.
What is also slowly emerging is the realisation that Brexit poses a real threat to peace and security, not only to Britain, but to the whole of Europe. This has hardly been discussed. Brexit could be the catalyst for the disintegration of the EU. The potential consequences? A return to conflict and the destruction of the peace and prosperity that has existed in Europe since the end of World War 2.
And Mrs May? She continues to doggedly pursue Brexit despite the fact that it will deliver no real benefit to anything or anybody. And she is doing everything she can to hustle everybody past what she considers a point of no return. She’s having some success. In Parliament the language now is of the inevitability of Brexit. What we are witnessing, what she and her party have brought about since the referendum, is nothing short of a coup, a very British coup, but a coup nonetheless. Its purpose? To keep the Tory party in power for the foreseeable future. If ever there was a betrayal of the British people, this has surely got to be the worst.
But things are changing. Whether Mrs May’s political antennae have picked this up remains to be seen, but March 2017 is very different from June 2016. The Article 50 vote demonstrated just how great the disconnect between Parliament and the people had become. The ‘alternative facts’ and the half-truths peddled by the Leave campaign have been exposed. The currency of the Leave campaign’s celebrity politicians has been seriously devalued. The penny has dropped. There are no Brexit benefits, only huge risks and disadvantages. The polls are now reflecting a change in mood. More people want to remain part of the EU than leave. The tide has turned. Brexit is being seen as the lunacy that it is.
Where does this leave Mrs May? Described by Ken Clarke as a ‘bloody-minded woman’, she is living up to her name. Having come so far, she will never change her mind, never put the Tory party behind the interests of the country unless she has no alternative. It is now up to the British people to put her in a position where she has no alternative.
On 25th March, Unite for Europe’s March to Parliament is going to get the ball rolling. It will be big, but it will be ignored by Mrs May. It’s almost certain that further more drastic action will have to be taken. The blockade of ports and airports and perhaps even a general strike. The people must now act if they are going to get the Mrs May’s attention.
But, is there an alternative? Is there a way out of this Brexit mess? Yes, there is.
There has been little comment about Brexit from major European countries. They are unlikely to comment before Article 50 is triggered, and anyway both France and Germany are involved in elections, so meaningful comment is unlikely for some months. What has become clear though is that since the Brexit vote, politicians throughout Europe have become acutely aware of the growing anti-EU sentiment within their own countries. They have previously swept EU reform under the carpet, filed under ‘too difficult’, but not anymore.
Now, there is an appetite for reform In Europe. Few countries in the Union want anything to do with the old concept of a ‘federal’ Europe. They want to retain more of their own identity, to see the Brussels bureaucracy tamed and reduced, and much greater transparency, but they also want to be part of a ‘European Union’, not a federal Europe, but a new ‘European Union of Nation States’. Isn’t that what Britain wants? Yes, it is! Isn’t that something that could be sold to the British people? Yes, it is!
We need to start talking about EU reform and about a ‘European Union of Nation States’. We need to drown out the pointless gibberish of Brexit and start voicing something positive, something that will be supported by our friends in Europe, something we all want to be a part of.
As the lunacy of Brexit becomes more and more apparent, the brakes need to be applied before we head over the cliff. We need time for some fresh thinking, and then we need a new referendum. Mrs May has an opportunity to save face, to avoid going down in history as obdurate and stupid. Will she take it? Will she have an epiphany or will she remain blinded by the absolute power her coup has given her? We’ll see.