January 30, 2017

Before the Referendum on the 23rd of June 2016, there was very little agitation for the UK to leave the EU. Fox hunting, Heathrow runways had created more heat. Everyone who thought about it understood that the Referendum was an attempt by David Cameron to see off UKIP and flush out the anti-EU faction in his party.

However, since a large turnout resulted in a small majority to leave the EU, the UK has been transformed and destabilised. The Leave faction have not been magnanimous in victory and their small majority has been used as reason to gun for what is rapidly looking like the hardest of Brexit.

The Remain faction were first stunned. We had totally misread a part of the national mood, believed that what had been voted for was not good for us or the nation’s future and sensed a seismic shift in our culture.

This feeling of confusion and frustration has been inflated by the Government. First, Theresa May spouted platitudes – Brexit means Brexit – until it became clear that she and her cabal were intent on a hard Brexit.

And all the while, the argument has been: ‘the people have spoken’ and that to oppose, to challenge, to demand a voice, is treacherous.

But remember before the 23rd of June? Did millions of people march demanding we leave the EU? Did people bemoan our trade deals with the rest of the world? However much – and this is provable – the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun and Telegraph pumped out anti-migrant bile, the British people were stoical, resourceful and while things were not all roses, we weren’t a torn and divided nation.

But we are now and remember why: hubristic, incompetent leadership created a lightening-rod around which a complex rainbow of ideas formed into one slightly muddled Leave consensus.

Suddenly, gentle pensioners made anxious by their daily dose of Daily Mail fearmongering found themselves in the same tent as the EDL. The pub bore that is Nigel Farage stirred the pot and voters anxious about the position of UK law – the very confused talk about sovereignty – within the EU were aligned with anti-foreigner and racist twaddle.

But having ‘won’, all they could do is tell the Remainers to ‘suck it up’. What none of them could do was define what the future they are steering for will look like. Even the BBC, stuck with having to reflect the so called ‘new consensus’, joined in. Farage cropped up like shingles. The sense of real scrutiny, lines of questioning, fact being tested, disappeared.

The truth remains there is absolutely no real understanding in what the Leave camp want; and worse, there is no honest thinking, and certainly no honest talking, about what that future will look and feel like. The complex thing of building a new position for the UK in the world is simplified to ‘the faster the better’.

As a result, a huge amount of damage is being done to our national life. The range is breath-taking. We are leaving Euratom – the nuclear research body. See Professor Brian Cox. We are leaving Europol. We are leaving the CAP – the truth of this will terribly damage UK farming. We have already damaged our world leading academic status. Bankers are leaving, Nissan’s relationship with Sunderland has shifted…

But, of course, in their post-truth euphoria, Leavers remind us that the doom and gloom that was predicted has not yet happened, while ignoring both that we are still in the EU and the BOE invested heavily to trim damage as it happened.

But damage will and is happening.

So Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the major cities are all urging a much more cautious approach and yet Theresa May and a small cabal are pushing forward with Parliament, apparently, so tied up in the issue of democracy that it seems unable to challenge or contend in any meaningful way.

Questions of what is going on are met with exactly the same reply as why they are going on: ‘The people have spoken.’

And if you accept – as logical you must – that the people did speak briefly and in unison did they want the same thing? Patently not.

Many Leavers are appalled by us leaving the Single Market and know well that there is no way the rest of the world – with whom we trade already – are going to pick up the slack. Other Leavers must have believed the NHS would flower. It won’t. They were lied to.

No, Brexit is an accident. It is not a democratic notion but the product of a foolish prime minister creating a focus point for a lot of discontent. Even the keenest proponent of it, Boris Johnson, wrote the weekend after the result, that there was ‘no way’ we were leaving the single market. And Theresa May – for all her coyness before the poll – was adamant that the damage a full rupture would create was serious, if not desperate.

But stunned by the accidental victory rather than finding a way of uniting, a locked-jaw attitude has prevailed. “The people have spoken, shut up if you want to question that…” Whether it is driven by fear or conviction is hard to tell. But it is dangerous.

The UK has made terrible mistakes before in the face of bad thinking. The Iraq war in 2003 was voted for in Parliament, supported by the mainstream media and even though a million people marched against it, a national poll, or referendum, would certainly have supported that disastrous project. That there was no referendum left the consequences with Tony Blair and those immediately around him but the truth is it had the same fervour and support that is now driving Brexit. Look back at the Daily Mail, the Express, the Telegraph. Look at how easily they got swept up in the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It was a national tragedy and disaster. It did untold harm to global power-politics and the consequences resonate now. So it is with Brexit. Hopefully, lives won’t get lost in the same way – though Jo Cox is a victim of what has been stirred and unleashed – but the damage economically and to the ‘future’ will be similar and worse.

For this reason, we must challenge and fight back and not be put off by the understandable fear of being counter-democratic. It is NOT counter-democratic to challenge, test, question and, if needs be, oppose something that came from such a muddled place.

We must not lose all the UK represents and holds dear by accident.

Of course, the discontent behind the vote must be confronted. We cannot go back and ignore that but equally, we cannot go forward ignoring the facts that we know: Brexit will make the very people who supposedly supported it worse, rather than better, off. It will not bring jobs, and it will reduce investment and subsidy.

Also the world is changing fast. What might just have been plausible in June 2016 looks crazy now. With both Trump and Putin actively vowing to destabilise the European Union, it is surely logical to check our thinking and our allegiances.

And worse. President Trump and his supporters have a project to reshape America and the world. For the UK to be hanging on to his coat tails is a dangerous place to be. The hand holding was one thing, much worse was the mockery of Laura Kuenssberg’s question that challenged the Trump plan. His smirk and the line – “There goes the special relationship” was a charmless threat. The man and his regime are dangerous like something we have not seen before. Theresa May, who can’t seem to manage David Davies, will be a mouse to his python.

In 1854, bad leadership and communication led to the Light Brigade charging directly onto Turkish guns. As a result, one hundred and fifty-six men died. It was hubris, stubborn conviction, and a contempt for the foreigner that led to the bloodbath.

This is what I think we need to do to stop Brexit being a re-run of that stupidity.

  1. Article 50 will be triggered but it must be opposed. The opposition to it must be based on a plan that guarantees that whatever ultimately happens it is done properly.
  2. Before we Brexit (or not), there must be a full and unbiased ENQUIRY into the benefits that will be achieved, and the costs. We cannot allow the nonsense that is being reiterated to be last word. The UK has a history of detailed enquiries after the event – Iraq, Levenson. What I am proposing is that an ENQUIRY runs alongside the process checking and counter checking what is happening. While this could be a Parliamentary Committee but I believe it should be autonomous and judicial. To use an analogy this could be like a surveyor working with you when you buy a house, or an arbitrating lawyer in a divorce.
  3. The ENQUIRY should then form the basis of a second referendum. This referendum must reflect the future and so should give a vote to the young. It must also be fact challenged and checked. We Brits say repeatedly how even handed we are. Let’s reclaim that and have a proper, truthful, vote.
  4. The result of the referendum needs a threshold. The 52 – 48 % margin is dangerously too small. A golf club would not use this level of difference as a mandate; nor should the U.K. I believe the margin should be a bias of 65% and if neither REMAIN or LEAVE reach that percentage the process must result in a General Election. Political parties would have become more defined on their position but MP’s cannot go on being forced to decide (falsely) between their belief in whether they think Brexit in beneficial for the country and their constituents vote in the Referendum.

Clearly, nothing will be quite the same again and probably change is a good thing. What we cannot allow is an accidental, ill conceived, dishonest Brexit to happen just when the world is becoming markedly more unstable.

We Brits have a brilliant record of holding out for what is good and right. It is time we picked up that mantle again.