In this last week Brexit has gone from bad to worse, something I scarcely thought possible. Brexit as a whole is poorly conceived and its execution has also been terrible. To make it worse, this particular train wreck has a countdown attached. If we don’t resolve this mess by the 29th of March this year then Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal and worse will become Biblically awful.
This week Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was voted down by parliament and a vote of no confidence in the Tory government failed. It has been a whirlwind. In order to clarify my thinking on what we should do now, I have laid out a few facts as I see them.
Firstly, May’s deal clearly won’t make it through parliament. The only way I can see this happening is if it’s the last few days before a No Deal exit and, all other plans having failed, MPs vote it through at the last minute. Other than that, this withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated over nearly two years is as dead as Boris Johnson’s integrity. Not only is May’s deal dead, but I don’t think any other bespoke deal that the EU is willing to give us will be passed by the House of Commons.
Secondly, this government isn’t going anywhere. Now that a vote of no confidence in the government has failed, the chances of a general election and putting Labour in the Brexit driving seat have been massively reduced. Following the failed leadership challenge in December, May is safe as Prime Minister for the foreseeable future. This means that we have to accept that the Tories in general and May, in particular, will see out the Article 50 deadline in power.
Thirdly, and most importantly, a No Deal Brexit would be a disaster of unparalleled proportions. It could lead to hospitals closing and medicine shortages. The economy could collapse and there could be rioting in the streets when food shortages hit. The economic and social damage done could make the 1970s look like a minor stock market adjustment. A No Deal Brexit must be prevented at all costs.
MPs have been clear that they won’t accept a No Deal Brexit and have done their best to bind the government’s hands to prevent it. However, unless MPs can decide on what kind of Brexit they do want (or postpone/stop Brexit) then No Deal wins by default at the end of March. Parliament needs to act to prevent a No Deal Brexit.
As May’s deal is dead, the Prime Minister has been dragged, against all of her political instincts, to the table of cross-party negotiation. This begs the question, what should Labour ask for in these negotiations? What type (if any) of Brexit should they pursue?
What the past two years of wasting time over Brexit has shown, is that May’s red lines on Brexit cannot be reconciled with each other. She has ruled out remaining in the regulatory orbit of the EU, a border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland (having this as a red line is sensible) and customs checks between Northern Ireland the rest of the UK. Maintaining all three of these is only possible in the deal that May has negotiated with the EU, which is not going to pass parliament.
May’s red lines exist to keep the Tory party happy. It is what they want from Brexit. May is putting her party’s unity ahead of the best interest of the country. As there is no Brexit that the Tories will accept, whilst May retains her red lines she is running the risk of a No Deal Brexit.
All of this leads me to express what is probably going to be an unpopular opinion amongst my middle class, metropolitan, muesli eating, Uniqlo shopping, Guardian reading, craft beer drinking, casual dining, friends. Quite simply, Labour must force May to drop her red lines and embrace a Norway style Brexit with customer union membership and maybe even EEA membership.
This is clearly the best Brexit deal. It minimises the risk of an economic shock, guarantees continuity for UK business and the European people living in the UK and protects pace in Northern Ireland as well as ensuring the Good Friday agreement stands. It is the best way forward and would pass through Parliament. This is what Labour should make the government agree to.
This week Corbyn has been criticised for wanting No Deal taken off the table before negotiations can begin. This is a sensible starting place as No Deal cannot be countenanced by any politician who hasn’t take leave of their senses. The fact that it is being endorsed by Nigel Farage tells you all you need to know about it as an idea.
But what about a People’s Vote, I hear you say? Well if Remain and stop all this madness could win a People’s Vote that would be one way out of this shitstorm. There are a few problems with this as a plan. Firstly, I don’t see it getting through parliament. Secondly, I haven’t seen an official confirmation of what the question on a People’s Vote be. Will it be May’s Deal verses Remain? Will No Deal be allowed on the ballot? Will it be a two-stage referendum? No one from the People’s Vote has a clear answer to these questions.
These technical questions can be addressed and they are not the root of my objections to a People’s Vote. Where my objection comes from is: can Remain win a People’s Vote? Brexit is a slow-motion disaster that threatens to become a high-speed catastrophe, but I think that the millions who voted for Brexit still want the vague jumble of things that Leave were offering and will vote for it again. I don’t think Remain can win a People’s Vote. Also, what happens if Leave wins by a larger margin than last time? What would that mean for the country?
My objection to a People’s Vote is that the ideas is based on an assumption that is not true. Everyone thinks Brexit is going badly and wants it to be over, one way or another, which is completely correct. The assumption is that people are so hacked off with Brexit that they would prefer a return to the status quo over Brexit, which is not true. Most people don’t want the status quo, which is what a People’s Vote is offering.
On top of this, there is the outpouring of rage a People’s Vote will create amongst Brexit voters that will be seized by the far-right. One MP was killed by the last referendum. Will a People’s Vote be worth it if it leads to more violence? How many lives lost is too high a price to stop Brexit? This may seem like pure shock rhetoric, but the People’s Vote need to engage with this question if we’re going to have another referendum. They can’t just shrug and assume that everyone else thinks exactly like them, ie really really wants Brexit to fuck off.
I don’t think a People’s Vote will get us out of this mess, which is why I don’t think there should be one. Although if Labour fails to get May to agree to non-suicidal Brexit, or even any Brexit, then it may be the only option left on the table to prevent a No Deal exit.
I am very worried about the Brexit process. Time is running out and MPs must do everything they can to prevent a No Deal exit. The nation and history are watching closely what MPs do, so in the words of RuPaul I will say to MPs: good luck and don’t fuck it up.