What do I want from Brexit?

December 9, 2018

in Opinion

Originally posted to Facebook in June 2017. Edited for clarity.

What I want out of leaving the European Union:

* Out of any further federalisation of Europe into a single unitary state, which continues apace: they just held the first EU state funeral (for Helmut Kohl) and they’ve just approved the establishment of a military headquarters for joint “operations” (bombing third countries).

On that note, the Commission is trying to get approval for the transfer of designated peace-making funds for developing countries to be used for the building up of the militaries of specific countries on the basis that this is going to be “good” for peace.

I don’t want that. I voted Leave to stop it, and that is being delivered. No regrets yet.

Helmet Kohl’s state funeral. The EU project is not about streamlining trade regulations.

* A continuation of participation in European agencies for which we do not require EU membership and which leaving would just be kind of stupid. There’s just no good reason why we should leave Euratom, which regulates the transfer of radioactive material around Europe. There no good reason why we should quit the Erasmus scheme, or the various science and research agencies, which all exist sort of independantly from the European Union. I don’t believe the latter has been considered yet but the idea that we should leave Euratom (and leaving was included in the Article 50 letter) because members are under the authority of the European Court of Justice as an arbiter of disputes arising from it is just daft. That’s a completely reasonable trade-off of sovereignty for clear benefits.

* A continuation of freedom of movement. This is much more controversial for both right and left Brexiters because freedom of movement lets immigrants in and those immigrants “are taking our jobs” but at the end of the day, your birth should not determine where you can live or work and as a matter of principle I think borders are morally abhorrent. And the disgusting controversy over where we should let people who’ve lived here for decades and have settled with families should be treated in any way other than with welcome arms and indefinite leave to remain shows what happens when that right is not upheld unconditionally.

* Continuing involvement in the single market, which could come from a bilateral trade deal like with the Swiss or through a bespoke deal, or very simply through the EEA. Like, yeah, it sucks that we have to comply with trade regulations that might be annoying but whatever, they’re the largest trading bloc in our neighbourhood and we sign up or we’re left with trying to form trade deals with Australia and Ghana. We can blather on about national sovereignty and the impact on workers til the cows come home, but if the cows don’t come home because we can’t afford to own any then it’s a moot point. Single market membership doesn’t compare. So we should just take it and do what they want of us to get it. I think it’s an insult to Norway that people talk about the EEA having no participation in the development of new regulations, they do, it’s just not formally agendaed and they don’t vote on the end result.

I thought that a bespoke deal might well be possible and might be the best of both worlds when the result first came out and people started talking about our actual options, but I think it is evident now that our Government really does have very little grasp of what it’s doing. I expected our ministers to be a little unrealistic because they’re Tories and then just get to grips with the task ahead, but we’re a year in now and egged on by the media they’re still talking about the divorce bill as if this is some sort of clash of wills that the stiff upper lip will see through and not a straight-forward accounting reality that we have to pay for commitments already made as stakeholders in the European investment bank. We look like complete idiots in the European media, and while I am unsurprised that the typical British person isn’t really paying attention to that, I am profoundly shocked that either no-one in the civil service is briefing the Cabinet on how ridiculous they’re being and how much they’re messing up our negotiations, or the extent to which ministers just aren’t bothering to listen. There’s zero chance of any kind of special treatment while ministers are just clowning around instead of actually listening to what Michel Barnier’s negotiating team is actually saying.

So, it has to be the EEA. It completely takes the issue of the Northern Irish border off the table, which is otherwise going to be very difficult to resolve because the DUP supported Brexit but also want an open border with the Republic, which is legally impossible. It provides certainty to British business and prevents any kind of “cliff” in March 2019. It ensures, and enforces, our commitment to freedom of movement, and just driving to France for the weekend on the ferry which seems to be what most British people perceive the main EU benefit to be. It just deals with most of the problems caused, and while obviously it doesn’t deliver what the loudest right-wing Brexiters want, which is an end to immigration and total national sovereignty, the fact is that all field research and national polling done have shown solid majorities of the public in favour of giving up border control for single market access. Solid majorities. The most field research was this RAND survey using a set of stated preference discrete choice experiments conducted in February 2017:


“What sort of Brexit do the British people want?
A longitudinal study examining the ‘trade-offs’ people would be willing to make in reaching a Brexit deal”

And this YouGov poll from last week:

June 2017 (YouGov)

I regard it as testament to the extent to which UKIP’s narrative has infected the way we think about Europe that when I talk about Brexit with people, the assumption of Remainers is that everything is irretrievably broken, everyone who voted Leave is stupid, and we are all going to hell in a handcart. The stats show differently: there is solid public support for a soft Brexit AND THERE ALWAYS HAS BEEN – there’s a solid majority support for a soft Brexit in the House of Commons AND THERE ALWAYS HAS BEEN. We just have to mobilise it and make it happen.

So yeah, I’m sure it seems to some people that joining the EEA makes the whole leaving thing pointless because we’ll just being signing up to a bunch of regulations out of our control. But the EEA doesn’t cover financial policy, social policy, security and defence, and a bunch of things that you never think about as being covered by the EU but are. Being in the EEA in no way signs us up for flags and anthems, and the Euro, and a European foreign policy, and crushing Greece and selling off all their national assets, and letting migrants drown in the Mediterranean, and all of the other dark sides to neoliberal institutions that people don’t think about when they think of smiley same-sex marriage supporters like Trudeau.

We’re just out of that now. I think that’s a good thing, and I continue to do so.

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This began life as a Facebook comment to a post from a friend who felt that:

“the police’s handling of the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations (not to mention the 2011 riots) provide a pretty good answer to anyone who says ‘Brexit has to happen or there’ll be riots’

If the police can handle a large-scale, relatively co-ordinated series of mass actions by people of all ages, I reckon they can take a few Septuagenarians called Gary getting pissed, draping themselves in a union flag and smashing up a WHSmiths in Doncaster”

I can’t speak for other Leavers who had their own reasons for voting as such and thus their own feelings on the matter, but I can say that watching this ongoing story, I can have sensible, considered, intellectual thoughts about democracy and sovereignty, but also increasingly emotional reactions to the constant efforts of Remainers to undermine every step any government takes to get us to leave and declaring ultimate victory after every meaningless but time-consuming setback.

How did that “vital work of Parliament holding the government accountable” work out? Did *anything* useful or interesting related to Brexit happen as a result of Prorogation being overturned by a politicised ruling from the Supreme Court and Labour’s spiteful refusal to adjourn the House for the Conservative Party Conference? Anything at all to justify the apocalyptic rhetoric about the end of all democracy if Boris Johnson was allowed to go ahead with it? How ’bout that Article 50 Supreme Court that was going to change everything, took months, and was legislated away in an afternoon?

After three years of this I’ve gone from thinking “Gosh, I guess in the event of a second referendum between Remain or No Deal, I’d have to vote remain, ugh” to “Burn literally everything and every national institution down, unite Ireland and ban the Labour Party if that’s what it takes, yeah, that’s fine, where’s my blue passport, mate, bollocks to Remain”. MPs with mixed constituencies are aware of this rising level of feeling far more than people who hang out with people of like mind, hence their responses to each twist and turn are far more complicated than people who do not need to keep their finger on the political temperature. People deride them for wanting to keep their jobs and never think about the significance of what it means to keep your job when you’re an elected official who needs to win a majority vote of a population in a FPTP system.

I’ve never marched for Brexit. I’ve never demonstrated against People’s Vote, I’ve never written to my MP about it or even signed a petition. But I was one of the five million who voted Brexit Party in June to be super clear about what I think of ditherers, and I’m one of the unknown but I believe is in the hundreds of thousands of instinctively left-wing voters who has absolutely no intention of voting Labour at the next election because I think they’re a bunch of untrustworthy losers who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Remainers are super vocal and point to their own political activity as a sign that they are winning the argument but at the end of the day, the government has consistently affirmed that we’re leaving and made febrile efforts to do so, so why would Leavers do anything other than watch suspiciously? We show up in the stats every time it matters and Remainers are thrown into frantic rhetorical gymnastics to explain how, actually, if you just include everyone who never voted (and do not matter), or combine all of the votes of everyone who voted for a party that stands for things that aren’t Brexit (36% of SNP voters voted Leave, but you didn’t know that, did you?), actually, everyone has repented of their sin and we should just revoke Article 50 and forget about it, no majority for no deal shutupshutupshutup.

I cannot begin to convey how politically incompetent you reveal yourself to be if you have ever posted, retweeted, or liked any version of this image.

I cannot begin to convey how politically incompetent you reveal yourself to be if you have ever posted, retweeted, or liked any version of this image. Source: The Independent

I will tell you how I felt when I read the headlines that Boris Johnson had secured a deal his party could support – I felt gratitude. It’s all nonsense – the deal hasn’t passed, the DUP don’t like it, they still haven’t resolved the border, there’s no guarantee it’s going to get through the House and the over-arching objective is to achieve a trade deal that is going to get caught up in years of wrangling between business and labour groups just like TTIP did. Many, many references were made to the Canada trade deal in the ensuing debate, but everyone also forgets that CETA took seven years to negotiate not just because of the complexity of negotiations but because its provisions were highly politically controversial.  I’m not looking forward to that fight.

But nonetheless I felt *relieved*, like the torturer had taken his foot off the rack and a flood of warm fuzzy feelings washed over me. I want to leave the European Union for many, many reasons I’ve expressed before. Boris Johnson has brought us meaningfully closer to that goal more than Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have ever done. I felt like he had got it done despite all the best efforts of Guardian columnists and PV activists to stop him, and I had a train of thought where I actually considered voting Tory at the next election, out of gratitude, before reminding myself that the Tories are in fact Tories and that is not acceptable. The only good Tory is a suppository.

There’s going to be a whole load of voters who have no such ideological brake on their inclinations. These are the people that are all to play for in this election. These are the voters who are quite possibly going to see Oliver Letwin stop this deal being passed, and Brexit delayed further, who are going to respond to that by marching down to the polls to give Boris Johnson the majority he needs to Get Brexit Done. Public services will continue to suffer as a result, and will continue to do so until this massive political gordian knot is resolved and people are able to vote without one’s position on Brexit permeating everything. But on Brexit, we now face a real choice at the next election.

I was berated by some Labour activists for mocking Labour, which I was, but underneath it is a sincere point. If you don’t really care about Brexit, you can vote Labour. They don’t really care either. But everyone else does, which is why Labour were hammered into third place at the European election and lost half of their MEPs. Labour are banking on Corbyn’s messaging about social justice and housing policy focussing minds when the endlessly trailed election is finally here and we have to decide what’s important, and who should be in charge of it. I’m skeptical of this strategy. I can honestly say that I have never had so many of my friends say that they do not know who they are going to vote for, usually with a grimace. I don’t know who to vote for. People who are clear that they want to vote for Brexit, however, are going to have a very clear choice, and man, are they going to be annoyed if they don’t get it.

So, if we end up with a government that doesn’t commit to leaving, or holds a second referendum that is narrowly lost to remain? I’m probably not going to join a riot, but there are essentially no circumstances in which I would, because that is not something I do. But I’m definitely going to be quietly hurling money and resources at the very next organisation that promises to pick up the fight, which is what I do. I’m not letting this go.

(I joined Open Britain the day after the referendum in 2016 because they claimed their goal was to keep Britain in the single market, which I supported. They explicitly said that you didn’t have to want to reverse the result to support that goal, and I’m now stuck on a mailing list that sends me endless People’s Vote Remainer propaganda, so I won’t be making the mistake of believing any of those people again.)

In such circumstances, I would imagine that for people whose response to volatile political situations is to get out on the streets and smash stuff up, that’s what they are going to do. It’s not going to be organised, and it’s not going to have middle class police liaison officers and people dressed as trees handing themselves into police stations because they banner dropped Big Ben, it’s going to be incoherent rage frustrated by the betrayal of the political class expressing itself in civil unrest and that’s happening in multiple countries literally right now, and the police are not responding by kettling papier mache octopodes. Spot the odd one out.

Chilean protests against rise in subway ticket prices 19th October.

Chilean protesters against rise in subway ticket prices burn down a ticket office, October 2019.

Hong Kong riot police trying to control protesters against a law proposed by the government permitting China to extradite criminal fugitives, October 2019.

Metropolitan Police confiscate an octopus at Extinction Rebellion protests against national environmental policy, October 2019.

Riots in Lebanon against proposed tax increases, including on WhatsApp calls, October 2019.

Confrontations between riot police and demonstrators following the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders for organising an independence referendum, October 2019.








Brexit has to happen, or there will be riots.

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