- First, hard Brexit, which is catastrophic;
- second, soft Brexit, which is several different flavours of disaster;
- third, re-running the EU referendum, which would be expensive, time-consuming, and wouldn’t necessarily stop Brexit;
- fourth, Parliament voting to revoke the invocation of Article 50, which means an unprecedented rebellion of MPs in both Opposition and Government with unpredictable consequences.
From a worm’s-eye perspective, the fourth option is least-worst: but the people most likely to face negative consequences for carrying it out and saving the UK from catastrophe or disaster, are the same MPs who would have to vote for it.
And regardless of how bad it is for us in the lower income bands, MPs are all in the top ten percent by income just from their salary: they have a generous expenses system, heavily subsidised food and drink at work, complete job security until the next general election, and a nice golden parachute even if they lose their seats then: they will not directly suffer from the economic disaster of soft Brexit, and though the catastrophe of hard Brexit might hit them, they’re better insulated against it than most.
There is no doubt in any informed person’s mind that Brexit is either catastrophic or disastrous, and Members of Parliament are, as a general class, well-educated and have a sense of civic responsibility towards their constituents, their constituency, and the country. But they are unlikely to rebel against their leadership without some serious and coordinated push to do so, whether Conservative or Labour, and the leadership is pro-Brexit.
Dominic Grieve (former Attorney General for England and Wales, under the Cameron/Clegg government) suggested that the problem is one of groupthink:
“The PM’s problem is that she’s surrounded by people who get louder and more strident by the moment as some of the inevitable problems, which were going to come with Brexit, start to make themselves apparent.”
But when Brexit is so obviously terrible, why are we doing this?
- Because over a third of the UK electorate voted to Leave, even though it’s now clear most of them didn’t know what the consequences would be
Nearly ten months ago, in January 2017, I posted some answers to the excellent question: Why is the UK leaving the EU?
Re-reading now what I wrote then, I think it’s an accurate but limited picture of the UK electorate’s internal reasons for supporting Brexit: racism and ignorance, mostly. This is not to say that everyone who voted Leave is racist: but it was shown by polling both pre-EUref and after, that “immigration” was central to the concerns of the majority of people voting Leave. And while not everyone who says they are concerned about immigration is racist, all of the reasons for being concerned about immigration to the UK are racist reasons.
As a study showed earlier this year, the better-educated you were, the more likely you were to vote Remain. Ignorance isn’t an insult: it’s an accurate assessment. Ask someone who voted Leave and is now clamoring for the UK to leave the EU without wasting any more time or paying any more money (and yes, I’ve tried this experiment several times) if this means they actively want the known and inevitable consequences of hard Brexit.
What almost invariably turns out is either that they have never thought about even the most obvious consequences of hard Brexit (the phrase “Irish border throws unexpected hurdle into Brexit talks” is almost amusing: The Sun’s squealing op-ed less so), or else they’re only still demanding hard Brexit because they are quite sure that those known and inevitable consequences can be avoided, somehow.
- Because the Prime Minister had decided that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, even though it’s far from clear that she and her ministers knew what the consequences would be
But ignorance is of course not restricted to the poorly-educated. Theresa May seems to have thought, right up until April this year, just after she invoked Article 50, that she would be able to manage Brexit by leaving the EU but retaining all the benefits of EU membership she had decided the UK should continue to have.
It is not clear to me even now whether Theresa May and David Davis properly understand that it is not possible for them to achieve a deal with the EU where they get to cherry-pick the bits of EU membership they like, avoid paying the UK’s share of the EU’s budget, and have trade agreements with Germany and other EU countries, all before March 2019. According to a BBC report today, a substantial proportion of May’s Cabinet still think they can somehow force the EU to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal by withholding part of the budget-money the UK owes the EU.
In some instances, we know pro-Brexit MPs are lying: John Redwood, Conservative MP for Wokingham, writes in praise of the UK economy post-Brexit for English voters on his MP website, but when writing an op-ed in the Financial Times to advise investors, he notes that his own feeling since July 2016 is that investors should pull out of the UK’s market and put their money elsewhere.
In other instances, we really can’t be sure: is David Davis as clueless as he seems?
Today, we discovered that, because of Brexit, the EU banking agency EBA is moving from London to Paris: the EU medicines agency, EMA, is moving from London to Amsterdam. As late as April this year, David Davis was still telling himself and his civil servants that these two major EU agencies could be based outside the EU in a third country’s capital, that he didn’t accept that both agencies were relocating because of Brexit. He had a spokesman tell the press
“No decisions have been taken about the location of the European Banking Authority or the European Medicines Agency — these will be subject to the exit negotiations.”
In a sense that was partly correct; David Davis had made no decisions about the location of these two agencies. The decision was never in his hands, and of course would never be part of the exit negotiations. As Alex Andreou noted on Twitter, the EU’s planning about relocating these EU agencies from London began in July 2016: and the UK’s planning on how to replace the work the two agencies do for UK banking and all medicines used in the UK, should have begun two years ago.
Having worked for a similarly sized gov't agency for most my professional life, I estimate that in order to "establish our own system" and have everything in place to take over March 2019, we needed to have started two years ago. And even that would be tight. I'm deadly serious.
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) November 17, 2017
The EMA and the EBA are only two of the 30+ EU agencies that the UK, as a third country, will no longer be able to access after 29th March 2019 if Brexit goes ahead. No work has begun on setting up the UK’s replacements for any of them. We have no idea if the Department for Exiting the EU has even completed the impact assessments that David Davis claims exist but no one can be allowed to read them.
- Because a significant proportion of the UK electorate believes that things are now so hopelessly bad for them and for their children that Brexit can’t have any worse consequences for them
Giles Fraser points out that the level of poverty in some parts of the UK is such that people who were told by the Conservative government “vote Remain or the economic consequences will be disastrous” voted Leave because first, it meant giving the Establishment a bloody nose, and second, they couldn’t see that the economic consequences for them could get any worse.
That’s understandable, but likely mistaken: for anyone already struggling at the margins, the catastrophe of hard Brexit may be lethal.
Is Giles Fraser being insincere when he supports Brexit? No, I doubt it; he wrote an angry/sad article in May 2015 about democracy being a religion that has failed the poor: he simply hasn’t bothered to think through that even for people at the bottom of the heap, things can always get worse, and post-Brexit, they will.
- Because cheap-work conservatives see Brexit as an excellent opportunity to make the rich richer and everyone who has to work for a living poorer
Jacob Rees-Mogg talks blithely of an “open window of post-Brexit freedom” and dreams of a UK in which the government pursues policies of free trade, reduced regulation and lower taxes for the rich.
In yet other instances, some of the richer Brexit supporters – cheap-work conservatives – are well-informed about what hard Brexit will mean for the lower classes, and are taking a positive view that hard Brexit will mean lower taxes for the rich, less burdensome legislation and fiddling regulations protecting the working classes, and therefore an excellent opportunity for the very rich to get even richer. James Dyson and Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin are both looking forward to deregulated labour laws and of course, less taxation.
There is, as I wrote before the Referendum, a quite staggering correlation between tax dodging and funding Brexit. https://t.co/6NukGykC2P
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) November 5, 2017
Jamie Whyte, the director of the right-wing think-tank Institute of Economic Affairs, which doesn’t disclose to anyone where it gets its funding, gloated in the Telegraph a few months ago that making Britain a tax haven after Brexit would make “us all” richer.
- Because the Opposition party in the House of Commons is the other party of Brexit
Jeremy Corbyn is blandly holding the Labour Party together in the hopes of a Tory collapse, a general election which Labour would win, and a Labour government gone back to its moderate-socialist roots before Tony Blair remodelled it and lost so many voters living in poverty. He has committed the next Labour government, if he’s Prime Minister before March 2019, to a transition period post-Brexit in which the UK would stay within the single market for “as long as necessary” – a slow car-crash into a brick wall instead of Theresa May’s cliff-edge.
This plan of Corbyn’s for Brexit is better than Theresa May’s – one reason why it’s receiving so little media attention – but it still commits Labour to Leave, and so ensures no significant political leadership within the House of Commons to lead MPs against Brexit.
So that’s five reasons why we’re doing this, even though the dismal facts show at best, Brexit will be disaster: because of the UK’s own basket of deplorables, because of Conservative groupthink, because the poorest think nothing can get worse for them after Brexit, because the ultra-rich see Brexit as a golden opportunity to get richer at our expenses, because the Labour Party has no anti-Brexit leadership.
I could have written the above in January, even before Theresa May invoked Article 50 and held a general election: the past ten months have clarified and expanded what we knew then, but not changed it.
But then there’s what we didn’t know in January.
- There is a sixth set of reasons – murky with money and odd political connections to Russia and to Wikileaks and now to the Trump administration
Nigel Farage, a former investment broker, successfully presented himself as the representative of the common man and UKIP as the party for the English underdog. But Farage has a set of strange connections, which are outlined in detail here.
Nigel Farage, we now know, is linked to Julian Assange: and though Julian Assange has outwaited the Swedish statute of limitations and so can’t be tried for sexual assault or rape, he has made clear he won’t forgive even the attempt to make him face his victims in a Swedish court. Assange hates Hillary Clinton, and the EU for their arrest warrant… and the UK. (UKIP has claimed the European Arrest Warrant for Assange on charges of rape and sexual assault, was ‘political’, at least since 2011.)
Further, while the FBI and the outgoing Obama administration were clear in January 2017 that Russia had interfered in the US elections to get Donald Trump made President and ensure that Hillary Clinton did not become President, the full details of the links between Donald Trump Jr and Wikileaks, the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, between the Trump Organization and the Russian mafia, were not then clear at all: and there’s likely still more the US’s investigation will uncover.
Back in January 2017, we had not yet heard from Carole Cadwalladr about how Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections Ltd may have gamed our electoral process.
Nor had we yet heard from Open Democracy about the strange sources of funding received by the Leave campaigns.
Also, most of us didn’t know in January 2017 that entities in Russia were promoting fake news on Twitter and Facebook to support the UK leaving the EU, just as they were supporting Trump in the US. Even Theresa May knows that now. (Twitter knew of a large trove of fake/inactive accounts with Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses as early as 2015, but chose not to delete them at the time.)
You remember a few weeks ago I did that article which showed the Russian bots switch from Ukraine etc to Brexit?
— J.J. Patrick (@J_amesp) November 15, 2017
No such investigation as the US authorities have been carrying out over the past year, has been carried out in the UK about any Russian interference in the EU referendum. But the US investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal keeps uncovering links to London and to the British government and Brexit.
But three weeks ago, the Electoral Commission announced they intended to investigate Arron Banks, who donated over £9m to campaign for Leave, along with Better for the Country Limited: and today, the Electoral Commission also announced they intended to open an investigation into Vote Leave Limited, Veterans for Britain Limited, and Darren Grimes.
But what will an Electoral Commission investigation actually do? The Electoral Commission has no power to declare the results of the EU referendum void: we are back to the difficulty that only Parliament can prevent Brexit now, and MPs who declare opposition to Brexit – even in the slightest degree – are being attacked in the media and on Facebook and Twitter.
Meantime, the EU will move on: with a UK-shaped hole in its budget if the hard-Brexiters have their way, but essentially unharmed, if not unchanged.
The day the UK leaves, everything in the EU27 will function PRECISELY as it does now. Money will be tighter. Some of their sectors will face challenges. But none of their rules or processes change. They face no transition. We do -in a myriad ways- and are totally unprepared.
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) November 17, 2017
Meanwhile, Carole Cadwalladr, under attack, writes:
Leave.EU is now the subject of two Electoral Commission investigations into potentially illegal sources of funding, the first of which followed an article I wrote in March. They’ve been calling me crazy for months and I thought this would be more of the same. But it wasn’t. The video was a clip from the film Airplane!, in which a “hysterical” woman is told to calm down and then hit, repeatedly, around the head. The woman – my face photoshopped in – was me. And, as the Russian national anthem played, a line of people queued up to take their turn. The last person in the line had a gun.
So far, so weird. Here was a registered political organisation that had gained the support of millions of law-abiding, well-meaning people, promoting violence against women and threatening a journalist. It was a “joke”. A joke underpinned by violent menace. From an organisation that has also made no secret of its links to the Russian state. Leave.EU’s Twitter account retweets Russia Today and the Russian embassy as a matter of course.
I’m not biased. I’m furious. I’m boiling with rage. The bullies are winning. Lies are winning. This assault on truth, justice, democracy is winning. And we can’t even see it. That video – created by a British political organisation, facilitated by a global technology platform – will have an impact on other women. On other journalists. It’s another line crossed.
Where is the line for us?