On the morning of 24th June 2016 I wrote a post on my blog entitled ‘Here’s What We Need To Do Now’.
The ‘we’ in that post were the Remainers. I recommended we refrained from moaning about racist, insular Brexiteers and instead adopted a conciliatory attitude. To accept that a bad decision had been made but then endeavour to make withdrawal from the EU work.
None of that happened, of course.
A majority of the country believes that Brexit is Not Going Well. There is a consensus it has been rushed. This clear-eyed thread by David Allen Green notes that everything else follows from decisions made (without any consultation or national debate, we might add) in the autumn of 2016.
Historians may one day say Brexit was won and lost in those three or so months between the referendum and May's October 2016 conference speech.
Everything after that has been an aftershock of the decisions made in that period.
— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) November 16, 2017
Theresa May announced certain ‘red lines’ during her Conservative Party Conference speech in October 2016, and entrenched her position in the Lancaster House speech in January 2017. The Article 50 notification was made in March 2017, despite the fact it was an illogical and strategically stupid thing to do.
Since then, the Brexit clock has been ticking. Debates that could have been quite interesting in the abstract have instead become a shameful litany of lies, nonsense and gaffes. All the political stories, whether about disagreement within the cabinet, House of Lords revolt over the EU Withdrawal Bill, or the state of the Irish border after Brexit, are all stories about the British Government’s lack of preparedness. They are all problems (whether of policy, politics or the personal) where proper planning would probably have preempted the problem.
Why the rush? I think one reason might be that after the referendum vote, those who voted Remain expended a lot of energy discussing how we might weasel out of delivering Brexit. The referendum vote was ‘advisory’ after all, so politicians and judges could stop it. Perhaps there were campaign irregularities that could be used to nullify the referendum? Or maybe the Prime Minister could simply never invoke Article 50, and therefore put the whole thing into limbo? Perhaps the Queen could decline Royal Assent for the notification bill? FFS.
I don’t remember ever reading anything about what a Remainers’ Brexit would look like.
I think that the vocal, denialist element of the 2016 discourse induced a panicked urgency among Leavers in Government. That if they did not ensure that Brexit would happen quickly, it could be taken away from them.
I think this best explains the kamikaze determination, displayed by the Leavers, to choose an economically hard path out of the EU. Soft Brexit takes time. This feels like a more plausible motivation than a genuine desire to subject the U.K. to a disruptive, cleansing No Deal scenario.
This is not to say that Remainers are somehow to blame for the Brexit clusterfuck. They—we—have every right to take a wholly pessimistic view of the negotiations, and of the Government’s ability to deliver any kind of economic prosperity once we are adrift. Remainers are entitled to say that it would be better for us to stay in the EU, and that we can still stay if we want to.
Likewise, living in a country with Rule of Law means you can deploy that law in order to slow down or perhaps even stop a process like Brexit from happening. A new legal challenge by U.K. expats seeks a ruling that, because Leave.EU broke electoral law, the Article 50 notification is contrary to British ‘constitutional requirements’ and therefore invalid.
As a Remainer, I have hope that this legal challenge will prevail and give Theresa May a way out of the Brexit morass. But in the meantime, it’s just the sort of thing that will ‘spook’ Brexiteers in power to do whatever it takes to keep their political project on track, including the sabotage of workable soft-Brexit options.