Brexit Silver Linings

A General Election has finally been called. The outcome is by no means certain but there is a good chance that Boris Johnson will secure a majority for the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. They will then be able to deliver Brexit.

Needless to say, I do not favour this outcome, for several reasons: I think exiting the EU is a bad idea; leaving under the current proposed ‘deal’ is one of the worst ways to do it; Scotland will vote for independence; and it’s utterly galling that Boris Johnson’s lies, incompetence and meanness of character might somehow result in political success.

If all that happened, what might be the silver linings around those dark clouds?

I can think of three.

An End to the Constitutional Strain

The first is that the constitutional crisis will recede. In the few months since Boris Johnson was elevated to the premiership, we have witnessed several political moments that could have broken our political system.

  • First, the Government threatened to leave the EU with ‘No Deal’ on 31st October. Parliament seized control of the legislative timetable, and passed its own law designed to avoid crash out. At the time there was talk of the Government advising the Queen to withhold ‘Royal Assent,’ something that has not happened since 1707.
  • Second, Boris Johnson sought to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, an abuse of a prerogative power. At the time, we were worried that he might get away with this, and a method of avoiding parliamentary scrutiny would have wormed its way into our system.
  • As it was, the Supreme Court ruled the prorogation unlawful in the Miller 2/Cherry case. At the time there were worries that ministers might criticise or even ignore the judgment to an extent that undermined the rule of law.
  • There was also legitimate concern that the Prime Minister might have ignored his obligations under the Benn Act, when parliament failed to ratify his version of the Withdrawl Agreement on 19th October. Many people would have applauded this disregard for the law.

As it was, our constitutional provisions held firm, and the highly unusual events that did occur (the Benn Act, the Miller 2/Cherry judgment) were, at least, within the existing framework.

All of these things came about because we had a ‘hung parliament’ with a minority government. But our political system is based on the assumption that the government has some control over parliament. When parliament loses confidence in the government, a new election is called.

The peculiar and high-stakes circumstances of Brexit meant that the opposition parties did not initially agree to a General Election, and instead sought to box-in the Prime Minister and his government. In response, Johnson declined work collaboratively with the other parties (as he should have done). Instead, he chose to bend and break the rules in order to avoid any compromise.

If Mr Johnson secures a majority in December, the power struggle with parliament will come to an end. There will be no need to push our constitutional provisions to their limits. That particular problem will go away, and I find myself relieved at the thought of it.

A Salutary Tale

The other silver lining in this scenario is the salutary tale it presents to future political leaders.

Never again will a vague, non-binding referendum be used as a means of avoiding political leadership on tough decisions.

And in future parliaments where no party wins an outright majority (which the psephologists say is likely to become normal), the largest party will be far more mindful of the need to make compromises with the other side.

A Return to Realism?

There have been many lies and promises of policy ‘unicorns’ during this process. In particular, assertions about how easy trade deals will be, how much money will be made available for public services, and how the U.K. could be outside the E.U.’s single market, free trade and customs arrangements while using yet-to-be-invented technology to somehow, avoid any kind of border infrastructure in between Norther Ireland and the Republic.

If Brexit were finally delivered, those who support the policy, and those who want to be seen to support the policy, will have no need to hold up these increasingly implausible assertions. They will no longer have to pander to Leave voters.

Brexit has a symbolic power. Once it is delivered, the culture war will continue, but the battlefield will not be something of such fundamental constitutional and economic importance.

Our post-Brexit politics will be tedious and torturous. The deals and negotiations will take years to finalise, and we will almost certainly be worse off than had we remained in the the EU. But I think – I hope – that a modicum of realism will return to our politics. There will be some comfort in that, as we decline.

Conclusion

To reiterate: don’t think a Tory election victory is desirable. I disagree with their values and policies, and I think the lies and incompetence of the past five years should be punished by the electorate.

But in the event that not enough of my fellow citizens agree with me, I’ll find some succour in the ‘silver linings’ above. Each will provide some illumination towards a better kind of politics to that which we are currently experiencing.

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