The Winston Churchill–Boris Johnson Analogy That No-one Talks About

Yesterday, Boris Johnson met the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Together they seem to have injected a note of optimism into the Brexit talks. Apparently, Juncker’s comment that the precise terms of the Irish ‘backstop’ are negotiable, so long as all its objectives are met by other means, is a splinter in the EU’s otherwise straight bat.

Meanwhile, prominent ‘Lexiters’ Stephen Kinnock MP and Caroline Flint MP met with E.U. chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. On Newsnight later that evening, Kinnock reminded us that there is a large group of Labour MPs who are eager to vote for a Brexit ‘deal’. The same programme also reminded us that the twenty-one Conservative party MPs who lost the whip earlier this month did so because they were opposed to ‘No Deal.’ They too could vote for a Withdrawl Agreement. Continue reading “The Winston Churchill–Boris Johnson Analogy That No-one Talks About”

“Just Get On With It” – The Laziest Possible Brexit Intervention

A common intervention in the Brexit debate—made by politicians, celebrities and in hoi polloi vox pops up and down the country—is that the British people want the politicians to ‘just get on with Brexit.’

Recent proponents of the phrase include David Attenborough and Lord Rose, who previously chaired the Remain campaign.

‘Just Get On With It’ has a beguiling charm. It’s a simple, memorable phrase, and it sounds pragmatic, down-to-earth and a little bit bolshy. That’s why so many people repeat it.

But simplicity is not a virtue when we’re talking about leaving the EU. ‘Just Get On With It’ is a solution for those people who either haven’t thought about the problem enough, or who do not care about the consequences of a rushed, half-cocked Brexit.

Either way, its an intellectually lazy argument, for many reasons. Let me count the ways… Continue reading ““Just Get On With It” – The Laziest Possible Brexit Intervention”

The ‘Whether’ and the ‘How’ of Brexit

Earlier this week, the House of Commons seized control of the parliamentary timetable, and passed its own piece of legislation through the chamber. The House of Lords then passed it without amendments, and the European Union Withdrawl Bill (No. 6) will become law early next week.

The law forces Prime Minister Johnson to ask the European Council for an Article 50 extension, if an exit deal has not been agreed by 19th October (a few days before the scheduled departure on the 31st). It is a way of legally binding the government from proceeding with a No Deal Brexit.

Since then, there has been a constant refrain from supporters of the PM’s policy (call them Leavers, or Brexiteers or whatever) that parliament’s actions are thwarting the will of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU. The Prime Minister said:

It is a Bill designed to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history, the 2016 referendum. It is therefore a Bill without precedent in the history of this House, seeking as it does to force the Prime Minister, with a pre-drafted letter, to surrender in international negotiations

The implication here, parroted by people up and down the country, is that ‘leaving the EU’ is synonymous with the May/Johnson vision of ‘hard Brexit.’ That is, a ‘how’ founded on a sheaf of red lines and the threat of No Deal.

Depending on who says this, it may be an uniformed mistake, a ‘category error’ or a deliberately misleading piece of propaganda. Either way, it’s wrong… and it’s another thing that needs to be debunked succinctly, over and over again. Continue reading “The ‘Whether’ and the ‘How’ of Brexit”

Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea

Why don’t monkeys evolve into humans any more?

Because: they never did. We primates all had a common ancestor. And that species evolved into Homo sapiens and others of that genus, as well as, separately, into Pongo pygmaeus and the other great apes.

Monkeys do not become humans because the leap across the branches of the tree of life are too great. Their chance to be something different to what they are came and went a long time ago. Circumstance and geography made monkeys, monkeys and humans, humans.

Why can’t the U.K. be like Switzerland? Or Norway? Or New Zealand? Or Singapore? Or any other country that flourishes outside the European Union?

Because: each of these countries evolved into their current state, just as the U.K. evolved into ours. Continue reading “Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea”

‘People’s Vote’ and ‘Revoke Article 50’ have no place in Parliament’s Indicative Vote Process

Yesterday, the British Parliament once again ‘took back control’ of the Brexit process from our hapless government. MPs held another round of indicative votes on what Brexit policy might possibly secure a majority in the House of Commons. Once again a set of motions were tabled, and once again our representatives set about voting Aye or No to those selected.

Yet again, no motion secured a majority.

Other people have commented on how a series of binary votes is probably not the best method for weighing up many competing options. It prompts people to abstain or stick to only their preferred option, in the hopes of hanging-in-there, becoming the last idea standing. A ‘single transferable vote’ option, where MPs rank the proposals in order of preference, would be better.

But I’m not here for that. Instead, I want to say this: The ‘People’s Vote’ proposal (put forward by Peter Kyle MP) and the ‘Revoke Article 50’ proposal (tabled by Joanna Cherry MP) should have had no place in the ‘indicative vote’ process.

Why? Well, for two reasons. First, MPs are still considering how we might leave. What they need to show (to the European Union, to the government, to their colleagues, and to us) is what could plausibly be written into the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out what we hope the end state relationship with the EU will be.

Neither #PeoplesVote or #Revoke are about leaving the EU.

Instead, they are about process. The People’s Vote idea is compatible with any of the proposals for leaving the EU. It could be a requirement of Theresa May’s thrice rejected deal, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union, Nick Boles’ Commons Market 2.0, or George Eustice’s EFTA/EEA (which wasn’t voted on again last night).

Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry’s proposal is nothing at all to do with the Political Declaration. It is a sensible insurance policy against No Deal Brexit, saying that if we are in danger of crashing out of the EU then we either approve No Deal, or Revoke Article 50.

So while I think a People’s Vote and the Insurance Policy are both desirable, it makes no sense to consider them as options alongside proposals about markets, customs and trade. I actually think that the prospects for both proposals have been damaged by being mis-categorised in this way.

#Brexit: Democracy begins with a vote, but it doesn’t end there

I was unable to attend the Put It To The People march at the weekend for secret reasons, but I have signed the poorly worded petition to ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU’.1

While the march was taking place, I spotted several snide comments on social media, repeating the mantra that it is essentially a campaign to ignore or overturn democracy. Giles Fraser and Sarah Vine, for example.

This prompts a return to the thoughts and conversations I have been having over the past few weeks about the nature and definition of ‘democracy’ and how a free society makes decisions.

Too often during this crisis the political debate has focused on just one aspect of democracy: The vote. And not just the concept of voting in the abstract, but specifically the referendum vote of 23rd June 2016 that delivered the mandate to leave the European Union. Despite the narrow margin, and despite the fact that the Leave.eu campaign broke electoral law, the result was and remains a powerful political fact.

But there are other aspects to the concept of ‘democracy’ that have, in my view, been underweighted. A fully functioning democracy requires way more than a vote. There are plenty of oppressive countries that allow citizens to vote for the government (Iran, for example) but nevertheless constrain freedom in other ways. The vote is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. Continue reading “#Brexit: Democracy begins with a vote, but it doesn’t end there”

Can You Dip Your Toe In The Same Streamingful Vote Twice?

Hah! Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has told the Prime Minister she cannot bring her Brexit Withdrawl Agreement to a vote for a third time if it’s ‘substantially the same.’

I see the logic behind his position and the parliamentary rule that underpins it. Bringing the same question back time and again is a recipe for political stagnation.

But a vote on a motion is not just about the precise wording of that motion. It is also about the context in which that motion is being voted upon. And that context is surely ever-changing. As we get closer to the (original) Brexit day of 29th March, decisions may be made elsewhere (at an EU-27 Council meeting for example) that profoundly alter that context. A vote last month is different to a vote this month because the context has altered.

I still think Theresa’s May’s tactics in this regard are rather anti-democratic and to be condemned, they shield the fact that she has failed to do any of the proper political work that a good leader could and should have done, such as the forging of alliances, brokering of compromises and obtaining some kind of ‘losers consent’ that could win the support of a majority in parliament and of the public.

But I do not think that anyone who is calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU should cheer for Mr Bercow’s ruling. Surely the entire campaign for a People’s Vote is based on the premise that a new context means that we might get a different answer to the same question, if it were asked again.

Update

The door swings both ways on this argument of course. Brexiteers arguing that they should have another chance to vote on something already decided only reinforces the argument for a #PeoplesVote.

https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289

https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289

Loser’s Consent

This short but compelling tweet thread by Richard Wyn Jones puts a name to the thing about Theresa May’s approach to Brexit that has made me (and I suspect, many other people) so angry. It is that, despite the small majority for leaving the European Union, there was no attempt to seek ‘loser’s consent‘ to the referendum result.

This is despite people like me beginning the Brexit process with the very clear intention of giving that consent. Continue reading “Loser’s Consent”

Why Are We Following Panic Brexit?

On the morning of 24th June 2016 I wrote a post on my blog entitled ‘Here’s What We Need To Do Now’.

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. Continue reading “Why Are We Following Panic Brexit?”