article 50, austerity, bailout, Bank of England, banks, Brexit, Brussels, crisis, David Cameron, debt, ECB, economy, Enda Kenny, EU, euro, Europe, European Union, eurozone, Gary Lineker, Germany, inflation, investors, Ireland, Italy, Labour, Lisbon, Mark Carney, migration, NAFTA, Northern Ireland, Poland, politics, recession, referendum, reparations, Scotland, Singapore, Strabourg, Theresa May, UK, UKIP, vote, wealth, Zac Goldsmith
In the five months since the initial Brexit fallout, the mud-slinging has continued from both the UK and European Union camps. None of it helpful, yet the UK government is unwilling to discuss in detail what it plans to do.
I have consistently argued that Brexit for the sake of a Brexit is not an option. We should never leave a club that has brought us benefits – as well as pains – just because we now can.
The referendum certainly gave the government the moral mandate it needed to proceed. But that doesn’t make a hard and fast Brexit right.
Rewind: People voted for Brexit in order to see an improvement in their standards of living. They didn’t do it because they wanted all foreigners out (as that might include one’s wife!) or because they know the horrors of largesse in Brussels.
These were contributory factors yes. But they were not the point. People believed that a protest vote was needed to shake up the EU. They also wanted to see more checks on whom we allow to settle in the UK. But principally the extra 1 million people who voted for Brexit rather than Remain were poorer income groups who felt ignored by Westminster let alone some foreign place called Brussels or Strasbourg.
They cried out for change and saw this as the only chance. Even if they had little clue exactly what change it would bring. Despite their uncertainty – because even the UK government had no real policy of a post-Brexit Britain – voters did not vote for chaos, a 20% decline in sterling that makes the 1967 devaluation looks positively lightweight, nor increased racial hatred that has accompanied all this. Nor did they vote for what might end up shredding another Union, the United Kingdom, as regions as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland see their vote ignored by London.
While data so far has been buoyant and some economists have sought to repent for making mistakes forecasting an economic disaster following Brexit, it could also be argued that they were simply a little too hasty to predict – but also to apologise.
All the good data so far has been historic. It takes time for an economic disaster to gather momentum. A robust developed economy like Britain won’t suffer overnight Armageddon but rather as some forecast before the June referendum, a slow motion train crash.
So it is foolhardy to rubbish Governor Mark Carney or the Bank of England for their dire predictions. Certainly, the Bank still believes inflation will go up next year and prices might even rise at their fastest pace for any period since 1945 unless sterling’s decline is corrected soon.
For that correction to take place, the government will have to be more open and less hasty to Brexit. When Prime Minister Theresa May told her party faithful at conference in October what she planned to do and announced she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 it shocked and confused a lot of people. Why by March? What is the hurry?
Enda Kenny, the Irish premier, said in the past few days that he doubts Brexit talks will conclude in two years but rather five years. Another realist who can see the folly of another EU regulation agreed to in Lisbon in 2009.
But the only conceivable reason for May’s hurry is that talks are expected to conclude within a 24-month period of the trigger. That takes us through to March or April 2019. May might be feeling that with a slender government majority, the risk of further MP defections or by-elections the government could be forced into an earlier election. And don’t forget that my own MP Zac Goldsmith is standing for re-election today as a Heathrow expansion protest as an Independent but who sadly will be at risk of losing his seat over his Brexit views not shared as widely by Londoners who will vote in Richmond Park. But at least from one ballot paper we saw this morning, someone forgot to put it into the box and as an impromptu exit poll it marked Zac on the ballot paper!
That is why some have even called for May to call a snap election now while she still commands some respect from the electorate.
Certainly, it would make far more sense to trigger Article 50 on a day in the future when sterling has stabilised and preferably regained some of its lost strength.
The government and its advisers are held bent on telling us constantly that “it would be unhelpful for the British government to provide a running commentary on Brexit negotiations”.
We hear that all the time and as though someone is trying to drum it into our heads. Like in all forms of torture and indoctrination – say it enough times and people start to believe you.
Stand back from the hub-bub and ask yourself Why?
The government is using “running commentary” as a shield to protect itself, for its own convenience of not having to be accountable. It appeases the right wing in the ruling Conservative Party as well as its provocateurs, UKIP.
Having won the people’s vote for a Brexit, the government now thinks it can do everything itself. Well, on December 5 the government plans to appeal a Court order that said Parliament should have a say in Brexit and vote on it not merely discuss it and allow the government free will.
With the vote to leave close 52% to 48% on a high turnout, it is understandable the courts feel uneasy about allowing the government to have easy passage on this.
It is a decision that will affect millions of people for generations to come. Although not irreversible in 50 years the damage could be very much done if we make a Brexit on any terms.
People aren’t that dogmatic and I would imagine that they have had some regrets about voting for Brexit IF they had any idea it would play out this way.
A nation famed for its tolerance and conservatism with a small “C”, “Britain is fast becoming a dystopia” as TV pundit Gary Lineker aptly put it after the court ruling and his tweet of support when the public turned against him.
While it is true that the EU has some difficult issues it needs to soul-search over – such as its insistence over labour mobility – Britain too needs to think hard about what it hopes to achieve.
As I have argued often since June, premier May could simply note the referendum decision and then proceed to choose a time in the future when to trigger Article 50 once we have a solid policy in place and sterling has been repaired.
But having rashly gone for a deadline of end of March 2017 to trigger Article 50 we should be discussing the negotiations process and what we hope to achieve from it. Even if Europe doesn’t want to discuss anything before we trigger – a means to weaken us – we as a nation should debate.
We cannot trust one Cabinet inside a government to make all these huge decisions and sacrifices on our behalf. We must not assume that they are somehow the Ten Wise Men. They are politicians, as susceptible to being gullible and short-sighted and stubborn as any other human being.
Moreover, how practical is it to even imagine blocking debate?
The government might want to get into the history books as the ones who helped us Brexit but that is a hollow victory if Britain suffers.
The French want us to start talks as soon as possible so that we are in a weak position with a low sterling exchange rate. The French can be short-sighted. It was the French too who wanted to punish Germany for World War One by demanding high reparations at Versailles in 1919. It resulted in years of chaos and resentment in Germany which led to the Third Reich within 20 years. Not smart.
Any effort to damage Britain now will actually come to make all of Europe suffer later. We have been down that road. It will limit German car exports to one of the nation’s most important markets, the UK. It will lead to European workers having reduced rights in Britain as well as Britons in Europe. Tit for tat. That’s ever so Cold War!
Of course, it is also true that apart from a healthy engagement and debate with the people of Britain by the UK government, the EU needs to have a debate within its own ranks and its own peoples.
Both the British government and top EU brass seem impervious to that.
While the Italian constitutional reform referendum isn’t a vote to leave the EU on December 4 but to speed up how Parliament functions with a slimmed down Senate, so too Europe needs to address a more fundamental question: migration.
The EU says it cannot function without migration. Why? It is true that many low-skilled workers have un-burdened Europe by coming to the UK to seek work. And it has been good for keeping down wages in agriculture in the UK too.
But look more widely and you will see that migration is a principle peculiar to the EU and outmoded by the risks of new threats such as terrorism.
Already the EU has a problem on its eastern border. Having criticised Turkey’s Erdogan for the way he has been heavy-handed with the aftermath of this year’s failed coup and reacted by suspending talks on Turkey joining the club, Erdogan has threatened to release millions of immigrants into the EU unless Brussels changes its mind.
It does rather show what a magnet for migration the EU has become.
Yet if you look at the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), now under review from a new populist President-elect Donald Trump, or south east Asia’s trade area, it is apparent that you can have free trade and prosperity without migration.
In Asia, Singapore will allow daily guest workers to flood in from Malaysia but won’t grant settlement rights. The whole region prospers and there is no friction between communities about migration.
Trump may well kill off NAFTA but a pity if he does. There is some debate over whether NAFTA has brought America benefits or just grief and joblessness. That in itself doesn’t mean trade areas are a bad thing or that the EU should be disbanded. Only that it needs to be drafted smartly and respected by all who participate in it.
So the bottom line? We need a fair and effective trade agreement without migration as the pre-condition. We should accept other nationals based on the skills they bring. We also need to enter into negotiations over Britain’s future by being more transparent and open. Anyone who says we can’t have a running commentary is trying to hide something.
The future of Europe is simply too big to be debated in a Cabinet without checks and balances. We owe it to the children of all Europe to get this right.