Happy New Year!
I haven’t been blogging for awhile because I have been recruited into the Represent Us campaign lobbying for Conditional Notification. Since it was my idea from my article back in the summer, I could hardly refuse. It’s been progressing well with much interest and meetings with MPs (including Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary) and appears to be the only positive move forward that I’ve seen. But like all campaigns, it takes time; and I would urge you all to join and support it.
As it’s the new year, though, I thought I would start with a re-cap of where we are as a country and where we may still go…
The State of Britain
It’s divided. Badly so. I don’t think anyone can deny that; and that’s not good. On both sides, there are those who now just want to scream at the other side – often with a variety of choice expletives – and force their own world view on others. That is not helpful and it is not going to work.
I would say there are two obvious facts about this year’s referendum (one to annoy either side):
1. Leave won the referendum. Yes, they lied, evaded and promised the earth; but more people voted for them. It was advisory and there was some terrible hatred; but that side got more votes.
2. Leave cannot agree what they won or what they should do now. There have been valiant attempts to rewrite history and frankly arrogant claims that “everyone knew” even though it wasn’t said; and “we all voted for the same thing“. That is parroted by people who either wish it to be or have such a narrow horizon that they cannot imagine how someone could think differently from them. The truth is no one knows what everyone else voted for and they certainly don’t know what Brexit will look like.
Squaring the Circle
So the UK voted to leave (narrowly); but it doesn’t know what that means, and the narrow support is fickle on what it does mean. I think the best summary of the attitudes of voters last summer was “no one voted to be poorer“. It’s not strictly true – as some would see our national pride as worth any price – but it’s true for most. I would say most Leave voters believed we would get extra money by leaving, get better trade deals, and get more investment. And do you know what? They might be right! But there is also a distinct possibility that they might be wrong. Would the country feel the same way then?
So this is where Conditional Notification came from. Article 50 was designed to give the EU all the power. Conditional Notification puts some of it back with the UK. That’s all. Without it, we’ve agreed to the terms before we know them. With it, we get to look at them first. If everything is as the salesman promised; great. If not…
Unless you can walk away from negotiations, you have no bargaining power. Without Conditional Notification our only alternative to the terms given to us is to crash out of the EU with nothing. And, remember, the EU will now be looking after its remaining members. That means extracting deals in favour of them; not us.
What are our options?
We could just ignore the referendum. But that’s unlikely and unhelpful. For many, this was a complaint against how things have worked and against the impact people have felt in their day to day lives. Ignoring what they have said again will simply drive them further away from mainstream politics. Everyone deserves to be heard.
The blank cheque option. We trigger article 50 and we get kicked out within two years regardless of whether we are ready or whether we have any trade agreements in place or even whether we still actually want to go! We will get what the EU will give us; balanced only by the practicalities of trade. But let’s be clear on this: from an EU-UK point of view, trade barriers will be going up and that means less trade. Both sides suffer; but the UK – as the smaller market by a factor of 7 – suffers more.
Conditional Notification. The UK signals its intent to leave (which is all Article 50 actually says) and then we get on with finding out what it really means. But, crucially, we make it so our constitution insists that we need to separately approve the terms before we go (An Act of Parliament on a constitutional matter becomes part of our constitution. An unique and unusual aspect of the UK; but true and legal nevertheless). It’s reading the paperwork before we sign, that’s all.
These are the ones I’ve heard so far:
- We voted for unconditional Notification. That’s not what was on the ballot paper so no one can actually say that. Conditional Notification signals our intent to Leave, but also allows us to check the details. It’s the responsible thing to do.
- This gives an incentive for the EU to be mean to us. This complaint works on the idea that the EU will be deliberately horrible and offer poor terms so that we decide to stay. People who say this really don’t understand that the EU already has plenty of interest in extracting the best possible terms for its members. Equally importantly, any suggestions that the terms outside the club are going to be better than those inside the club are naive in the extreme. Being in has to be different from being out or there is no point in the club! Since the EU member states are committed to it (despite the hopeful rantings of some newspapers); the club will continue and our terms outside it will be worse than membership.
- This is just a stalling tactic to wreck Brexit. No. it gives Leavers the chance to put their money where their mouth has been. I voted Remain because I didn’t believe what Leave said. I thought it was naive at best, hateful at worst. But they won; so they deserve the chance to prove me and others like me wrong. Of course, if they can’t deliver… well, a founding principle of democracy is the right to change your mind if those you voted for can’t make good on their promises. Conditional Notification gives Leavers the opportunity they always wanted to prove that they were right all along. What can be fairer?
So after an eventful year, that’s where we are. Intending to Leave but with no real clue as to what that means. In this context finding that out first, seems not only wise; but essential. And so I would implore all of you to support Represent Us and lobby your MPs to support this sensible, responsible amendment. There’s already growing support for this middle path in Parliament and I hope you can add your voice to that groundswell of opinion. Then we can find out what the next step means before we take it.
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