Monday, 10 July 2017

Lead, don't follow

Today’s Western Mail headline declares that there has been a surge of support for a ‘soft’ Brexit according to an opinion poll conducted for the paper.  On closer reading, what the poll actually seems to say is simply that the balance of opinion between remaining in membership of the single market and controlling immigration has shifted in favour of the former.  That’s hardly surprising as the implications become clearer on an almost daily basis, and the lie that was spun last year about being able to do both becomes increasingly obvious. 
I remain unconvinced, however, that there is any such thing as a ‘soft’ Brexit, and the politicians that tell us that there is are being disingenuous.  In this instance, I agree with the comments made by a spokesperson for Tory group leader Andrew RT Davies and quoted in the report – “There is no such thing as a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit.  You either leave the European Union or you don’t.  Remaining bound by EU laws, unable to make new trade deals, and unable to control immigration would mean that we haven’t left at all.”  That is surely true – that which is being described repeatedly as a ‘soft’ Brexit amounts, in effect, to continued membership but without the influence and input which comes from membership.
That’s not to say that I think that would be a bad thing; it would certainly be preferable to the complete departure from the EU which is now the official goal of Labour and Tory alike.  It’s just that I think it’s a dishonest position to hold.  If politicians really believe that continued membership is the right solution, it would be preferable for them to come out and say so – and campaign for that outcome.  Anything else is just regurgitating the lie of the Brexiteers during the referendum, which was that we can retain all the perceived advantages with none of the perceived disadvantages. 
It’s true, of course, that any politicians adopting the stance that I suggest would initially at least be pilloried by the likes of the Daily Mail (although some of us might see that as more a badge of honour than a stain on their character), but opinion is already shifting, and I suspect that they’d find themselves on the right side of history.  And in the long term, they’d earn more credibility by leading than by waiting until they can tamely follow public opinion.


Penderyn said...

Un o'm hoff darnau o'r West Wing - gwers yn fan hyn dwi'n siwr

Ioan said...

You can leave the EU and stay in the Single Market (and be like Norway), or leave the EU and stay in the Customs union (and be like Turkey). Both are "soft brexit" options.

John Dixon said...


Let me start by saying two things - firstly, I'd personally prefer the Norway option to Brexit - I'm not arguing against it per se as an option, and secondly, as even that first statement shows, there's an element of semantics in the argument here.

I don't think that remaining part of the single market is a 'soft' Brexit because I don't think it's any sort of Brexit at all. It amounts, rather, to a decision to remain a member whilst forgoing all influence on decisions and regulations. Remaining a member whilst pretending not to be, and abandoning all influence, is a silly position to adopt, and most of those adopting it are doing so not because they think it's a particularly good idea, but because they're afraid of saying what they really think - which is that Brexit is a poor idea. And the point of the post was that if they believe that the better long term future is to remain, then they should have the courage to say so. I think history is on their side. The only reason for the existence of the 'Norway option' is that Norwegian governments have, by and large, wanted the country to be a member, but they have been thwarted by referendum results. It could, of course, be argued that that is a parallel with the UK's position, but the difference is that, in their case it was always a step towards something, whereas in the UK's case, it's a step away.

Membership of the Customs Union, like Turkey, is not as good as membership of the single market in economic terms. But bear in mind that the reason for the existence of this particular halfway house was, again, as a step towards ultimate membership of the EU itself, not as a step towards the door.

The problem with a binary referendum on a complex issue where the outcome of a particular decision was not only unclear but also the subject of deliberate lies and deceit is that people ended up voting for a variety of different reasons, and everyone ends up interpreting the results to suit their own world view. Having said that, I think it's difficult to argue against the proposition that three of the major planks of what leavers thought they were voting for were: control of immigration, an end to the jurisdiction of European courts, and restoration of full sovereignty to the UK Parliament. All of the so-called 'soft' options involve backtracking on at least one of those, and probably all three.

Brexiteers will fight tooth and nail against any such backtracking, and will argue (rightly in my opinion) that to do so would be to go against the will of the people and not be a 'proper' Brexit. Those of us who would prefer such a 'soft' option should recognise the validity of that argument, and rather than argue about whether it is or is not Brexit at all, seek to persuade people that, if we're going to backtrack on those, the best outcome by far is to cancel Brexit. It's a clearer and more honest choice. Arguing for a so-called 'soft' Brexit perpetuates the idea that Brexit is a good idea and that the UK can be in both possessive and consumptive modes in relation to cake.