A once in a wet weekend decision

StarmerSo. Jeremy Corbyn said last night that he will support second referendum on Brexit. The Remainers, of course, are delighted by this.[1] David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “Jeremy Corbyn is today taking the first step to reunite our party by showing he is listening to our voters and members on this.”

Good luck with that. In the 2016 referendum, between 60 and 70% of labour-held constituencies voted for Brexit. That is less than the Brexit consensus in Conservative-held constituencies, of which about 75% voted for Brexit. Labour is already in electoral trouble, the far left having taken the party a long way from what typical labour voters want. Labour heading into second referendum territory will open up that schism even more.

Supporters of the second referendum say that the voters did not know what they were voting for last time around. That is utter nonsense. The remain campaign – and indeed David Cameron as the incumbent Prime Minister – warned that voting for Brexit would bring with it all sorts of economic ills. The government spent millions of pounds distributing its leaflet warning that leaving would create “uncertainty and risk” and “years of uncertainty and potential economic description. This would reduce investment and cost jobs”. But the electorate took that on board, and voted for Brexit anyway.

The people in the Labour Party who have brought about this change of position are not advocating a second referendum because there was anything wrong with the first referendum. They are doing so because they want to see a different result.

Back in 2016, of course, it was a different story. The Remainers expected to win then. And so the government leaflet said:

A once in a generation decision

The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.

The government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU.

This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK’s economy for every family in this country – a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving.

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

Far from being prepared to wait for a generation, the Remainers want to reverse the result of what was supposed to be a final decision, even before that decision has been implemented.

Likewise the calls for Brexit to be delayed. For the people making these calls, they expect to be able to turn a delay into a cancellation.

At the last election, both political parties campaigned on the basis that they were committed to honouring Brexit, and the Prime Minister was very clear in her position that no deal is better than a bad deal. It is abundantly plain that the best deal she has been able to obtain is a very bad deal indeed. That being the case, the government’s manifesto pledge was to take the UK out of the EU without a deal. The Labour Party’s position was not much different. And it is worth noting that at all material times, the prospect of a “bad deal” was very much in mind. Nobody with any sense expected the EU to make it easy for the UK to leave. As it is turned out, the EU has refused to even start negotiations with the deal that matters – the trade deal – until the conclusion and ratification of a withdrawal agreement including the divorce bill, and that has not yet happened.

It is perfectly true that the majority of MPs, on both sides of the House, have never been in favour of Brexit.  And there is always some tension when a referendum result requires the apparatus of government and Parliament to deliver a result that they do not like. But a refusal by members of Parliament to honour the result of the referendum will lead them into very dangerous territory. At the moment, they doubtless feel buoyed by the support of the BBC and the civil service, organisations both which hate the idea of Brexit. But what carnage will they face in a general election? My guess is that the electorate will not take kindly to having their referendum result treated with such contempt.

There is an irony in the fact that, before the referendum, Theresa May was a Remainer and Jeremy Corbyn was a leaver. They are like boxers who have been forced into each other’s corners. Being in opposition, Jeremy Corbyn has largely, until now, had the luxury of being able to sit on the fence. That has allowed him to largely conceal his innate incompetence. The incompetence of Theresa May, on the other hand, has been laid out all too clearly.[2]

It is not impossible that all of this will lead to a fundamental realignment in British politics. The old division between left and right does not, these days, matter nearly so much as the division between Brexiteers and Remainers. The biggest common factor – for now – lies with the young, who tend to align both with socialism and with the EU. Then again, people grow up, and moved to the right. I quite like the Clemenceau formulation when told that his son had just joined the Communist Party:

“Monsieur, my son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.”[3]

If there is a realignment, how will it happen? It might happen by the present political parties falling apart, and new political parties arising. But probably more likely is that it will happen by Conservative Remainers and Labour Party Brexiteers each crossing the floor, and voters changing their traditional alliances similarly. “More likely” does not mean “more logical” because one of the key advantages of Brexit is that it enables the UK to trade with Third World countries, thus improving the lot of poor people around the world, whereas one of the key features of the EU is to maintain the stranglehold of the rich over the poor.[4]

If that happens, then the party which loses most is the party which suffers the most defections the soonest. Another irony is that, so far, Labour has suffered the most defections to date, and those defections have been very largely by Remainers.

People say that Theresa May has been “running down the clock”. She has, in the hope of forcing through the Robbins-Weyand deal. But the effect of running down the clock is also to maximise the prospect of a clean break on 29th March without a prior mass exodus from her party, and that would be a very good thing both in the interests of her country and her party. People will wake up on 30th March. The planes will not have fallen out of the sky. People will not have died for lack of medicine. Kent will not be a lorry park. It will be like the early days of this century, when the millennium bug did not bite.

The difficulties of getting a second referendum into place are formidable. Even if there were a majority for it in Parliament, there is very little time to get the necessary legislation through, particularly without the support of the government. And it seems unlikely that the majority of the electorate would want a second referendum, with all the continued delay, uncertainty and fuss that it would entail.

And there is a kicker: Remain would very probably lose. Because whilst the Remainers have demonstrated that leaving the EU is not easy, they have also demonstrated that if the EU did not treat the UK as aliens before, they sure as hell treat the UK as aliens now.

Not that one can blame them for that. Going through divorce negotiations is hardly the way to fix a dysfunctional marriage.

 

 

[1] Especially, no doubt, little Keir Starmer, who is emerging as the Labour Party’s answer the Poison Pixie in terms of being really, really annoying. The

[2] As I have suggested before, she should have had no truck with the EU’s insistence that there be no trade talks without conclusion of a withdrawal agreement, but should have broken off negotiations straightaway if they held that line. She should never have appointed Ollie Robbins – a fervent European – to have such a pivotal role in the negotiations. She should have got on with trade negotiations with the rest of the world regardless of the EU’s disapproval of that. She should never have agreed to pay £39 billion without a trade deal (or indeed probably at all).

[3] Other formulations include:

A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head; Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

And If a man is not a Socialist at 20 be has no heart, but if he remains one at 30 he has no head;

King Oscar II of Sweden

Churchill may or may not have said something similar.

 

[4] Not that the relative wealth of the EU is looking healthy in the long term. The economies of the Third World are growing, whereas the countries of the EU are either economically stagnating, or are in recession.

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