Monday, 31 July 2017

What to do about Brexit: For the first time in my life, I’m genuinely torn on an issue.

In the year since Britain voted to leave the EU, there appears to be three prevailing narratives about what WE should do. Leave the EU and everything associated with it i.e. the Customs Union, the Single Market and the Parliament. Stay in the Single Market and/or Customs Union but leave everything else to do with the EU and have a second referendum after we negotiate a deal with an option of staying in.

The political party I am a member of, the Green Party, was one of two parties calling for a second referendum at the most recent general election. We even voted on this at last conference and barring one or two of us it was overwhelmingly voted for. I despaired at this because anyone that can briefly research Green Party policy on the EU will see that we backed the initial referendum. Nowhere in our policy did it say we would like a second referendum to have a vote on the final Brexit deal reached. Yes party policy can change but for me it just looked hypocritical and to my friends in the Green Party that are vehemently defending this position, surely you can see that it is how it would look to the outside world.

Since the referendum, I have consistently argued against a second one. However as someone that voted Remain, I do sympathise with the argument. In a Question Time episode shortly after the referendum result, Ian Hislop made a very interesting point that you don’t stop making an argument or stop standing by a political position just because you lose a result. The opposition parties don’t stop opposing a government if they lose a general election. They try to force the government’s hand on certain issues and potentially push for a second election before it officially should happen. Theresa May arrogantly called a general election just two years after the previous one so there is a precedent for having a second vote soon after a first vote on a political decision. Is that ignoring the “will of the people” from 2015 though?

However the difference is, the parties that called for a second referendum got less than 10% of the vote at the 2017 general election and talking to voters on the doorstep in London and Bristol during the election campaign, no one bought up Brexit to me apart from one person. It seems to me that most voters I talked to have moved past the referendum. I realise that this is a generalisation and it could be different in other parts of the country. However it doesn’t appear that there is a desire to have a second referendum even though a recent poll showed that if there was a second one, remain would win. I can absolutely see why people are arguing for this option. Whatever the temptation and logical arguments in favour of a second referendum though, my gut instinct is against it. I don’t think it is a battle that can be won. I also fear a public backlash in the form of a low turnout at future elections, potential civil disobedience and an even further drop in Green Party support because we backed the initial referendum. Also what happens if Leave win that second referendum, is it accepted? It should be but then why would you then stop fighting for what you believe in? See it’s more complicated than people realise.

Let’s go to one of the other options now. Staying in the Single Market and/or Customs Union but leaving the political aspect of the EU, namely the Council, Commission and EU Parliament. Economically this makes sense. No Tariffs on goods traded and freedom for all of us to work wherever we want in the EU at no extra cost via a Visa. Because of the Customs Union, anything businesses want to sell around the EU have no tarrifs on them and they can get through borders and ports quickly because everyone in the EU has the same safety and regulation standards. This also means consumers don’t have to pay an extra charge on buying things from the EU as well. Someone told me that when they bought something from the US recently, they had to pay a customs charge of £15 when they picked it up from the Post Office. This was because it was outside the Customs Union. However if we wanted to stay part of the Customs Union and/or Single Market, we’d have to abide by the same rules we do now but not have any say over them as we currently do. So whilst our economy could benefit, there would be a huge democratic deficit. One of the reasons I voted remain was because I felt we could reform the undemocratic aspects of the EU and enhance the power of the democratically elected European Parliament. So this is why I am very sceptical of this option.

So the last option which a lot of Conservatives and the Labour leadership support is to completely leave everything to do with the EU and work out “tariff free access” to the Single Market outside of it. Whilst I’m sure we could negotiate a deal with the EU, I don’t think it would benefit us as much as being in the EU. I genuinely believe there will be tariff costs unless we compromise and accept the four freedoms of the Single Market which neither Labour or the Tories are likely to accept. Yes this option respects the result and if we still had a close and friendly relationship with the EU then that may quell some remain voters’ fears. However economically we could be left worse off for years whilst we are working out a trade deal with the EU and other countries separately (which would take the best part of a decade as most trade deals do.). And even then I’m very sceptical that any deals we make will be as good as the current arrangement we have as part of the EU.

So all these options have merits and downsides and there are no easy answers here hence why I said I’m genuinely torn. I envy anyone that has a clear thought of what they think Britain’s future relationship with the EU should be. I just see what the least bad option is because there are serious difficulties with all of them. I’ve always been very clear and principled about what I’ve believed. Whether it is on education, healthcare, economic policy and yes I was clear about campaigning for Remain during the referendum. Britain’s future relationship with the EU post referendum is the most uncertain I’ve ever felt about any issue. It’s quite frustrating. But I guess life is complicated and there aren’t always easy answers to things. If anyone can convince me to enthusiastically support one of these options, then please try. I don’t want to feel like this. You may think this blog is pointless as there is no clear conclusion but for me it is hopefully voicing an opinion about Brexit that many have but are too afraid to say. As in we just don’t know and would rather avoid openly confronting the uncertainty for fear of looking weak. I’m not an expert on the EU and yeah I may have got some facts wrong. People may call me unprincipled and say I’m just trying to please everyone with this. But you know what, it is ok sometimes to say the words I don’t know.

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