Hard, Soft, or Try Again

This piece by Martin Kettle pretty accurately describes my dilemma over Brexit up until now: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/25/no-soft-brexit-no-deal-revoke-vote.

Like him, I guess, I’m a strong albeit Eurosceptical Remainer, but aware that the referendum result made that position a difficult one to sustain. That’s not because of any ‘respect’ I might have for the 2016 ‘people’s vote’, which was dishonestly and even criminally achieved, and in any case probably doesn’t reflect opinion today, three years on; but in fear of the so-called ‘popular’ – and probably violent – reaction in the country if it were not honoured. On a personal level this could be regarded as ‘cowardly’, though I’m not at all afraid for myself, especially now that I have my Swedish bolt-hole to run to; or for my children, who could claim Irish citizenship through their mother. My main motivation was my worry that being denied the fruits of their victory would push the Brexiteers further to the political Right, and inflame their loutish followers to serious rebellion in a reactionary cause. The current language of the Brexiteers, and of their press cheerleaders, together with the alarming revival of what is called ‘populism’ on both sides of the Atlantic, make it clear that this is a genuine possibility; especially for a historian like me who knows his 1930s.

Martin Kettle however suggests that there may be a glimmer of light. Up to now those of us facing this same dilemma have generally been willing, reluctantly, to compromise on the basis of what is called a ‘soft’ Brexit: that is, formal withdrawal from the EU whilst at the same time remaining within its single market; which would require the UK to abide by its rules (including freedom of movement) but without our sharing any control over them. This of course would not be perfect, but would be better than the ‘hard’ Brexit (I call it ‘Viagra Brexit’) that the more extreme Conservatives are pushing for – under the unproven assumption that this was what ‘the people’ voted for in 2016. This was Corbyn’s deep-laid plan, and I thought at the time a clever strategy (https://bernardjporter.com/2018/12/30/corbyns-way/). It would have preserved many of the economic advantages of EU membership, whilst at the same time pacifying all but the ‘hardest’ Brexiteers. With the option that Corbyn later tacked on to it of a second referendum on the terms of our withdrawal, it also revived the faint possibility of a return to the EU. That has been my reason for supporting the official Labour Party line throughout the last two and a half years’ negotiations, despite the criticism that has been hurled at it from both sides.

The new factor just now, however, is that this approach appears to be coming to an impasse. Discussions between May and Corbyn (and their advisers) are clearly foundering on May’s refusal – in order to keep her party’s hardliners on board – to compromise on the ‘single market’ issue. That seems to be ruling a ‘soft’ (or ‘limp’?) Brexit’ out. Which means that we’re left with only three options: ‘hard’, which Parliament has already rejected; May’s deal, which it has also rejected (not hard enough for the zealots); or a new ‘people’s vote’ on whatever ‘softer’ plan can be cobbled together, with the alternative on the ballot paper being to ‘Remain’.

The Brexiteers don’t want a second referendum, on the curious grounds that it – unlike the first one – would be ‘undemocratic’. (‘You lost – get used to it.’) But just now it seems to be becoming more and more likely, partly because of Parliament’s failure to produce a viable alternative, which makes it the only way out. Surely even the ‘get used to it’ mob could be persuaded of that. ‘Parliament can’t decide; put it back to the people.’ In which case the danger of all those Brexiteers rushing at us with their pitchforks might recede, and we could live in whatever peace and contentment this or any government has in store for us, after the sounds of battle have receded. (Which might, I fear, take a long time.)

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7 Responses to Hard, Soft, or Try Again

  1. “My main motivation was my worry that being denied the fruits of their victory would push the Brexiteers further to the political Right, and inflame their loutish followers to serious rebellion in a reactionary cause.”
    But only a hard Brexit is going to appease the hard right. Do you really think they will be placated by a ‘soft Brexit’? By your logic, you should be pressing for the ‘hard’ option. Only that outcome will guarantee the social peace you are so keen to achieve.
    By the same logic, if you were a US citizen, you would be hoping for a Trump victory in 2020 because the right extremists there will be furious if their hero loses; they will claim he is the victim of electoral fraud. Indeed, it is quite possible that Trump and his gang will not accept defeat, which will create a dangerous but fascinating scenario.
    You go on to write: “The Brexiteers don’t want a second referendum, on the curious grounds that it – unlike the first one – would be ‘undemocratic’. However, your hero and mine – minus his EU stance – Corbyn also does not want a second referendum; he is one of the obstacles to letting the people have another vote. Corbyn continues to allow his uncontrolled Eurosceptical ‘id’ to dominate his political judgement. If the UK does not remain in the EU, history will look unfavourably on Corbyn’s role, whether or not he wins the next election for Labour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OK, Philip. There are Brexiters and Brexiters. The ideological or ‘hard’ ones – the leaders – won’t be placated by a soft Brexit, for sure. (Listen to the awful Bill Cash, with his World War II imagery.) But I think the populist Brexit voters beneath them might be. And the Leaders need their mob. – On Corbyn, my trust – even affection – is beginning to falter. But it may be that his strategy will result in a new referendum, whether he was plotting for this or not. The party is insisting he keeps this option attached to any settlement that’s reached in Parliament. And he’s a party democrat before everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kstankers5 says:

    Afternoon Bernard! Were you in the uK at all during that bitter, unpleasant, Referendum Campaign full of prejudice and intolerance and lies about ‘The Polish’ (and other EU Nationals) ‘stealing’ jobs, housing, health care, benefits (always thought that was a curious paradox – work and benefits at the same time?! But if you’re lying, why not?) The single issue by a country mile – at least in Bolton (65% Leave) where I had the misfortune to live at the time – was the control of EU Immigration. Not Immigration, generally, I must add – the bile was saved almost exclusively for EU Nationals. Bolton as you know is an old Labour heartland; generally run down, abandoned and hugely alienated from the Metropolitan Elites who claim ‘we’re all in it together’ – but actually don’t give a damn. I’m very afraid the Labour Leadership also forms part of this Elite, very seldom venturing north of the watford Line. If they did, they would immediately see that the antipathy towards ‘the Polish’ is as great as it ever was and the Single Market, in these regions at least, is total anathema. That feral, unscrupulous and dangerous operator, Nigel Farage, will play on this, and I fear EU Nationals will be scapegoated just as badly as they were 3 years ago. You’re a thoughtful, erudite chap, Bernard – please tell me I’m wrong!
    And on a personal note – my Polish Citizenship has come through. I’m pleased and relieved. Pleased because, since time immemorial, I’ve always viewed myself as British and Polish in equal measure and now it’s nice to nhave this officially recognised and confirmed. This part of the Citizenship scenario predates Brexit by about 60 years… However the relief is very much Brexit-related, as I have secured and preserved my EU Citizen Rights and my Freedom of Movement. 50 years ago friends and relatives here in Poland would have given their right hand for a UK Passport. How things have changed!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks for this. I agree with everything you write. Yes I was in the UK during the referendum campaign, but personally unaware of any particularly anti-Polish bias in Hull. There are a lot of Polish shops here, so I imagine they did feature (Hull was very pro-Brexit too); it’s just that my personal circumstances – obviously English, living in a middle-class suburb – didn’t bring me into contact with them. (And I’ve not developed a particular taste for Polish food, despite a holiday there – Baltic coast – a few years ago.) The main prejudice I encountered when I moved to Hull in 1968 was against ‘Southerners’; but no-one, I think, wanted to kick us back over the Humber. – I congratulate you on your ancestral Polish citizenship. I had to live with a Swede for 20 years before I got my Swedish passport. Now I’m thinking of moving over there permanently. (Despite the Swedish food.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • kstankers5 says:

        Many thanks, Bernard! They had to go back through Polish, British and French Archives that were nearly 100 years old in some cases. Clearly good record-keeping back then – even in the straitened circumstances of WW2.
        20 years -that was a long time to wait…
        Polish food – even though I’ve had it since childhood – is a tad bland for this lover of Indian, Chinese and Thai! However, Poland now has a decent selection of spices, chillies, hot peppers etc. and so the food can be ‘gingered up’ nicely! And with both Sweden and Poland you definitely need to like herring (which, thankfully, I do!)

        Liked by 2 people

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