The case for ‘Remain’ is, in my opinion, unanswerable. The Left-wing argument against it, that it will free us from European neo-Liberalism and enable us to establish ‘Socialism in One Country’, disregards a more isolated Britain’s vulnerability to the demands of neo-Liberal imperialism emanating from the USA: chlorinated chicken, the NHS up for grabs, and all that. The 2016 referendum that was deemed to have established Brexit as the ‘will of the people’ is well-known to have been corruptly manipulated, and unlikely to reflect the ‘will of the people’ now. Even if the Brexit case could be stood up on its merits, which it can’t be, still the behaviour, characters and hidden agendas of those who have been leading the campaign for it, including most of the present candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, together with the occasional thuggery and incipient fascism of some of their stupid – or grossly misled – supporters, should have shaken any half-rational electorate out of it by now. And if those same electors had any regard for Britain’s prestige abroad, which as self-styled ‘patriots’ they profess to do, statements like that recently presented to the Foreign Office by one of its retiring ambassadors – https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/12/brexit-shambles-has-ruined-uk-reputation-says-senior-diplomat, confirming, as it happens, my own experiences abroad, often retailed here – should have raised major concerns.
There can be little doubt that Brexit will be a deeply wounding and humiliating disaster for Britain. Let’s not mince words: it is barking mad. And yet two of the candidates for the Tory leadership threatened this week to prorogue Parliament, no less, in order to force a ‘No Deal’ exit – the most extreme form of Brexit – through by ministerial dictat. Surely a British Parliamentary democracy won’t stand for that? It gets madder every day.
God, I wish we could get out of it, and return to the not terribly onerous relationship – has anybody been able to give examples of how exactly the EU has handicapped us? – that we had with our European friends before. Maybe we still can. Another mass demonstration is being planned in London for October 12 to urge the government to row back. I’ll try to be there. I feel that strongly about being European.
But…. oh dear. There remains that dreadful Referendum; and the massive distrust of authority in the country which it both reflected, and will be only confirmed and boosted, maybe dangerously, if the Government is seen to ‘go back on its word’ and flout ‘the people’s will’. For a democrat that must count for something, if not as much as is claimed for it. Even putting aside the chicanery and corruption, the Referendum result certainly didn’t give the government a mandate for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but rather the reverse: voters were repeatedly assured that it would be the easiest thing in the world to get a deal with the remaining EU which would be as favourable as the arrangement we have now within the EU; to ‘have our cake and eat it’, as Boris Johnson put it during the campaign. But by the same token it didn’t – unfortunately – give any mandate for our remaining, as nor do any of the public opinion polls that have been taken more recently. (The original referendum result was close, with just 2-3% in it; polls suggest that any re-run would likely reverse that, but by no larger margin.) So Britain is still deeply divided on the issue. All of which should – I would claim – be an argument for compromise.
A reasonable compromise would be the one that Corbyn tried to urge on Theresa May, but which she flatly rejected: Britain’s leaving the political union but remaining in the European Common Trading Area, and so still subject to EU commercial rules, including free movement; otherwise known as the ‘Norway Option’, or something like it. If the extreme Leavers can’t swallow this, they should be reminded of the narrowness of their victory in 2016, and the basis on which it was secured. Leave voters would probably accept it, as having essentially respected their ‘will’. Remainers like me would be deeply disappointed, but then, as democrats, we should be willing to go along with it; both on democratic principle, and in order to forestall years more bickering and bad feeling over this issue, and even the possibility of civil war (of sorts).
That’s why, although I support the Remain option, I don’t blame Corbyn for not doing so more unambiguously.