Opinions change as observed facts change, and in a democracy it must always be possible to reflect those changes in influencing our future. These are the things we now know, that we did not know at the time of the referendum:
- The government would fight so hard to circumvent democratic process.
- The government would approach Brexit in a chaotic and unplanned fashion.
- That the closeness of the result would likely not be reflected in the Brexit outcome.
- That the government would be demonstrably incompetent, negligent and dishonest.
- That the opposition would fail to hold the government to account.
Leavers repeatedly ask us Remainers, why can’t we accept the ‘democratic process’ or ‘the will of the people’. They are perfectly entitled to ask this question of us, and it is not one we should be afraid of or offended by. I felt that they deserved a full and up-to-date answer. However, I am not going to dwell on the pre-referendum reasons – the lies of the Leave campaign, the incompetence of the Remain campaign, the alleged illegal Russian interference, nor the crass stupidity of holding the referendum in the first place. These have been done to death (here and here for instance), and both sides are bored with the arguments. The referendum happened, and Leave narrowly won – that I will not dispute.
What I want to concentrate upon are events since the referendum; which are at the root of my growing increasingly passionate about challenging Brexit. In my opinion, any one of the following points fully justifies our calling the government to account:
- “The government would fight so hard to circumvent democratic process.”
The determination of the government to force the UK out of the EU without exercising its legal obligations to act in the best interests of the UK is very clear: “Brexit Means Brexit”. This intention has been manifest in many of the government’s actions, and the lack of choices that it has presented to parliament. Let’s remember, were it not for Gina Miller’s intervention, A50 would have been triggered without a vote and without any discussion of the referendum result in parliament. The ‘Remain’ option has been erased from the menu – regardless of whether this might be in the best interests of the UK. This is negligent, quite possibly illegal, contemptuous of the public, and a complete abrogation of the government’s obligations. Without knowing the final form of Brexit, the government cannot possibly know if Brexit is in the nation’s interest.
- “The government would approach Brexit in a chaotic and unplanned fashion.”
There is a fundamental lack of strategy and clarity: Any competent government should have formulated its aims before triggering the A50 process – and preferably before calling a referendum in the first place. This it did not do. I write this piece approximately 18 months after the referendum and there is little more clarity about the shape of Brexit today than there was on June 23rd 2016. In particular, there is no hard detail on the nature of trading relationships between the UK and the EU, or the RoW. This has been enormously damaging to business, and to the growth of our economy: we have moved from being one of the best-performing EU economies to one of the worst. The damage that has been done is wholly gratuitous and unnecessary: It would have been largely avoided had the government gone about Brexit in a more rational and planned fashion. While I think Brexit will be a detriment to our economy in any circumstances, the conduct of the government has pretty much assured this outcome.
- “That the closeness of the result would likely not be reflected in the Brexit outcome.”
Given the knife-edge result, my expectation was that the government would find a solution that all voters had a chance of uniting around. Ie: that in negotiating Brexit, they would show due deference to the narrowness of the Leave majority. This they have not done. During the referendum campaign, Leavers spoke of their expectation that the UK would remain in (or have unfettered access to) the Customs Union and the Single Market: Even the extremists like Farage and Banks talked about a Norway/EEA option. Although still uncertain, the threat of a hard Brexit or “crash-out-no-deal Brexit” is a probability rather than a possibility – and this will not be an outcome that any of us on the Remain side can ‘unite around’. While the possibility of crashing out without a deal persists, it is essential that it is balanced with the option to Remain: This is only prudent.
- “That the government would be demonstrably incompetent, negligent and dishonest.”
The government has demonstrated crass incompetence at every turn in the process. Their preparedness is a national embarrassment, and the lack of knowledge and sensitivity to the issues amongst ministers a source of derision amongst our international partners. Although they do their best to reflect the ‘blame’ upon the EU, it is clear to me which side looks the more prepared and professional. Then there is the matter of the Brexit Secretary, David Davis – who is either a negligent liar or simply an incompetent liar: as proved conclusively by his statements (and those of his staff) relating to the so-called sectorial analyses (or impact assessments). Either David Davis lied to parliament – and he has impact assessments which he has declined to publish OR he is taking the UK through Brexit without adequate assessment of the likely impact on the economy (which he earlier said his department had undertaken). Either way, we are in the hands of someone who should not be in the job.
- “That the opposition would fail to hold the government to account.”
Labour is maintaining a pro-Brexit stance, despite 70%+ of its voters being opposed to Brexit. Their current position seems to me to favour a harder Brexit than that envisaged in Labour’s manifesto which promised “…strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”. Remain supporters have no effective representation from either of the major parties and are hence underrepresented in parliament. Remain supporters are therefore simply doing what the opposition should be doing in holding the government to account.
Any one of the above points fully justifies any member of the public calling the government to account. I will continue to resist Brexit at every opportunity, and call for MPs and/or the public to be able to make an open choice on whether to either (i) accept the final deal, (ii) to leave the EU without a deal or (iii) to remain in the EU.
We all have a right of free speech, and I will continue to exercise mine.