Just some of my latest wafflings on Brexit, the options we face and the lack of leadership we’re seeing at the moment. Read on after enjoying some waffles!
At no other time in my 34 years have I felt the direction the UK is heading in is more uncertain. Whether it’s a poor leadership, an unwillingness to be open or something else, our political leaders are not able to show us what their vision for the future is.
After the Brexit referendum we find ourselves with conflicting messages from politician across the whole spectrum. From people in government and in opposition, to those given a public platform in the UK and right across Europe; there is no common thinking. Everyone is doing their own thing and it’s becoming a mess. No one knows what is going to happen and that is a terrible possible position to be in.
Worst of all, is that we have some people saying, even on the Labour side, that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – basically offering unconditional support for leaving the EU at whatever cost to the British people – an ultimate betrayal for an elected official who will act in, what we can only perceive as, personal interest of re-election rather than standing up for what is best for the UK.
I’m not saying we should not leave the EU, I’m saying such an option must be conditional and only happen if it protects British interests.
I see the situation we’re in has four possible outcomes (not all necessarily equal in likelihood):
- Option 1: Brexit means Brexit, whatever the cost
- Option 2: Brexit happens if the British people are protected
- Option 3: We remain in the EU, but make significant changes to how it works
- Option 4: We remain in the EU and keep it on the same course it is now
Options 1 and 4 are the ones I see as being the most dangerous and should be avoided by Labour. Option 1 can feel appealing – listening to the will of the people, especially the voters in many Labour strongholds. But by taking this stance puts you in a weak position. For the Government, this stance gives you little to bargain with at the debating table – the rest of the EU knows you’ll eventually have to accept whatever they offer you. For Labour in opposition you have no power at all to influence what Brexit means. You can’t demand conditions to be made on triggering Article 50, you can’t call for the protection of the rights of the British people, nor for the environment, nor for the rights and responsibilities we have from the EU. You may argue for them, but in the end the Government knows you’re going to support their position no matter what. It’s never going to end well. Basically short term thinking to try and protect votes in core areas for the next election, despite the end result making life harder for those people. Eventually they will ask ‘why didn’t Labour stand up for us? Why didn’t Labour fight harder for our interests?’.
Option 4 is also no good. There is a clear dislike for the EU in it’s current form. I have no doubts that many who voted to remain in the EU think there are problems that need addressing. The UK’s biggest issue is that it’s never taken a big enough role in the EU and as a result has lead to under-reporting of how the EU works and the benefits of EU membership. The line which has been reported has focused on the negatives – to the point where the truth has been twisted and exaggerated and no one knows what the EU really is. So supporting a position of more of the same from the EU will not work. It will alienate vast numbers of leave voters and lead to more misrepresenting of the EU. UKIP support will be guaranteed to stay strong and possibly grow more. The EU will remain complex and inefficient and it could in effect lead to it’s ultimate downfall – something that will be messy and destructive. While the UK will lurch to the far right with all that comes with such a move.
We therefore are left with options 2 and 3. The position I believe Labour should take is to promise to fight for either of these two options, depending on what will be best for the people in the UK. We are in a position where the route to Brexit is happening. That must continue for now. But it must be conditional. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP must all do their best to fight the Governments plan (if they even have a plan) to say Brexit can only happen with certain protections of rights and responsibilities within the UK. I believe a majority could be formed in Parliament for this position if leadership is shown. But it needs strong leadership, especially from Labour. It’s needs a united front to decide what these conditions are. On the EU side, does it include single market access and free movement of people? In the UK, does it include safe guarding workers rights, environmental protections and the rest which we get from the EU in to new UK laws? It’s a lot of work and should have been started months ago. It needs people to come together now and decide what a good Brexit for the UK really means. Once decided, the fight starts and if it’s not won, Brexit does not happen.
That’s where option 3 comes in. If Brexit does not happen, the alternative is the UK taking on the leading role in the EU that it should always have had. The Brexit debate weakens the whole EU and so now more than ever the other 27 countries will be more open to negotiations on changing the EU than ever before. It needs a simpler structure – who knows what all of these are, how people get elected or appointed to them and how they work together: EU Parliament, European Commission, European Council, Council of Europe, President of the European Parliament, President of the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, Council of the European Union, European Court of Justice, European Central Bank, European Court of Human Rights (tip: some of these are the same thing with different names and some have nothing at all to do with the EU). It needs a more clearly defined role and it needs to show it works in the interests of the people right across the EU.
The UK has been too distance in understanding all what the EU does and too weak in shaping it’s development. So alongside deciding what a good Brexit might look like, the Labour party must also work on what a good EU looks like so that it’s more open, more transparent and works closer with the British people and people right across Europe. Again, the answers to this are not obvious, and again the work on this should have been underway months ago. But it is essential we work to understand what this means.
So deciding to fight for options 2 and 3 is the tough route and will require work. I can see why, with poor leadership across our political parties, we aren’t seeing this. Instead we see the leaderships choosing options 1 and 4, or if they are toying with 2 or 3, they have no details or concrete answers as to what it means. All we see is uncertainly and indecision.
To get the best outcome now will require leadership and people working together. It will require not blindly following one political ideology or another and not blindly following the result of a close referendum. It will require compromise on all sides and require us to really understand the public – not just what their concerns are but what the underlying issues that lead to their concerns are, and not just what they dislike about the EU, but why they believe those things to be bad. And all this for the goal of acting in the best interests of the UK, not any personal aims or desires.
Without this we are on a course for disaster. Yet I’m not sure any of our political leaders are up to the job to change that course. Where will that leave the UK?
I could really eat a waffle now.