Brexit options and legitimacy

It was a good edition of the World at One today. After all the depressing ‘your morbid intuition was right, paedophiles are everywhere‘ headlines, they reported on Blair and Major’s ideas for referendum v2 in a few years, had a moronic Brexiteer tell us how clubs should work, and then Nick Clegg said sensible things about pluralism, negotiation and liberalism. This has prompted me to write a little, five months on from that decision.


Maybe people like Nick Clegg are why liberalism is failing, or is doomed to some kind of eternal failure. He reminds me a lot of Barrack Obama. He talks in such a sensible way about the world and all the kind of ideals, policies and ways of conducting politics that I favour, but seems so easily overridden by ideas of ‘popular sentiment’, ‘political possibility’ and an obsession with compromising his position away as quickly and eagerly as possible.

He won a groundbreaking majority for the Liberal Democrats in 2010, only to convince himself that for the good of the nation he had to go into coalition with the Conservatives and stalwartly follow their completely disastrous economic policy of making the poorest pay for the economic crisis, strangling growth, and delivering what small amount of it transpired to the richest 1%. In return for this complete sellout to a policy based on a non peer-reviewed, quickly discredited theory about bond market confidence and of course, reneging on one of his highest profile manifesto commitments, enabling university fees to rise to £9,000 a year, in a move now widely considered to cost the government more money than the previous scheme of lower fees, what ‘compromises’ did he win for his party?

Yes they tempered a lot of otherwise gross Tory policies; keeping money for social care, investment in renewables and capital gains tax higher for higher earners, vetoing the Communications Data bill and increasing school funding. But allying with Labour or enforcing a minority Conservative government (which he believed to be against popular sentiment, although this must surely be cast into doubt following Brexit), they could have pushed for proper fiscal stimulus, greenified the economy and ensured much better distribution of the growth. The single biggest ‘compromise’ the Conservatives gave in return? A referendum on AV voting, which no-one wanted.

Now back on the sidelines, I find myself warming to Clegg again, as he talks of the necessity of dialogue and compromise after “two very large votes pulling in diametrically opposite directions”, and the need to prevent the ideological wish of the most ardent Brexiteers to “turn the UK into a low regulation, low tax, enlarged offshore Singapore”. His point, along with that of John Major’s not to become a “tyranny of the majority“, raises an interesting question – democratically speaking, what are the options for Brexit?

Brexit Options

I’ll assume that the 27.8% who did not cast a ballot deliberately chose to do so and would be equally happy, whatever the outcome. Reasons for voting leave ranged from economic unfairness, a desire to limit immigration, to save money that could then be spent on public services, to have full, legislative and judicial control and to increase state aid not permitted under the EU/lessen state subsidies and tariffs and liberalise trading, with only varying overlap. Following this, and assuming that the vast majority of the 48.1% who voted remain would now like as little ‘leaving’ of the EU as possible, a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit appears impossible to democratically justify.

If just 5% of the 51.9% who voted leave prefer maintaining the four freedoms and economic stability to immigration and the need to conduct trade negotiations as an EU bloc, then the majority oppose any Brexit that leaves the UK outside the European Economic Community. I would assume that when presented with the full economic forecast of such a Brexit, as the Office for Budgetary Responsibility would be bound to give following its announcement, this proportion would be much higher.

This should embolden Brexitsceptics (need a better word than that) to stand their ground and demand that certain negotiation outcomes be unacceptable. Of course In my personal opinion, a ‘soft’ Brexit is nonsensical, as it will assuredly cost us more in fees and concessions to remain a member of the EEC but not of the EU. We would remain bound by almost all EU laws, but without having a voice at the table making them (although of course, considering how many of our ‘voices at the table’ were UKIP MEPs who took as much EU money as possible and then attended parliament as little as possible, perhaps not such a great change there…)

however a ‘hard’ Brexit, by contrast, is economically and socially absolutely catastrophic, and far far worse than merely silly. The only way for the UK to economically survive outside the trading bloc will be as a hyper-libertarian trading outpost that parasitically leeches off every other country. Even were it not, the behaviour of our government in EU negations, over for example encouraging Chinese steel dumping, show that ministers would like to see even greater industrial decline, not less.

Methods to neoliberalise would include encouraging the laundering of any and all misbegotten gains into an opaque, under regulated banking system (like Switzerland or the Canary Islands), encouraging capital investment into our unstable derivative exchanges and real estate market (like, right now), pricing yet more locals from home ownership anywhere near areas with good employment opportunities, and/or the concentrated demonisation of anyone in receipt of government benefits permitting the wholesale cutting back of government spending from the current 40.6% to a more US style 35%. I wonder what all the leave voters John Harris interviewed would think of that.

If you ask me, the government should be warmly welcoming the election of Trump as a sign that perhaps the far right could overrun all of Europe next year, break apart the EU before we’re even finished with Article 50 and invite Russia to annex the Baltic states. That way we can get reasonable trade deals without freedom of movement, look liberal and tolerant in comparison, and save loads by leaving NATO, since it will already be dead. This analysis isn’t even a joke. From a completely realist stance, it’s probably the best outcome for the UK.


Conservative MP Peter Lilley was also on the World at One, as the BBC continues to struggle with the fact that they need to present both sides of the issue, but no-one from the government is willing to talk about Brexit and Nigel Farage has buggered off to America (can we say good riddance yet?). Jacob Rees-Mogg, who manages to both sound like the embodiment of the English aristocracy, and see the world with the childlike eyes of George III, must be taking a day off. The motivation to compile a list of public figures who’ve said things like ‘the EU wouldn’t harm it’s biggest trading partner’, or ‘we can renegotiate a better deal than we already have with the EU’ waxes and wanes in me. Pointing a finger in their face and laughing sardonically after we inevitably get a deal that makes cold sick look appetising wouldn’t change their simple minds anyway.

So Peter Lilley, when asked about the quote from Malta’s Prime Minister today that “there will not be a situation where the UK has a better deal than it has today“, replied “that’s an extraordinary admission isn’t it, that the only thing that keeps people in the European Union is fear of the pain that might be inflicted upon them by those who remain if they leave?” Is it ‘inflicting pain’ when the members of a club deny you the benefits of being a member when you leave? Is that an unreasonable fear?

The intellectual arguments of these arch-Brexiteers have never been particularly logical, but this statement, which went totally unchallenged by the host, shows that the BBC need to take seriously complaints against them of false equivalence. If there were a golf club, and some members of the golf club (after years of heckling the rest of the club) stopped paying their membership fee and renounced their membership, the natural, logical response of the golf club would be to in turn bar them from using the facilities and, if they so chose, have no further dealings with those members whatsoever. That is how members’ clubs operate.

What does Peter Lilley’s alternate reality look like, where groups give generous benefits to their paying, actively involved members, but also to anyone and everyone else who wants them without contributing a dime? In America, right-to-work laws enacted in the 1950s and ’60s created just this situation across many states. It sounded like a great idea in theory. Unions were running a ‘closed shop’ – a monopoly – making any new worker sign up and pay part of their hard earned wage to the club, whether or not they felt the benefits were worth it to them.

In right-to-work states, if a workplace has a union, workers cannot be compelled to pay union dues, but still have access to all the benefits of union negotiated contracts, representation in disputes, and collective bargaining. The effect; less and less workers pay the annual fees and the unions can’t financially survive. They atrophy and die. Everyone loses the benefits they once believed they could claim for free.

As union membership decreases, middle-class incomes shrink

The EU are not going to allow this to happen to their members.

Securing a mandate

The irony, I’m sure, is not lost on many as leavers wheel out to insist that how the UK will ‘take back control’ of our political process is by handing it entirely over to an unelected government, so that they can negotiate in secret, purportedly on our behalf, the best possible deal. I’m sure that will be as popular and work out as well as similar deals like ACTA, TTIP and PFI arrangements that leavers all thoroughly supported! I remain of the belief that both the Supreme Court and Parliament will see through this autocratic sham and demand oversight (although as I wrote about a few days ago, the Supreme Court is not always as independent in its rulings as the High Court).

The most obvious way to discover what kind of Brexit the government have a mandate to deliver is to state the aims and hold a general election, although this doesn’t seem any more likely than when I cast doubt upon it five months ago. The worrying thing, were it to happen, for ‘us remainers’ (I don’t actually claim that we are quite as homogeneous in our beliefs as that) is the opinion polls. While elections in 2015 and ’16 have cast doubt upon the models used, the surprises in outcome both reliably swing towards conservatism and nativism, and aren’t enough to overcome the terrifying hole that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens find themselves in.

Survey End Date CON (%) LAB (%) LD (%) UKIP (%) Grn (%) Con Lead
ICM/Guardian 20/11/2016 42 28 9 11 3 14

The general election or, horror of horrors another referendum, could come after negotiations are nearing completion, preserving the government’s sacred secrecy. The government comes to the people saying ‘it ‘aint great, but it’s what we’ve got’ – just like in February this year. Just as this year, that would invite a repeat of the recent referendum – an unimpressed public deliver an unexpected and unprepared for ‘no’ vote. Except this time, the UK would be mere months away from automatic ejection via the Article 50 two year cutoff.

For more depressingly realistic leftwing assessment of British politics, I can’t recommend the New Statesman podcast enough.

I’m thinking of writing a frivolous piece comparing haircuts in China and the UK next, will that help lift the mood?

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