Brexit – Answers

Firstly, declarations of interest.  I studied for three months on the ERASMUS scheme in Florence funded by the EU.  While there I attended a few days course on the New Professionalism in Teacher Education in Europe with students and academics from across Europe.  It was summer term 1993, the time of the second referendum in Denmark on the Maastricht treaty.  We spent an evening discussing Europe and the EU, everyone in the room believed in a free and democratic Europe that cooperated for the good of its citizens, but no one was a fan of the EU.  The friendships leaves probably a deeper mark than anything else. 

On holidays when young I visited the war cemeteries of France and Germany, looking at the gravestones and reading the names on the walls.  I worry about the rise in nationalism.   We have to cooperate and trade with Europe.  However, I also understand the arguments that we are an international nation, and it is not that we are little Britain, but that Europe is too small.  

The Brexit that Boris is currently proposing is a half-way house.   We lose our voice in Europe but are still subject to its laws, and we put a line through the UK – the worst of all worlds.  It is a temporary solution, but again the economic damage of crashing out without a workable long term deal may mean that we stay in this worst of worlds for a longer time – ever heard of an extension?

If countries, including the EU, were queuing up with brilliant trade and cooperation deals I would be pro-leave.  They are not.  Boris may not worry about what will happen to ordinary people if our economy crashes, I remember Coventry in the 80s with mass unemployment.  I don’t want to leave for Ghost Town.

While we are an important trading partner with the EU, offering us a very good deal would be suicidal for the EU, others would want to leave.  Norway has been proposed as a model, but Norway is subject to EU trade rules and free movement and is estimated as currently paying net approximately 75% of the UK net contribution per head.  ( ).  

Churchill said. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  Offer me a genuinely better deal and I will take it.  However, it could be that our current EU is the worst deal, except when compared to the alternatives.

The last referendum was close.  If the referendum was 50 people 26 voted leave, 24 remain, except it was actually closer than that (result out of 50 was 25.9 leave 24.1 remain).  I believe the Coventry South results were even closer.  If one person switched from leave to remain, that’s one person in 50 changing their mind in a certain direction, it would have been a tie, except in reality remain would have won .  It was not an overwhelming majority.  If the campaign had been glorious I would state that we must honour the result, fair fight and all that.  However, there were some pretty big pork pies. 

So what do you do?  Another referendum now the facts are clearer?  Another referendum risks more attempts to mislead.  I propose an elected constitutional assembly (say 60 elected representatives), chaired by a judge who would fact check everything, and ensure that the truth wins.  The assembly would be able to negotiate with Europe and would free parliament to be parliament.  The final outcome would have to go to a referendum for the people to sign off.  However, if people voted for a leave deal it could get to that final deal faster.  If the people decided for remain, again that would be the democratic choice of the people. 

The right deal is more important than a quick deal.  Our futures depend on it. A fair process matters, so that people can say I may not agree with the outcome, but I agree it was fair and I accept it and unite.

So what would I vote on Brexit, if returned to parliament and offered Boris’s half-in-half-out deal? I don’t see the point in an interim deal that is worse than the current deal, lets work out the full deal and then vote on that.  Boris’s deal in the short term is Brexit in name only, it may lead to a car crash if we cannot agree a deal.

People should not be put the same question twice.  The majority have expressed the desire to leave, but the amazing trade deals for the UK queue appears to be empty.  The NHS is not going to gain an extra £350m a week.  This deal is not what people were offered in 2016, and therefore the new proposal should be put to the people.  A referendum is not ideal, but I would support it as better than nothing.  In the referendum I would campaign for calm heads and full facts.

I would like the best cooperation with Europe and our world partners, but politics is the art of the possible.  I am not going to commit to voting either way on any deal that has not yet been presented.  However, by sharing my thinking, you can see how I would make that decision.



Boris against Brexit

“For the last three-and-a-half years this country has been trapped by Brexit – like some super-green supercar blocked in the traffic. We are stuck in a rut. We have been paralysed by a broken parliament. Like Tantalus in Hades, we can see the opportunities in front of us – the luscious grapes, the refreshing stream – and yet every time we reach out to grasp them we find they are whisked away, with yet another delay, and yet another pointless parliamentary manoeuvre. ”

Boris Johnson, 5 November 2019

Boris has railed against Parliament and the way that it has delayed Brexit. So obviously Boris has never voted in a way that has delayed Brexit?

Not true. Boris voted twice against the meaningful votes on Theresa May’s Brexit, and of course he has a right to, which I would not dispute.

Boris pushes the narrative that the people causing the delays are those who voted remain, but he himself has voted in ways that have not “got Brexit done.”

In the referendum in 2016 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% voted remain. Remain is a single option, but Brexit has multiple flavours. If the remain voted stayed static any Brexit deal would have to be acceptable to 95% of Brexit supporters to have an overall majority in the country.

While Brexit overall had support finding any actual deal that is popular is much more difficult. Yet to pass any actual Bill you have to make that choice, that is the challenge of getting Brexit done.

Boris attacking others for voting against Brexit and delaying Brexit, when he himself has done so, is dishonest and a fundamental attack on democracy. It is the job of parliament to scrutinise legislation and get it right.

Some argue for a second referendum to put the specific deal to the people and see if they back it. Does the real deal have support? I can see the argument for that. Politics is the art of the possible, and a second referendum would check with people that because what is possible is not what was promised, if they still want it. If parliament has to honour the will of the people then it is worth parliament asking what the people actually will.

This is not about denying Brexit but about honouring what people actually want. As a student with history the phrase the will of the people worries me. It is used by too many dictators and demagogues, who push their own agenda at great cost to the people.

Some people obviously would support whatever Brexit. The hard line Brexiters drive the narrative, but the only way to find out what Brexit people actually want is to ask the people.

The last referendum was not a glorious fact driven calm thoughtful exploration of what is best for Britain. The last referendum was driven for distortions, half-truths and emotion, and while more is known, it seems naive to me to think that the second referendum will not suffer the same fate.

Therefore, I propose the creation of an elected constitutional assembly to determine the future relationship with Europe. This would be empowered to negotiate with Europe, but would be presided over by judges who could rule the lies out of order. At the end the Constitutional Assembly would put a simple recommendation to the country, which if accepted would become law.

The ballot paper would have a second question to come into play if the first question was unsuccessful to rate in order your preferences for the other options. The least popular of these options would be eliminated until a single option had more than 50% of the votes, which would then become law.

This would take time, but it would get it right. The Conservative government has ineptly squandered the last three years without a proper plan, they blame that on others, but they are the government. That time has been wasted, and the reality is little progress. Boris’s current proposal is a half-Brexit. It removes the country from the institutions of Europe while leaving to a future day to sort what the relationship with Europe will actually look like when the interim arrangements finally finish – and it is quite possible that these will keep on being extended. Millions of jobs depend on trade with Europe, we need to get this right. An elected constitutional assembly could work towards a full Brexit, and by doing so demonstrate what Brexit would actually look like and provide people with a real informed choice.

The failed process of the Brexit referendum has divided the nation. However, an informed decision with a clear outcome through a robust and fair process, could unite the country around the process – a fair fight – even if people still fundamentally disagree with the decision.

This is too important to do badly, and it has been done, and is still being done, very very badly. Therefore, I believe a constitutional assembly is the only way.