Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Brexit means we're leaving the EU - it really is that simple
"But what does Brexit mean?"
In a multitude of comments, each coloured by the particular preference or prejudice of its author, this is the cry. It's not enough to say you want to Brexit, you have to set out all the precise constitutional, legal, economic, political, cultural and moral details of that Brexit. If you don't do so it isn't Brexit and we can carry on pretending that, on 23 June 2016, the British electorate didn't vote to leave the European Union.
Worse still you can get your lawyer friends to cobble together an argument that might - just might - mean that the referendum result can be ignored in favour of what you'd probably call 'wiser counsel'. And then get surprised when ordinary voters wonder what the hell you're on about and which bit of the word 'democracy' you fail to understand.
Some have a cannier approach - rather than trying to use legal legerdemain to try and get round the fact that people voted a way you didn't like, they set about a process of getting a second referendum so as to get the right result. That result being, of course, one they agree with - that overturns the mistaken decision of those 'excluded' and 'insular' voters last June. We're familiar with this disdain for European electorates - our lords and masters have rammed through second referendums in Ireland and Denmark and, in the case of France, simply ignored the referendum result completely.
In summary Brexit means we're leaving the European Union whether or not you are happy about that. As the Prime Minister said - "Brexit means Brexit".
What was this I heard you say? "What do you mean by 'Brexit means Brexit' then?"
Really? You've not worked this out then? It's simple - the people voted to leave the European Union and, therefore, the government is morally (if not strictly legally) bound to take us out of that Union. That's it - people didn't vote to do anything else and it's for the government to propose, parliament to debate and the application of politics to decide just what the details of leaving might be.
But that doesn't include an option where we ignore the wishes of the electorate and remain a member of the European Union.
In the future all things are possible but right now our government has to set out a timetable and process for leaving the EU. I'm pretty confident that is what it will do and I'm also pretty confident that the government will seek the support of parliament for that timetable and process. And that parliament - if it has any respect for the idea of democracy - will endorse a timetable and process for us to leave the European Union. Probably one pretty close to that set down by the Prime Minister and her government.
I appreciate that there remain a bunch of folk who hate the result of June's referendum. And they've every right to argue for us to stay in (or, in some future scenario, rejoin) the European Union. But right now the right - as in moral, ethical, democratic - thing to do is set about doing what the electorate asked for. That is to leave the European Union.
Now, as a consequence of this, the UK government might have less open borders - "an end to free movement" as its advocates put it. But that's not what we voted for - we voted to leave the EU. Other things may happen as a result of us leaving - we might see more state intervention in industry. We might see an upsurge in the sort of economic nationalism that people like Will Hutton have been advocating for years. And we might see some new regulations and the ending of some old regulations.
The point isn't that these changes are or aren't made but that they will be made by British governments through the UK parliament. And when it becomes clear that ending all but "high skilled" immigration is a bonkers idea, a future UK government can open the borders up again. And the same goes for trade deals, for tariffs, for regulations on the shape of bananas and for much else besides - the final decision, while moderated by treaty and international negotiation, will be made be people we can boot out if they get it wrong.
All Brexit means is that we're no longer a member of the European Union subject to the obligations in the various treaties that form that Union. That's it. Nothing else. Indeed all the other stuff people are talking about - the assorted bogeymen and doom-laden dystopia set out by disappointed Remain voters included - represent the consequence of choices that can, and will, be made by the UK government.
So instead of crying salty tears into your schooner of achingly trendy craft lager try accepting that Brexit means Brexit and moving on to argue for a post-EU Britain that follows the sorts of policy you think right. You might not get those policies - democracy is a pain - but if your policy is to plan to say "I told you so" on a loop tape then you will definitely be disappointed. We're leaving the EU - what matters is making that decision a great one not in either insulting those who made that choice or else sitting with your bottom lip out and arms crossed sulking because your side lost.