What kind of Brexit:
hard, soft or none at all?

Malcolm Potter-Brown

Auksford arma: a great auk displaying an open book on which is written "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford, 2017

Copyright Malcolm Potter-Brown, 2017

       The Brexiteers claim that to put to public vote the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is tantamount to overthrowing “the will of the people”.  This is totally illogical.  How can asking the people what they want be ignoring their wishes?  Behind it is a fear that the vote to leave the EU, passed by a tiny majority of those who took the trouble to vote, a minority of those entitled to vote, would be overwhelmingly rejected by the public when the terms are known, for many of those who lead the Brexit movement, for example Boris Johnson, see in the achievement of withdrawal from the EU, no matter at what cost to the country as a whole, a means of furthering their own interests.
       The choice now faced by the UK is between a hard Brexit and a soft one.  A soft Brexit “would be the worst of both worlds with the UK turned into a vassal state – taking directions from the EU, but with no power to influence the EU’s decisions.”  So says Boris Johnson in his article published in the Daily Telegraph on 16 September 2017.  To quote from my own essay The UK and the EU, “the promises made by the Brexit campaign were that we should retain all the advantages of the single market without accepting any of its rules, and these promises have now been shown to be false.”  As I have said before, the EU can dictate its own terms for it is the UK that is in the weaker position, and the EU will demand in return for continued access to the single market, that the UK should continue to follow EU regulations and accept freedom of movement, probably adding compulsory acceptance of the Schengen agreement.

       The alternative is a hard Brexit, in which we cut ties with the EU to enter on what the hard Brexiteers describe as a glorious and golden future trading with the big boys of the global economy, notably China and the United States.
       President Trump has heralded a similar glorious and golden future for the USA, and the foundation of that future is his oft repeated slogan “America first!”  Is America likely to grant favourable trading terms to the United Kingdom?  Look at the American Government’s response to the request from Boeing for protection from the rival aircraft builder Bombardier, based in Canada but with work also carried out in Belfast.  The USA promptly imposed a 300% import tariff, (yes that’s right: three hundred percent), which would make it impossible for any American company to buy any Bombardier aircraft.  The company then handed over half of its shares to Airbus so that its aircraft could be assembled in the Airbus factory in Alabama.  At the time of writing it is not yet clear whether this move will circumvent the US protectionist policy as Boeing will obviously appeal.  If the move is successful, jobs in Northern Ireland will be saved, though not necessarily all of them, but it should also be noted that the saviour is a European aerospace company, with its headquarters in France and factories across the EU.
       As for China, it has a long history of using trade for political purposes and turning every trade opportunity into a means of exploiting its partner.  Science has now disproved the long-held Chinese belief that the Chinese are descended from a different species of hominid from the rest of humanity, but science does not always change attitudes, and there may well still be a tendency among Chinese entrepreneurs to regard other races as ripe for exploitation.  Certainly promises to African countries, that exploitation of their mineral wealth by the Chinese would lead to employment opportunities for locals and rich rewards for the population in general, have proved illusory.
       So this is the choice offered by the Brexiteers, which they claim is “the will of the people”: a soft Brexit in which we obey EU regulations without any voting rights, or a hard Brexit in which we become dependent on the good-will of, and ripe for exploitation by, the dominant global economies.  How on earth did we get into such a situation?
       For a start the Remain campaign was over-confidant: Britain was part of one of the world’s greatest trading blocs, our economy was strong, and strengthened by that membership, we were involved in collaborative research and development projects with our European partners, able to draw on the intelligence and expertise of scientists from all over Europe, our influence in the EU was strong even if not strong enough to force through the necessary reforms, London was well-established as the financial capital, and English was one of the dominant languages and likely to become the dominant language in Europe.  David Cameron assumed that there would be an overwhelming Remain vote that would shut the right-wing Eurosceptics of the Conservative Party up, and many thousands of Europhiles appear to have assumed that the result was a foregone conclusion.  The Remainers signally failed to campaign on the advantages of the European Union and were reduced, when it became apparent that the result might be close-run, to a last-minute negative campaign of dire warnings which played into the hands of the Brexiteers.
       The Brexiteers campaigned strongly and put forward a fantasy of a strong and prosperous Britain outside the EU, stressing words like “independence” and phrases like “taking back control”, they played on fears of immigration, concealing that most immigration comes from outside Europe, they told lies about the amount of money that would be saved by leaving the EU, exaggerating the savings and failing to mention either the money that comes back in grants or the increased prosperity that comes from membership, and they harped on the restrictive nature of EU regulations, ignoring the effects of “the way we have chosen legally to apply these obligations” as Boris puts it, admitting thereby that it is our own government and civil service that makes these regulations more restrictive than they need be.  Above all the Leave campaign had the support of the gutter press and also, sadly, of the right-wing broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph.
       The press has one aim in life: to maximise profits by selling more newspapers, and the methods it has always used involve campaigns against abuses, sometimes genuine as in that against the abuse by MPs of their housing allowance, sometimes factitious, and it is to this latter category that most attacks on the EU belong.  The EU has been set up as the enemy bent on the destruction of the British way of life, much as Hitler picked, without any rational basis, on the Jews as the enemies of Germany.  It was the press that stirred up a storm of hatred against our fellow Europeans, with whom we share a common culture, that resulted in many of the less intelligent of our citizens voting Leave, examples being those denizens of Peterborough described in my essay Brexit: the people have spoken, or have they?  It was the press that stirred up the irrational hatred that sent violent yobs out attacking Poles and other Europeans in an access of ecstatic joy at the (narrow) result for Leave.  It was the press that stirred up the insane hatred that led a madman to stab to death a promising MP.  
       A free press is an essential part of democracy.  Its function is to speak truth to power and to alert the public to abuses.  How sad then to find it adopting the tactics of the school bully who psychs up his gang against the unpopular swot or the disabled pupil.  How sad to find it adopting the tactics of the third-rate politician who, knowing that 99% of the population have not attended either Oxford or Cambridge, feels that attacking Britain’s premier universities as bastions of privilege, however inaccurate that accusation may be, is a safe way to get himself some free publicity.  How sad to find it adopting what are basically Nazi methods: find an enemy, blame everything that has gone wrong on that enemy, and then seek to destroy that enemy – all to secure and extend your own influence, power and profits.
       The result of all this manipulation of the prejudices of the population for the profit of the press has been the present situation, in which, far from having vast amounts of extra money available for the NHS, the UK will have to pay a massive divorce bill and agree to its size before any further negotiation can take place.
       The Brexiteers would have us believe that the negotiations would be symmetrical between two equally powerful sides.  They neglect to say that 46% of British trade is with the EU while only 15% of the trade of continental Europe is with Britain.  Most of what we import from Europe is goods, most of what we export is services, which works beautifully for the UK while it is a member of the EU and while London is the continent’s principal financial sector.  It will be considerably less advantageous for us when we are outside the Union and Frankfurt has assumed financial leadership.  The United Kingdom is the state with the third largest population in the EU after Germany and France, and it is one of the most influential members yet our population makes up only 12% of the total, and when 12% is in direct opposition to 88% as we are in the Brexit negotiations, it does not take exceptional intelligence to realise that this is far from a contest of equals.
       The referendum, through the over-confidant incompetence of the Remain campaigners, the deliberate lies of the Leave campaign, the manipulation of ignorant prejudice by the press for its own profit, and the preference of politicians for the interests of their parties rather than the good of the country, has brought about a  situation in which we appear to be faced with a choice between a soft Brexit in which we are obliged to follow the rules of the EU without any voting rights, or a hard Brexit, in which we become a small independent unit trying to make agreements with ruthless economic giants like America and China.
       Neither is likely to fill our hearts with the unbounded joy promised by Boris and his like, and that is why Remainers continue to say that the results of the negotiations should be placed before the people again, in a poll offering the options “Accept” or “Reject” and, if “Reject” is chosen, a choice between “Try for a better deal” or “Abandon Brexit and press for EU reform” – for it is not impossible that now that we have shown that we are prepared to withdraw we may have more success in at last achieving the necessary reforms, modernisations and re-balancings that the EU so desperately needs.
       The EU gives form to a magnificent aspiration, that the peoples of Europe, who share a common culture, and who, despite the existence of separate nations, are one people, interbred and sharing a genetic as well as a cultural inheritance, and who together dominated the whole world’s scientific, technological and economic development, may one day come together as one people and again take a pre-eminent position in the world, able to compete alongside the current giants like America and China.  The refusal of the backwoodsmen to participate is the equivalent of an objection of the Saxons of Mercia to join with Wessex on the grounds that one day they would be swamped in a huge impersonal conglomerate covering the whole of England.
       If the EU goes on from strength to strength, what will happen to the UK?  It may disintegrate.  Northern Ireland may elect to join the Republic and stay within the EU.  Scotland may hold another referendum, break away and join the EU, possibly followed by Wales, leaving just England as the forlorn offshore economy, with a population of 53 million, trying to compete with the EU (457 million), the USA (323 million), and China (1,379 million).
       The referendum has also created a situation in which we may in the near future have to choose, in electing a Prime Minister, between Boris the Liar, who is prepared to see the United Kingdom split apart if he can only be Prime Minister of the English rump, and Jeremy Corbyn, a student revolutionary who has never grown up and whose friendship for anti-British terrorists, from the IRA to Hamas, reveals how delighted he would be to see the United Kingdom disintegrate and lose every scrap of international influence.
       Is there a way out of this mess?  It would seem that only the Liberal-Democrats have consistently supported the European project, so that perhaps the only way to gain for the British people the right to decide whether Theresa May’s Brexit is appropriate or not, is to vote Lib-Dem at every opportunity, in both local and Parliamentary elections, to abandon the widespread habit of always voting Labour or Conservative because you have in the past always voted Labour or Conservative, or because your family for as many generations back as you can remember has always voted Labour or Conservative, and to consider the issues presently before us.  Who would make the best Prime Minister: Boris the Liar, Jeremy the friend of anti-British terrorists, or Vince Cable?

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