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Brexit: Corbyn might as well measure up the curtains

Brexit: Corbyn might as well measure up the curtains

🕔13.Nov 2018

Now that we are approaching the endgame, I decided to test the waters with a Brexit-supporting chum. His dogged reply was the same as it has been for a year or more: “Well, they’ve just got to get on with it.” Paul Dale emerges from his Cameronesque writer’s shed to share nuggets from Nuneaton as the concluding chapter begins to playout. 

Pressed to expand on this, his view was that the British people have voted to leave the EU, so on March 29 2019 leave we must. When asked whether he now recognises the difficulties, almost certainly the impossibility of negotiating a decent Brexit, there is a shrug of the shoulders and the reply reverts to the people having spoken and we simply have to leave the EU, full stop.

I should add that my friend is pretty much representative of the white working-class voters of Nuneaton, the famous Conservative-held political barometer seat of the Midlands. He once worked down the pit, got some qualifications and became a skilled tradesman, is now retired, reads the Daily Express, and doesn’t like foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs, but he’s not racist, obviously, because other countries wouldn’t let foreigners take their jobs either so that makes it OK.

And there in a nutshell is a very significant factor behind the 2016 referendum that resulted in a narrow 52-48 per cent majority in favour of Britain leaving the EU. As David Cameron ought to have recognised if he’d kept his ears open during Conservative conferences there exists in this country a deep-rooted suspicion of the EU, fuelled by a mythical idea that our jobs are being unfairly taken by foreigners, a belief given further impetus by the EU’s expansion into eastern Europe in the early 2000s and the right of its new citizens to travel across national borders to seek employment in member countries.

These views, a mistrust of foreigners and deep suspicion of anything coming out of Brussels, are of course not solely the province of the Conservative party. Ukip’s electoral successes in the past demonstrated strong anti-immigration support in working-class Labour areas across the Midlands and the North. It’s just that Labour has proved more adept at keeping its instincts under wraps.

Why Mr Cameron was so confident he could win a referendum remains a mystery. Granted, the result was close in the end, but inherent racism, decades of stories about Brussels interfering, telling us how many hours we can work, what shape of cucumbers we can sell in our shops and how many fish we can catch in our seas, not to mention replacing our magnificent blue British passports with a sub-standard EU version, were bound to have an impact deep in the psyche of voters. This, coupled with a pitifully poor Remain campaign and a Leave campaign based on misinformation and downright lies, tipped the Brexiters across the finishing line with their noses just in front.

Theresa May, we are told, is very near to closing a Brexit deal with the EU. I have no idea whether this is true or not, neither do I know whether Mrs May can persuade her cabinet to sign up for a deal, and if she can whether a majority of MPs in the House of Commons will support the deal.  There may be another referendum, but most probably there will not be. If there is a second referendum, the British people may be asked three questions this time: do you want to accept the Government’s Brexit deal; do you want to leave without a deal; do you want to remain in the EU.

My very strong belief is that a second referendum would be disastrous. Brexiters would present it as a betrayal of the first referendum, there would be several weeks of horrid, uber-nationalistic campaigning, the race card would be waved across the Midlands, and a second referendum result would most likely reinforce the decision to leave, quite possibly by a greater margin.

Looking back over the past two years, one thing has been apparent from the moment Article 50 was moved and negotiations to leave the EU began in earnest: Britain was never going to be able to strike a deal giving us all of the benefits of EU membership when we are no longer a member of the EU. Is there any club in the world where people who have walked out continue to receive the same benefits as paid-up members of the club? This is so obvious that it is almost not worth saying.

This Friday, a conference co-hosted by the IDEA Institute and Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University will explore the Metro Mayors’ impact since their election  and their ability to influence future prospects for greater regional prosperity. More details here

It will soon be 30 months since the referendum. Even allowing for brinkmanship on both sides, it must surely be evident that if there was such a thing as a good deal for Britain, we’d have a solid framework in place by now. But this is not the case. We have a government planning for all manner of disastrous consequences, from huge queues at airports and ferry ports as we revert to being an island on its own, to the stockpiling of vital medicines, to a hard customs border separating Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have a cabinet minister in charge of negotiating our exit who freely admits that he did not realise how dependent Britain’s trade is on free movement across the Channel, and the Northern Ireland Secretary who says she didn’t realise there were sectarian issues in Ulster. I wish I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.

And what answer do the Brexiters have to this utter mess? Having persuaded more than half of those taking part in the referendum that everything would be fine and dandy when we leave the EU, the only course of action open to them is to blame others for the great deceit that they, the Brexiters, engaged in during the referendum campaign, not least the nonsensical claim that billions could be poured into the NHS if only we didn’t have waste money on Brussels.

The truth is there is no golden get out of jail card, there is no secret strategy to be launched with a fanfare at the last moment, there won’t be a eureka moment. A deal of sorts will be agreed because it has to be, but it could be decades before all of the loose ends are tied up and Britain is completely out of the EU. During that unspecified period of time we will not be members of the EU but still very much subject to its rules and regulations. We will be semi-detached from Europe with no say in decisions taken in Brussels that are bound to impact on the UK economy.

It is becoming clear this is probably going to be but the first of many attempts at negotiating withdrawal and future British governments may be saddled with trying to solve the conundrum for many years to come. Let us prepare, then, as it becomes evident that Mrs May’s deal is pretty hopeless but there is no other deal on the table, for the blame game to move up a notch.

Leavers in the Conservative party can hardly admit that they got it wrong, that they mistakenly believed it would be easy to negotiate withdrawal, so they will thrash around looking for scapegoats to blame – civil servants, unbending Brussels officials, the courts, the Remoaners, will all be in the firing line.

And it’s not just the Leavers looking for someone to blame. Boris’s brother Jo Johnson, a Remainer, quit the government with a savage parting shot hitting out at “a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”. It was a well-honed soundbite guaranteed to make headlines, which it duly did. But his comparison was somewhat wide of the mark, for while Suez was little more than an embarrassing public confirmation of the severe limitation of Britain’s post-war imperial power in 1956, a bad Brexit will have serious implications for years to come and it is no exaggeration to predict that tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in the car industry, will head straight out of Britain once the free movement of travel is curtailed.

Nor did Suez do the Conservative party much harm. Sir Anthony Eden was forced to resign as prime minister, but the Tories won the next General Election and enjoyed a further eight years in power under Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home. By comparison, failure to deliver a good Brexit will destroy an already badly split and rattled Conservative party where the issue of Europe has festered like an untreatable open wound for 50 years or more and will because of the obsession of the anti-Europe mob  will continue to do so whatever the future may bring in the shape of Brexit.

And when it comes to apportioning blame, the Great British Public will surely extract suitable revenge on the government, a Tory government, that failed to deliver something Leavers claimed would be a piece of cake. The most likely beneficiary of this mess is Jeremy Corbyn who you imagine cannot believe his luck at the referendum result and the impossible position the Leavers have placed the government in. He might as well get the curtains measured up for Number Ten.

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