FROM THE GRASS ROOTS
(This article is written by a Member of the Conservative party who does not and has never held an official position in a constituency. This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily represent the views of COPOV or of any of its Members)
BREXIT - Why did it all go so wrong?
Even when the United Kingdom entered the European Economic Community as it then was in January 1973 many people still had doubts as to whether the country was doing the right thing and these doubts were not really assuaged by the subsequent Referendum in 1975 when 33% of the electorate who voted still wanted to leave. The original application by Harold Macmillan’s government in 1961 was given the go ahead by a reluctant Cabinet and only after it was quite clear that the EFTA of seven countries and of which the UK was a member could in no way compete economically with the EEC six particularly as West Germany had been rebuilt through USA financial assistance immediately after the Second World War. If we look at history it is quite clear that the United Kingdom’s development over the centuries was different from that of our European neighbours although it was not until the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century that we broke away from Rome and the dominance of papal authority and even then King Henry viii still considered himself a good Catholic. And in the subsequent centuries our country was the dominant power in the world with our ever expanding empire based on naval supremacy and conquest.
Even today after nearly fifty years membership of the EEC/EU we still head a Commonwealth of 53 nations meeting every two years. So we have never been really committed to full European integration and if we are honest we must agree that President de Gaulle when he vetoed our first two applications in 1963 and 1968 realised that this country would never be totally enamoured of the Treaty of Rome which even in those early days was proposing full economic, monetary and political union. The refusal to embrace the euro and join the Schengen Agreement only confirmed our semi detachment.
I think it would be fair to say that ever since Black Wednesday in September 1992 the Conservative party has suffered from what I call EU schizophrenia. The Major government forced through confirmation of the Treaty of Maastricht and the subsequent Labour governments continued the process of the movement of free labour with open borders. Mass migration from other countries in the Near East and Pakistan only added to the problems a sceptical Europe was facing and was made more difficult in 2015 by the ‘open to all strangers’ policy of Angela Merkel’s government in Germany. What happened in continental Europe during 2015 may well have tipped the scales in favour of ‘Leave’ when the June 2016 Referendum was held in the U K.
So what has gone wrong? Firstly we have to dispel the myth that the 17.4 million who voted ‘Leave’ were elderly white people who longed for a return to Empire and the Raj and who had voted Conservative all their lives. Some, of course, certainly were but a minority for the ‘Leave’ vote according to the statistics released contained no less than 33% of Labour voters and 27% of Liberal Democrat voters. And a relatively large proportion of young and middle aged people voted ‘Leave’
Including many from ethnic minorities. No: ‘Leave’ voters were from all conditions, colours, and creeds.
It is quite evident that ‘Leave’ did not expect to win. That fact alone meant that from the 24th June 2016 there was no proper plan for leaving the EU and it would appear that the Civil Service had made no contingency plans for such an outcome. And in the immediate aftermath as a consequence of the result David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister and the party engaged in an election process in which two of the senior Leave campaigners were at war with each other (resulting in Boris Johnson standing aside) and three ‘Leave’ candidates (Liam Fox, Michael, Gove and Andrea Leadsom) vying with each other as to who should stand against Theresa May, a Remainer. And a few uncharacteristic remarks from Mrs. Leadsom handed the crown to Theresa May much to the delight of the Pro Remain Conservative Members of Parliament who were overjoyed that it would not have to go the party membership whom they regarded in many cases as ‘swivel eyed loons’. From the very beginning the Cabinet and government should have been preparing for a ‘no deal’ outcome. It was quite evident given the EU Commission’s propensity for asking voters to vote a second time to get the desired result that those leading the EU negotiations were going to play hardball. After all they were losing the second biggest contributor to the budget and that alone would be a big problem. At the time of the Referendum it was made quite clear that leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market, Customs Union and European Court of Justice. It would be a completely clean break and the government (according to David Cameron) would implement the decision of the British people. Parliament began the process of triggering Article 50 and voting on the necessary legislation even though a majority of those members did not really believe in what they were doing. And that has been the problem all along. And a ‘botched’ General Election together with a ‘hung’ Parliament has not made things any easier for, as has been seen by recent voting patterns, Remain Members of Parliament are still in the majority. The ERG number about 100 less than a third of the parliamentary party. And real leadership has been lacking. There seems to be neither vision nor desire to explore what the wider world might have to offer in terms of trade etc. We are seen to be weak and pathetic not knowing what we really want. But then that is not quite true.17.4 million voters wanted to leave the EU for many different reasons – restoration of complete sovereignty, U K laws made in a U K Parliament, courts with U K judges and so on. They wanted a clean break but Parliament is not willing to give them that. So we now have the absurd spectacle of Parliament trying to control the Executive and total chaos. We have amendment after amendment- the Brady Amendment ,the Cooper-Boles Amendment, the Malthouse Amendment, - so many amendments and options (Norway ,Canada ,Canada ++ etc.) that a bemused general public looks on in sheer amazement at the total incompetence of our governing masters. Ordinary voters are at a loss to understand what the Irish ‘backstop’ really means but are rightly asking: ‘Why was this not pointed out at the time of the Referendum? Why is it such a problem? Why is there no solution?’
And why would the Prime Minister be willing to sign an agreement which would result in the country being beholden indefinitely to the EU with no exit clause?
The Referendum in June 2016 supposedly held to bring a final end to twenty five years of party wrangling over the EU has only served to exacerbate our divisions. It has placed constituency party against their elected Member of Parliament and as I write three members of the Cabinet have indicated that they would rather resign than accept a ‘no deal’ outcome. This would not set a precedent although the number of Cabinet ministers that have had to leave the Cabinet for one reason or another over the last eighteen months is probably a record. No: going back to 1975 there was of course the split in Harold Wilson’s cabinet when one third of its members were allowed to campaign against staying in the EEC.
One of the few economists supporting Brexit is Dr. Gerard Lyons who regards the Prime Minister’s so called deal as a ‘slow strangulation’ in which the EU slowly drains the United Kingdom of its life blood. Dr. Lyons, while admitting there would be initial problems in a ‘no deal’ would prefer what he calls ‘a kick in the groin’ to what is on offer. He deplores what he regards as a great opportunity being missed simply because the will is not there and those in authority would rather continue the status quo than attempt any change of direction. Dr. Lyons confirms that any common currency would also require complete political union something which a significant majority of the U K electorate do not want. He regards the euro as a failed currency simply because it cannot accommodate the needs of all the member states with their differing and diverse economies. And he is of course correct in saying that the U K government has played its hand badly. We are a leading member of NATO, have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, London is a leading financial centre, of the top 100 Universities in the world, the USA has the most but the U K has fourteen as opposed to one in France and one in Germany. English is the second most spoken language in the world and for many countries which have their own language English is taught as a second language.
Yet no leading Brexiteer politician seems to be able to communicate this to a wider audience. The Remainer fight back began on the 24th June 2016 and still continues with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats openly saying today in an interview: ‘We must get rid of this ‘no deal’ nonsense’. It is evident that in this ‘hung Parliament’ with a Remain majority there will be some sort of exit whether it is on 29th March or later but there is still no clear picture of what might happen in the next two to three years. What is quite clear though is the ‘glad confident morning’ the Brexiteers hoped for on 24th June 2016 has turned to ashes and that their wishes will not be respected by those in authority who regard them as deplorable and have no wish for what Dr. Lyons calls a ‘Clean Brexit’.
23 February 2019