In this blog, Harrogate Solicitor and current President of Harrogate District Law Society, sets out his personal views on the Brexit deadlock.
I confess: I’m a total political nerd, as nerdy as it gets. Politics is my favourite topic of conversation, hence why I never get invited to parties. Politics was always discussed at home, all-of-the-time. As a result, I took a degree in economics and politics. And many moons ago, my dissertation concerned the pros and cons of an EU Army (though I can’t recall my conclusion!). Though I know most sensible people are BOBS – Bored Of Brexit – I’m gripped by the twists and turns.
Unlike many people, I did not – and still do not – blame David Cameron for promising the referendum on EU membership. It was, simply, political expediency. In order to out-manoeuvre UKIP, Cameron did what any Conservative Prime Minster would do and promise a referendum: it worked. This was our (flawed, but tried and tested) system and he played it well. And given the result of the referendum, allowing the people a vote on such a central tenet of British life was the right thing to do, as none of the three main parties stood on a platform of leaving the EU, even though this was – evidently – the mood of the people. Many criticise David Cameron for standing aside when he did, but a pro-Remain PM would never have enjoyed the support of the Brexiteers. He had no choice.
In my view, there was mileage in the Professor Dawkins (author of The God Delusion and other books) position that asking non-experts (99% of the population) to vote on something as complex as the pros and cons of EU membership, is silly. Dawkins wrote a controversial piece in 2016 in which he stated:
“You want your plumber to know one end of a drain from the other. Why would you entrust your country’s economic and political future to know-nothing voters like me?”
As a political nerd who studied European Union law and implemented much of it in my role as a Solicitor, I suppose I think that (somewhat arrogantly) I have a better understanding of the European Union and its impact than most. But I find weighing up the pros and cons of our EU membership as complex a question as there is. Though if what you care about first and foremost is sovereignty, then leaving makes complete sense. (At Truth Legal, when we are representing clients and we don’t know the answer, we usually instruct expert barristers to help our client.)
And although I have sympathy with the Dawkins argument, as a democrat first, our main political parties were clearly not listening to their electorate. My very firm view is that democracy must trump Remain or Brexit, irrespective of whether I like the outcome.
Recent Brexit developments
Over the last few days, the Government has lost several key votes on the Brexit process. If the Government’s Withdrawal Bill is rejected by the House of Commons later this month (January 2019), then the Government now only has three days in which to come up with another proposal. The country finds itself in uncharted territories. As the Coalition Government of 2010-2015 introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to ensure that the Coalition survived, in earlier times, a General Election was likely to follow so many Parliamentary defeats for the Government, but not now.
Will Brexit happen? If so, what type of Brexit will it be – hard or soft? Will there be a second referendum?
Will Article 50 be delayed? Will the Government fail? Will there be snap general election?
Clearly, I have set myself up to fail, here. This blog will be cast into the ether and will be used as a stick to beat me with if I am wrong, but here goes…..
If there are facts, I think these are they, from which I will draw my conclusions:
- The Conservatives, and many of the national papers, are more worried about the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn Government than of a (potentially damaging) No-Deal Brexit.
- Whether you love her, hate her or whether you’re indifferent, Teresa May has sticking power, plus she knows her way around Parliament and its procedures better than most.
- No party wants to be associated with economic incompetence. And if a No-Deal Brexit leads to economic catastrophe in the short-term (which seems universally accepted), no party wants to be associated with it. Across the globe, any party – be they right or left-wing – which was in power during the International Banking Crisis, found itself out of power for some time.
- The referendum result was so close and may have been tainted with illegality.
- Parliament is deadlocked, and MPs are flexing their muscles, less constrained by the whipping system. More MPs will vote with their conscience.
- The EU does not want the UK to leave, predominantly because of the potential collapse of the European project. Therefore, the EU cannot afford a good deal to be offered, otherwise other more Eurosceptic countries will want to leave. The EU, of course, has previous for seeking second votes when it doesn’t like the first outcome. It’s their modus operandi.
My best guess, for what it is worth, is that the Withdrawal Bill will be voted down by Parliament, but only just (despite the PM offering Trade Union leaders guarantees on employment rights if they support her agreement). Following the revolt, the Labour Party will go for a no-confidence vote, which will be unsuccessful, by some margin. The Prime Minister will then beg the EU for a delay on the UK’s departure, which will be agreed, in the hope that UK will stay.
I predict (dangerous, Andrew) that as the EU’s position won’t budge, and with many more months passed, in order to cling onto power, Teresa May will call a second referendum with three options put to us: No-Deal, Remain and whatever deal is on offer at that time. As three years will have elapsed since the original vote, politicians will reason that there have been General Elections that have been called more frequently than the three-year gap between 2016 and 2019. As we will hear from Remain politicians, over and over again, there were General Elections in 1950 and then in 1951; in 1964 and then in 1966; in 1974 twice; and in 2015 and 2017. It will seem, then, more palatable for there to be a three-year gap between referenda, as the logic will go.
But what will the outcome be of the second referendum? I have no idea! If one week is a long time in politics, then 6 months is an eternity.