I have always derided those who say things along the lines of ‘if people are stupid enough to want to leave with no deal, they should get what they deserve’ and ‘I’m sick of this whole Brexit thing, let’s leave now and have it done’. That’s why the opinion I’m sharing in this article might seem a little inconsistent.
When faced with only bad options, the right one is the least bad. Unfortunately, after three years of absolute political shambles, I can’t help but feel we now only have bad options left. Let me run you through our possible courses of action, and you might come round to why I’m tentatively supporting an outcome I can honestly barely stomach.
A second referendum – Remain wins
On the face of it, for those of us who always wished to remain, this would be ideal. But, beyond the fact that it’s now very unlikely, it could unleash some rather ugly demons.
The sad fact is that the hard-line Brexiteers have well and truly seized the narrative on how a second public vote would somehow be undemocratic. They have also managed to convince many people that a vote to remain would be the result of some mysterious ‘stitch-up’ by the ‘political elites’ (of which, by the way, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage somehow don’t qualify…)
Staying in the EU could well cause irreparable damage to trust in politics in the UK, which is already at a historic low. If you think I’m just aping the likes of Farage by saying that, you would be right; unfortunately many across the country have already assimilated this line of thinking.
A second referendum – May’s deal wins
Okay, sorry, I’ll stick to the credible options…
A Tory moderate comes in to ‘renegotiate the deal’
The inverted commas are entirely justified here, as time and time again, the EU has clarified that the deal is done and will not be reopened. Moreover, as the institutions take shape following the European elections, there is literally no-one with whom to negotiate currently.
With that in mind, there’s not a lot more to say. Whomever was our Prime Minister would come back from Brussels with his tail between his legs, and we’d end up at one of the other options.
Article 50 is extended again
Just as with the second referendum, this does seem rather politically unlikely in the current climate, on both sides of the English Channel. A Tory leader chosen by the increasingly right-leaning Tory membership would be savaged by their party for suggesting it. Plus, it’s becoming more politically embarrassing for leaders of the EU27; I for one was surprised even the October 31st extension was granted.
And that’s the crux of my argument on this one. The UK isn’t the only country in the Europe facing Euroscepticism, even if we are quite a long way ahead on that front. More months – if not years – of this issue dragging on will empower Rassemblement National, Alternative für Deutschland, Lega Nord and Forum voor Democratie. I don’t believe it’s hyperbolic to suggest that the European project could be facing an existential threat if it’s not sorted soon.
I’d like the UK to remain in the EU, but more important for Europe and the world is that the EU is not torn apart by this. If we do leave this year, I want there to be an EU to rejoin at some point in the future.
A General Election before October 31st
Similarly to the very first option, this seems great on the surface. But even a quick look at current polling will tell you that unless something changes dramatically, parliament’s makeup would be an unholy mess in the event of a national election.
We could be left with Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and Brexit Party on a similar level of support with virtually no chance of a stable government of any composition. If people think that parliament is chaotic now, they ought to think about how it would be then.
And what if Labour won? Well, as a Labour supporter that would seem like a good thing, surely? In fact, taking power before the Brexit date would represent the biggest political hospital pass since Tony Blair gave Gordon Brown the keys to number 10 just before the financial crisis. Labour would face the very real danger of being historically linked with what has been an almost purely Tory project. I want a Labour government, but I’d rather wait a few more months.
As a caveat, there’s one result which could give a bit of closure: a clear pro-Remain majority of Lib Dems, SNP and Greens. But, there’s currently no indication that that’s anywhere near likely; even if the Lib Dems are polling higher than they have in decades, they’re still rather a long way from 50%.
Boris for PM and a no-deal Brexit on October 31st…
I know – I can’t believe it’s come to this either.
Let’s get this straight. Boris Johnson is a dangerous egomaniac and a liar, who has engaged in nasty dog-whistle politics to boost his profile with the Tory right. A no-deal Brexit would be economically catastrophic, would cost a lot of jobs, pushing many into poverty due to the Tory erosion of the social safety net, and will probably escalate tensions in Northern Ireland.
But, the chaos that will ensue from a no-deal exit would hopefully make the public realise just how bad an idea it is to make a democratic decision based on jingoistic sentiment and lies. It could lead to a bounce-back that makes future European integration arguably more likely than we would see following a half-decent Brexit deal.
And Johnson? The mess into which he would recklessly throw the country would cause immense damage to the Conservative Party. The two main parties have been remarkably resilient over the last century or so, but a General Election during the fallout of a no-deal Brexit could give Labour and the Lib Dems a unique opportunity to hammer them into third place. After the pain that the Tories have brought the worst-off in society over the last decade or so, this does sound like a tempting proposition.
I know, me neither. I’m always very wary of the ‘for the greater good’ way of thinking, because it might be easy to look at it that way in the abstract, but there are very real people who would be taking the very real pain. I want to be really clear about this: the scenario I’ve described is still a net negative in my mind. It just might be the best of a very, very bad bunch.