Friday, 26 August 2016

The only certainty about Brexit is its uncertainty.

Brexit has become a major issue in the Labour leadership election.  It is one of the defining differences of position between the two candidates. Owen Smith has pledged to fight Brexit, and to campaign for a fresh referendum when the terms of Britain's divorce from the EU are known.  It is a valid position.

Jeremy Corbyn simply rejects the idea of another referendum. The voters have decided, he says. He says it is 'democracy at work'. It is a puzzling position for the leader of the opposition.

Democracy does not end once a vote is taken. A vote is only a part of the process. Just imagine where we would be had everyone accepted the vote to stay in the EEC in 1975.  Referendums should be advisory not definitive.  This does not mean the vote should be ignored. It means that we should decide what it means. Whatever the results of the referendum, government still needs to be held accountable. They need to be challenged on the terms of Brexit.

We do not yet know what Brexit means. Of course it would mean we would leave the EU. We would no longer be a member. But we do not know the nature of our disengagement, or more importantly we do not know the terms of our post-Brexit engagement with the EU - and there is likely to be such an engagement because it is our biggest market.  The nature of that relationship must now be decided.

According to the Institute for Government there are more than four possible scenarios for UK's negotiated exit from the EU. Jeremy Corbyn it seems is happy to leave it to the Tory government to decide which of these we get.Yet it is the duty of the leader of the opposition to hold the government to account.

He says the voters have decided. So my question is, what did the voters decide? Which scenario does Jeremy Corbyn think the British people voted for? He can't say. Nor can the government.

The government do not know what Brexit will look like - or if they do, they are keeping it close to their chests. But we should not give the Tories a blank cheque.

We might, for example, end up having to conform to EU laws but without full membership. Would those who voted out be happy with that? Most probably not, yet it is one possibility. We might end up with Norway's option of paying he EU for access to the EU market. But how much would we agree to pay for this privilege, and would it be acceptable to those who voted out. Many argued we pay too much to Brussels. It was one reason they voted to leave.

Then there is the vexed question of migration. Some kind of free movement of people may be part of the Brexit terms, to protect interests of British citizens in the EU, and to meet the needs of British businesses. Did the British people vote for this? Some might accept it, but so many voted specifically so that the UK could 'take control' of such movement.

Another possible outcome is that we adopt  Canada's position of negotiating bilaterally with the EU.  This has no guarantee of success. Did the British people vote for this? We don't know because this wan't on the ballot sheet.

The only certainty about Brexit is its uncertainty. Yet Jeremy Corbyn appears to want to leave it all to the Tories to decide! Some leader of the opposition!

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