By Gareth R Roberts.
It’s easy to rail against the idiocy of Brexit. It’s easy to insult and accuse those who’ve brought it about – because, quite frankly, they are deserving of the insults and accusations – the whole sorry affair is, without doubt, the biggest embarrassment in our political history – it makes Suez or appeasement look like a paragon of common sense.
But, Brexit didn’t happen on its own. The Brexiters didn’t rise spectre-like into a position of power without a bit of help from those on the opposite side of the argument; indeed, if it wasn’t for the shortcomings of the Remain side, Johnson would now probably be working on his comedy Fandango as the seasonal fat weird contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, whilst Farage, would have remained what he is, a rather pathetic little man, shaking his fist against the world.
And sadly, even now, as the prospect of Brexit with or without a withdrawal agreement, and its accompanying misery looms ever closer, those leading the remain side are still demonstrating their woeful inadequacies and inability to put their case.
There are, of course exceptions, honourable ones – and I’m going to list some of them here. In Parliament, the likes of Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve and a few notable others have skilfully used parliamentary procedure to ensure that the voice of the 16 million who did not vote for Brexit have not been ignored. Outside Parliament there has been the tremendous work of Gina Miller, who has had to endure the worst type of racist ignorance as she has campaigned using every legitimate weapon at her disposal to ensure that her country has the chance to avoid the lunacy of Brexit. Joanna Cherry, the extremely capable SNP MP and QC, has also used the law courts adroitly to keep the executive honest; whilst others such Femi, James O’Brian and Politics Punked’s own James Melville have fought the trolls and bigots to call out the liars and con-artists who brought this about.
Sadly, however, as these gallant individuals have manfully done everything in their power to fight Brexit and the political culture of intolerance, ignorance, and servitude that is galloping alongside it, many others, in positions of much greater power and influence have failed.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, after all, the case for our positive involvement within the institutions of Europe has never been made with any enthusiasm or energy. There has always been a point of view that somehow Great Britain is just that bit better than her European counterparts and that membership of the EU and before it the EEC, was a begrudging favour to them, rather than something to be grasped with both hands and vigorously used for the good of the nation and its people. Take the passing of the Maastricht Treaty into British law in the early 1990s, at that stage, the political class were pretty much united in support of the treaty, but, still managed to turn its passage through Parliament into a circus as John Major battled with the ‘bastards’ in his own party, to the glee of the increasingly ascendent Blairite Labour Party for whom, perhaps understandably given the desperate need to remove the Tories, winning the general election was more important than making the case for Europe.
Once the Maastricht Treat was passed, we Brits were told precious little about the benefits it provided. We should have been reminded that the EU meant free movement of goods and of people and of ideas; that it meant equality of all citizens in the face of the law and democratic rights; and it meant greater cooperation in things such as climate control, law and order, health and social mobility – instead, the only stories we seemed to hear from Europe were dishonest triflings about ‘bendy bananas’, illegal immigrants and how much money our heroic leaders would be able to reclaim via a rebate. And one of the reasons that these stories were able to gain so much traction was because of the woeful inability of those in favour of the EU to create any affection for the project amongst the general public. No one is suggesting that our political leaders should have rolled over and allowed Brussels to do whatever it wished, but, Britain’s position in Europe and our ability to positively influence the direction of Europe would have been massively enhanced if, as a nation, we had taken Europe seriously, rather than allowed it to become the but of a Boris Johnson joke.
After all, at the beginning of this decade, the overwhelming majority of our politicians were in favour of the EU – which brings me to the dastardly duo, Cameron and Osborne. As Prime Minister, David Cameron did very little to further the cause of Europe, indeed he was fairly happy to play to his right-wingers when it suited him, before, ultimately, in his desperate bid to neutralise UKIP and win a majority for himself he promised the catastrophically stupid ‘in – out’ referendum on Europe. And then, once he had turned the key and allowed the referendum fun bus to start its inglorious journey, he and George Osborne proved to be utterly woeful in their attempt to win the bloody thing. Where dynamism and tough debating were needed to beat back the lies of Johnson, Gove and Farage, Dave and Gideon acted like a couple of Etonians turning up at an away fixture to play rugger against the local state comprehensive – they arrogantly didn’t believe for a second that they could lose.
And they weren’t alone. Nick Clegg is equally complicit. The Lib-Dems should have been at the vanguard of a pro-EU campaign, but, by 2016, Clegg and his party having successfully shot themselves in the head, were at peak irrelevance.
Whilst Jeremy Corbyn has done his best to render himself irrelevant with his and his Party’s pursuit of maximum ambiguity on all things Brexit. If Labour truly aspired to be a proper social democratic party, then there is no way it would have ever countenanced anything other than remaining firmly in the EU. But, as we know, Corbyn’s Labour Party are aspiring towards Marxism, with some seeing the EU as a ‘bosses club’ designed to keep the workers in check. Indeed, as the Labour Party has veered around the subject of Brexit like a drunken sailor trying to get to the next pub without falling over in the gutter, the battle for the soul and direction of the Labour Party has been laid bare with remainers such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry being derided as ‘Tories’ by the Momentum wing of Labour for attempting to push their party into the Remain camp.
Now isn’t the time for that.
Labour needs to remember that a proper socialist manifesto which promises to invest billions and renationalise half a dozen privatised utilities will be meaningless if they continues to languish in opposition, or a no deal departure from the EU plunges our economy into the quagmire of recession.
Even the SNP who are consistent about membership of the EU do so with a barely disguised eye on their ultimate prize of independence – they are canny enough to know that the bigger mess the UK government gets itself in, the greater the likelihood of a Indie2 referendum and possible estrangement from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And, again, now isn’t the time for that either.
Now is the time for the politicians that are opposed to Brexit to unite behind a coherent plan to obtain a second plebiscite that would include the option of leaving without a deal, leaving with the deal brokered by Theresa May and remaining in the EU. It means Jo Swinson putting to one side her concerns about allowing Corbyn into Number 10, it means Corbyn, perhaps, accepting that a government of unity with him at the helm would be there solely to facilitate the extension of Article 50 and the introduction of a referendum or People’s Vote.
And, if that vote is secured, this time, hopefully, the standard of debate will be better, this time, hopefully, the issue will be properly explained by all sides without recourse to lies and bombastic false claims; and this time, hopefully, those holding the standard for Remain will take the time to make the argument in a positive and robust way rather than meekly apologising for our involvement in anything international and allowing Nigel Farage and his cronies to steal the populist march.