When I was a child, everyone in America knew that “The Greatest Show On Earth” referred to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Now — without doubt — the expression refers to Great Britain. The country’s as of yet unsuccessful efforts over three years to carry out the referendum to leave the European Union has been a spell binding drama. Now, finally, a solution is at hand. Here is a way forward for the U.K. that will ultimately allow it to achieve the goals of the “leavers.”
Brexit: The UK and the EU – A Way Forward
The Grand Old Duke of York Strategy
By Miles Morland
Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again
My mother had an excellent expression derived from our friends across the Channel, “Reculer pour mieux sauter” – to take a step back in order better to jump forward. The U.K. should take her advice.
Yes, we had a vote and we voted to leave the EU, 52% to 48%, and, if so many people had not believed the breath-taking lies told by the government, the Treasury, the CBI, and the Bank of England, the vote would probably have been 60% Leave to 40% Remain.
Yes, we tried to negotiate a deal which would allow us an exit on terms acceptable to the British people and our Parliament but our negotiating skill was lamentable and it is apparent that the EU never had any intention of allowing us such a deal. The one they have offered us robs us of the sovereignty over our own affairs, a desire for which, rightly or wrongly, made so many people vote for Leave. Under Mrs May’s deal we would, possibly indefinitely, be subject to the EU, its courts on which we would not be represented, and its laws in whose making we would play no part. We would enjoy as much sovereignty as Belarus in the old Soviet Union. In unguarded moments, after one eau de vie too many, Mr Juncker and his cohorts have been heard to gloat about the UK becoming a colony of the EU. Brussels wants to nail the U.K. up like a dead crow next to a cornfield as a warning to any other EU members who might want to leave.
No Deal was one way out, whatever its short-term disadvantages, and despite the fact that No Deal would be collectively an even bigger act of self-harm to the 27 than it would be to Britain.
It is easy and good fun to criticise Parliament for the current situation but I would not be so hasty. The problem is that MPs are not faced with the binary choice of Remain or Leave, they are instead faced with multiple choices: Remain, No Deal, Mrs May’s Deal, A Better Deal Which Has Yet To be Negotiated And Which Will Come Over Barnier’s Dead Body (dit m. Barnier), a Referendum with two questions, or a Referendum with three questions.
Mr Johnson is in favour of the Barnier Dead Body deal and his negotiating strategy was to get Mr Barnier to abolish the Irish backstop before turning into a dead body. Parliament seems to have put paid to that by its early September vote. It is clear that none of the choices and their sub-choices such as “Remain, after a second People’s Vote” (Apparently the “The People” did not vote in the first Referendum, just household pets) could command a majority in Parliament.
The fundamental fact is that a Parliamentary system, such as we have, is good at deciding binary, Yes-No, questions but hopeless at multiple choice questions where no single choice commands a majority. Such is the case now. Mr Johnson is effectively saying, “Parliament can’t decide, so I will decide on the nation’s behalf.” Nice try, Boris, but it isn’t going to work because Parliament seems to have found a way to stymie you but if you did somehow make it work and force the U.K. out with no deal, it would create bitterness that would continue for a generation.
Under the present situation, if no-one shows some leadership, it appears that we could grind on indefinitely in EU purgatory, disenfranchised but neither in nor out, while searching for a deal that can pass Parliament. Every month that goes by we will be subject to new EU laws in whose making we will have had no say.
This is unacceptable. There is a time to retreat and a time to attack. As John Maynard Keynes is reputed to have said when someone accused him of changing his mind, “Sir, when the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?” The Brexit facts as most people saw them have changed. Most people, including me, thought that we could have a friendly exit from the EU on terms the British Parliament could accept. We were wrong. Call us naïve but I never foresaw that the French, because it has been them, would deliberately impose terms which they must have known we could not accept. Nor did I and many people think that Mrs May’s negotiating strategy would be to take dictation from Mr Barnier. Possibly, if someone who believed in Leave had been Prime Minister, and the U.K. had said to Brussels at the same time as we executed Article 50, “Here are the terms we are leaving on and this is what we will pay you; you are free to negotiate but you need to come up with something better,” things might have turned out differently, but that ship sank long ago.
For me the facts have changed and now is the time to retreat, “Reculer pour mieux sauter”, as going forward will tear the country apart and we will still not have a good deal at the end of it. I would guess that the majority of people who voted to Leave did so in the belief that a reasonable deal could be negotiated. I did. If they had been told that No Deal was the only exit choice, a large part might have voted to stay. I would have. Many people who voted differently to me in the Referendum are people I like, admire, and respect. I hate the divisiveness Brexit has brought to our country. Any of the current possible outcomes will result in years of acrimony between erstwhile friends in England. I have one friend who is married to a man involved in the cultural world. She tells me that he would never speak to, or knowingly have in his house, anyone who had voted for Brexit. That makes him a bigot but there are too many bigots like him on both sides.
People less bigoted and narrow-minded than he know that most people on both sides voted in good faith after much thought. Remainers as a group are not all metropolitan elitists on the public payroll, and Leavers are not all ignorant racists. Many of my best friends and people I most respect voted differently to me but I still treasure their friendship.
We should say to the EU: “European friends, and France, it is clear that you will not offer us an exit from the EU on terms that we can accept. You are well aware of that fact, which is why you offered those terms to discourage any other back-sliders. OK. We revoke Article 50 forthwith. We resume our place as a full voting member in good standing of the EU.”
How bad would that be? We have been a member of the EU for 47 years and during that time we have prospered as a country. In fact we have done better than our neighbours. Since joining the EU in 1972, per capita GDP growth for the UK has been 104%, the best of all major Western countries. This compares with 99% for Germany, 97% for the US, and 74% for poor sclerotic France. I would make the case that we have done this not because we were a member of the EU but because of the strength of our post-industrial industries, particularly services, a case I have made in previous papers. I would further make the case that if we had not been in the EU we might have done even better but that is now past history.
In the past, the UK has generally played the part of EU good guy. Apart from Mrs Thatcher’s hand-bagging, we have not made trouble and we have allowed the French-driven push to unification and centralisation to go ahead, something the Germans have acquiesced in and we have done little to stop.
In the future, we should behave like the French and go balls-out for what is in our interests. No more Mr Nice Guy.
We should block any moves to further unification. We should fight to put our people in key positions in Brussels. Let us replace Mr Juncker’s successor, Ms Von der Leyen, with Jacob Rees-Mogg (OK, OK, only joking, or am I?).
We cannot fight this battle by ourselves but we don’t need to. A re-joined U.K. would have many allies. The EU has QMV, Qualified Majority Voting, which effectively means that four countries or countries representing 35% of the population can block legislation. The EU these days is a limping dog. The time of decisions being taken unanimously by the original six members and imposed on the newer members is gone. The Visegrad central European states, aka the Austro-Hungarian Empire redux plus Poland, are in a constant battle with Brussels and its overbearing exercise of power. They would love to cut it down to size but they lack a big EU country to go along with them. Hello, the U.K. Many of these countries have dodgy right-wing politics. We do not need to share their politics to create a voting block which will stymie the move to unification. We did not share Stalin’s politics but we were happy to ally with him to win the Second World War.
Where will this end? Maybe, down the road we will have another vote and vote to leave. If we did, I hope we would have learned from the present debacle and we would approach negotiations in a different way. We would set the agenda and announce it on the day of signing Article 50. He or she who setteth the agenda determineth the outcome. We would present the EU with terms and invite them to negotiate.
I suspect though that, once the people of the U.K. realise that the pressure to centralise has been replaced by a move to curb the power of Brussels, centripetal force giving way to centrifugal, we might decide to stay in the EU, milk it for what its worth, and enjoy ourselves. The EU is never going to be perfect but I could vote for something that looked like, let’s see now, yes, the old Common Market. I would guess that a large majority of people who voted for Brexit liked the old Common Market but do not want to be part of a Brussels-ruled centralised EU.
Time is on our side. For reasons I have stated in previous papers, it is hard to see the euro surviving much longer. The conjuring trick known as Quantitative Easing cannot go on for ever and when it stops, the Garlic Belt of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“the PIGS”) may find itself naked when the tide of QE goes out. Will the Germans bale out the PIGS indefinitely? No. The Germans are going to be too busy trying to keep themselves out of a recession to prop up disabled PIGS. The only answer will be to allow the PIGS to exit the euro and devalue. This will work wonders for their economies and will ultimately move their politics back towards the centre. Remember, it is the policies forced on the PIGS by Brussels, happy to ignore the illegally large French deficit while cracking down on the Greeks and Italians, that have given birth to the extremist parties in these countries. Once their economies begin to enjoy the benefits of devaluation-led growth, PIGS voters will naturally gravitate back to the centre.
When they leave and devalue, the remaining euro, shorn of its weak sisters, will move sharply up against the dollar and other currencies. Overnight the other great EU conjuring trick, Germany’s export boom built on the back of an undervalued, for Germany, currency, the thing that has powered German manufacturing success, will disappear and Germany, whose economy is already heading into a recession, may find itself in ten years’ time the sick man of Europe, and perhaps one with a far-right party sharing power. Recessions feed extremism.
If we cancel Article 50 and resume our senior place at the Brussels table, the tide will be flowing our way, leaving the French centralisers increasingly isolated. Look around. The European political landscape has changed. The cosy duopoly of left-of-centre Social Democrats and right-of-centre Christian Democrats, and their local equivalents in France, Spain and elsewhere, that has dominated European parliaments since the 1950s, has disappeared to be replaced by a truculent sprawl of far right and far left parties. This has happened since we voted to leave. The circumstances have changed.
Ten years ago France, Germany, Benelux, Italy, Greece, Spain, the Scandis, and Portugal, all the major western countries, favoured closer union. The UK was the only powerful voice opposing it. Meanwhile the newly-acceded eastern European countries had a flash of Euro-enthusiasm when they joined but that has been replaced by Euro-suspicion today in places like Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans. Today France and Benelux are still obsessed with creating a unified federal Europe, a United States of Europe ruled, naturellement, by a French person or a French placeman like Juncker. Germany is the key. The AfD, the resurgent right wing, having just quadrupled its vote in the most recent regional elections, is now powerful enough that it cannot be ignored. The AfD wants no part of closer union. Italy and Greece, once the biggest beneficiaries of EU largesse by which Brussels bureaucrats sent German and British money south to build roads in the Peloponnese, have seen their politics fracture, and resent being bossed about by the Bundesbank, sorry, European Central Bank. They will not push for closer union as that would make them even more subject to the stringent fiscal requirements of interfering northerners. The central European Visegrad states, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and a number of others, have right wing people in or close to power, people who abhor EU interference in their internal affairs.
Yes, indeed, Mr Keynes. Circumstances have changed.
Today, there is no momentum for closer union. The momentum is the other way. If the U.K. were to re-join the EU as a full member we would be the natural leader of the non-federalists. We would command support from a majority of the countries in the EU who feel as we do and even Germany, with its new politics, is unlikely to do anything to assist the plans of Napoleon IV, monsieur Macron, to recreate a unified French-led Europe.
How do we get there? I don’t criticise our politicians. They are on the whole decent-minded people struggling with an insoluble multi-choice question. The English are natural compromisers. We hate confrontation. I say “the English” because our Celtic neighbours in the U.K., the Scots and Northern Irish, love a fight. Fortunately in this case, the English make up a big majority of the U.K.
We are not a nation of extremists. Most people in England have no appetite for the hard left or far right. I have voted for all three major parties at different times. If I were forced to identify myself, which I would hate to do because most English people do not like being pigeon-holed, I would say I was a One-Nation Tory. But I am a One-Nation Tory who voted for New Labour. Tony Blair, before he went mad and invaded Iraq, was a political genius who realised that there is scant distance between One-Nation Tories and New Labour. The English electorate loves being in the middle of the road and hates its extreme fringes. My guess is that we Middle-people make up three quarters of the population of England. I doubt if the Middle-people want a No Deal exit.
Mr Johnson’s negotiating tactic of threatening No Deal while hoping for a revised deal the French were never going to offer was a brave but foolhardy tactic. It has failed. Forcing the U.K. in its aftermath out of the EU without a deal would, I would guess, command the support of no more than 30% of the electorate, a far cry from the 52% who voted for Leave. Brexiteers can scream as loudly as they like that we voted to Leave so Leave we must as “that is democracy” but they know in their hearts that there is not a democratic majority for No Deal.
I have a feeling that someone will emerge who can put aside divisiveness and lead us forward, not round in circles, Hilary Benn? Jo Johnson? That lady who looks like a schoolmistress who leads the LibDems? I voted to leave but having seen the unacceptable deal we have been offered and having no stomach for No Deal and the rancour that will bring about, we need someone with the courage to stand up and say, “Voters of all parties, forget traditional party alliances as our relationship with the EU cuts across party lines. We must solve the EU problem before we can do anything else as a country. We know that 48% of the electorate wanted to stay three years ago. It is certain that today enough people do not want and would vote against No Deal to create a big majority for remaining in the EU if No Deal were the only other option. We have also established that there is no Parliamentary majority for the only deal we were offered. Let’s revoke Article 50, stay in the EU, and see what happens. We may get a nice surprise.”
That’s not very difficult is it? All we need is someone to stand up and say it.
Miles Morland is an acute observer of British politics and mores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 8, 2019
Remember “Leaving the European Union would tip the UK into a year-long recession, with up to 820,000 jobs lost within two years, Chancellor George Osborne says. Publishing Treasury analysis, he said a Leave vote would cause an "immediate and profound" economic shock, with growth between 3% and 6% lower.” In truth there was no recession and there are more people in work now than then.