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A solution to the Brexit crisis  - 
a way forwards towards common ground

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A solution to the Brexit crisis -
a way towards common ground



Read more :  Brexit: what has happened since the Referendum?  See   the road to Brexit: a chronology of events

Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit ? A no-win situation.

In spite of the referendum result, Brexit, if it happens, is sure to dissatify a majority of people in the UK.  
Before the referndum, nobody ever clearly explained what "Brexit" meant. Indeed, many Brexiteers deliberately avoided doing so, as nobody could define Brexit. Brexit meant different things to different people.
"Brexiteers" are divided into two camps, the hard Brexiteers and the soft Brexiteers... and hard and soft Brexit are very different ideas.
   If the hard-liners win the argument, soft Brexiteers will be devastated if Brexit actually takes place.
   If the soft-Brexiteers win the argument, and the UK leaves the EU but remains in the European Single Market (a larger entity), the hard Brexiteers will erupt into an explosion of fury, claiming that the "democratic decision of the people" has been overridden.
   For Theresa May and her government, there can be no Brexit solution that satisfies a majority of the population. The May government is in a no-win situation.
   If anyone seriously imagined that the Brexit referendum would put an end to the bitter divisions in the UK over Europe, they were either naïve or hopelessly out of touch. Far from settling the issue, the referendum result has exacerbated the divides. Before the referendum, it was at least possible to have a national discussion in Britain about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the EU - even if the debate was poisoned by lies and distortions.
   Since the debate, reasoned discussion is no longer tolerated by those in politics and the media who are hell-bent on taking Britain out of the EU. From the Prime Minister down, pro-Brexiteers seek to brand  all opposition to their plan as "undemocratic", while endlessly repeating the mantra of the "clear mandate" delivered by the "people" on June 23rd.
   In reality, the mandate was neither clear, nor was it even a mandate ; worse still, it was a result given on the basis of misinformation and a hopeless misunderstanding of the issues by many ordinary people. It was not "clear", because a  majority of 51.9%  is not a clear mandate – it is the sign of a nation divided almost down the middle. And it was not a "mandate", because the result of the Referendum was "advisory", not "mandatory".  This is not the way democracy is supposed to work.

   But don't try saying that to Britain's right-wing media or even to the Prime Minister. When businesswoman Gina Miller set up a citizens' group to appeal to the English High Court against Theresa May's decision to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (to take Britain out of the EU) without first getting the approval of Parliament, she won her case.  A panel of Britain's highest judges found in her favour.
   The next day, not just Ms. Miller, but the Judges too, found themselves the targets of vitriolic and even racist abuse in parts of Britain's largely pro-Brexit press, and on internet sites.  The right-wing Daily Mail produced a full page 1 spread, calling the judges "Enemies of the people" , while the once-respectable Daily Telegraph said it was a case of "the judges against the people".  The right-wing "Sun" newspaper claimed that the case represented the work of a "foreign elite" defying the "will" of British voters.  Press coverage of the event deeply divided opinions in the Conservative party, with one Conservative MP calling it "chilling" (very alarming), while ultra conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg as well as Theresa May defended "freedom of the press".
    Among the most fundamental rights in a democracy are the right to disagree, the right to contest what others are doing, and the right of people to change their minds, to have second thoughts. Only in fascist or communist dictatorships are people not allowed to disagree, to contest decisions, or encourage others to change their minds.  Yet the British government is plunging blindly forward towards Brexit on its mantra of a "clear mandate", and the right-wing popular press scream insults at anyone who dares to call for a new referendum, or even just for MP's to be given the right to vote on how to work towards the biggest constitutional change in recent British history, before it happens.
    On the far right in Britain, there are a few powerful people – elected MPs and unelected media tycoons – who, for ideological reasons want to take Britain out of the European Union at any cost – the so-called "hard Brexit" option.  There are others in the world of industry and business who would like to  see Britain leave the European Union, but do not want Britain to leave the European Single Market (the borderless trading block that is bigger than the EU itself). And there are many more people, perhaps now over half the population, who think that the whole idea of leaving the EU is either crazy or far too risky.
   In a democracy, the arguments must be able to continue, most particularly on a subject  like Brexit which is a one-way ticket out of Europe, with no return. There are some in Britain who want to stifle that argument, and for whom Brexit is Brexit, and the only possible way forward.
   But this is not the case. Other solutions have to be possible.

*********************
On June 23rd, 52% of British voters said yes to Brexit. They did not want to remain in the European Union as it is now (though a fair number have since changed their minds). There are two completely legitimate solutions to this dilemma. The first one is to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, and for Britain to leave the EU rapidly. The second one is give the EU a clear time frame to answer Britain's grievances, or not answer them. Then, a new referendum can settle the matter. This is not a whimsical idea; in the end the EU has far more interest in keeping Britain in the EU, than in precipitating a Brexit, given that Brexit could well do more damage the EU as an institution and to other countries in Europe, than to the UK – which is not in anyone's interest.


Britain and Europe - a common interest

Next PM Theresa May
Theresa May - the new British Prime Minister
   If Britain does end up leaving the European Union, we are all likely to be losers; however the biggest loser could well not be Britain, but the EU. If Brexit goes ahead, it will put the EU in a no-win situation, as there can be no winning outcome for the European Union... even if there is one for the UK.
   Deciding on Britain's terms of exit will create a massive dilemma for Europe's leaders who will need to choose which is the lesser of two evils; helping Britain achieve a successful Brexit, or doing nothing to help and allowing the British economy to falter and possibly go into recession.
   Whichever way they choose, the 27 remaining countries will be giving themselves a poisoned chalice, as either solution bodes badly for the European Union. Looked at in the cold light of day, there is only one win-win way out of this crisis, and that is for the EU to do everything to make sure that Brexit does not happen; and on this, the interests of stability, of the UK, and of the EU are identical.

   For this to happen, Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, and the European Commission will need to work closely together to find a solution that is able to satisfy  a sufficient number of those in Britain who voted for Brexit, and also the leaders and voters in other EU countries.
   It will not be easy; whatever solution is proposed, there will be a radical fringe of Brexiteers, Frexiteers, Grexiteers, and far-right voters  and Euro-fundamentalists who will complain – loudly – that it is too little or too much. But a consensus solution that can get the approval of the majority of Britain's voters, and of Europe, without the need to provoke Brexit, looks likely to be one of the only safe and face-saving ways out of the current crisis. By all accounts, in terms of safeguarding the economic future of Britain and Europe, it is the least risky of all possible solutions. And it is one of the few scenarios that has the capability of healing the bitter divides not just in Britain, but in the EU too.

  The new British Prime minister, Theresa May, has two urgent but seemingly contradictory priorities:
  • to bring together the three sides ("Remainers", soft-Brexiteers and hard-Brexiteers) in a deeply divided country, and
  • to find a way out of the Brexit crisis between Britain and the EU.
   A simple enactment of Brexit will not bridge the divides in Britain; it will exacerbate them. A "hard Brexit" will anger not just Remainers, but also those who wanted a "soft Brexit" ; and a soft Brexit will anger both the Remainers and those who wanted a radical hard Brexit.
  Whatever solution is finally adopted, it will not please everyone – that much is certain. So the British government's task must be to find the way forward that will in the end satisfy the largest possible majority of people in Britain. This will involve either  finding a satisfactory future place for the UK outside the EU in which Britain's privileged trading links are maintained (the "soft" Brexit), or else continued membership of the EU under new terms. Either solution will require concessions from both the UK government and Europe.
    However, since it would be neither in Britain's interest nor in the European interest for the UK to leave the EU simply to continue operating as a priveleged external  partner, imagining a future role for the UK outside the EU giving us the advantages without the drawbacks smacks of wishful thinking. It follows from this that the only realistic solutuion that will reconcile the two priorities will be a solution that sees the UK remaining in the EU – but under changed terms of membership.

  Finding the right compromise will not be easy; however  it will be highly desirable not just for Britain and for Europe too. The British and the Europeans have a very strong interest in finding a workable solution, otherwise the future could be very bleak on both sides of the Channel.  Prime Minister Theresa May should have every personal interest in finding a way out of this crisis without enacting Brexit, as she will surely prefer to go down in history as the Prime Minister who saved Britain and Europe from potential disaster, rather than the Prime Minister who actually signed the document to plunging Britain into a very uncertain future.

 Convincing the British

   Convincing the British electorate (though not the media) that we have every interet in delaying Brexit and giving the EU a chance to respond to our grievances, will be the easier of the two tasks.  Many are already convinced. Since the referendum, in addition to the 48% of Britons who voted to remain, a non-negligible proportion of those who voted in favor of Brexit would appear to have changed their minds. These are some of the many  people who did not actually vote against Europe as an institution, but against its way of operating, against  the "uncontrolled" immigration caused by total freedom of movement between countries, against European bureaucratic pettifoggery and perceived intervention in the sovereign affairs of the country .
  If these complaints can be addressed by the EU before Britain activates Article 50, then May will be able to call a new referendum based on a new situation – or simply explain that the demands of the British public have been met, and that Britain will not therefore exit the European Union. There will be no reason to leave. The splenetic right-wing hard Brexit fundamentalist popular tabloid newspapers, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun, regularly explode with vitriolic indignation when anyone suggests having a second referendum; they will go into overdrive if and when Brexit is delayed or cancelled. But these newspapers have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to dictate how Britain should be run.

   In the meantime, Mrs. May will have to take the very bold step of  announcing a one-year or two-year delay in the activating of Brexit, to give the EU sufficient time to meet Britain's grievances. The right-wing media will howl with indignation again if she does this, because they want Brexit, they want it hard, and they want it now; but the Government must be strong enough to ignore them. This is where Parliament can usefully come in . The anti-Brexit media understand this absolutely, which is why they howled with such indignation at the ruling in the English High Court on 4th November, that Parliament must be consulted. 
     Parliament will be able to ease the Prime Minister's way by voting to delay any possible activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty until after the EU has had a reasonable period of time to address the grievances that are shared not just by many in the UK, but millions more throughout the EU. In so doing, Parliament would be both affirming its sovereignty, and exercising its duty to act in what it sees to be the best interests of the nation; and the PM would have a specific mandate to present to the European Union.

Convincing the EU

   Convincing Europe's leaders will be harder, but it should not be in impossible task – quite the contrary. The first priority will be to stress that the consequences of Brexit could be just as disastrous for Europe as for Britain... if not more so.
   Until 23rd July, if there was consensus in the EU on one matter, it was that all EU countries wanted Britain to remain part of the Union; Britain was portrayed as a vital member, a diplomatic heavyweight for the EU, a key member for EU relations with other parts of the world. There is no reason why, since 24th June, any of this should have changed, apart from frustration with Britain's Brexit vote and a commonly held belief that the result of the Brexit vote was binding – whereas it was just advisory.
   Furthermore until June 23, all countries of the European Union agreed that a Brexit would seriously weaken the EU. Since then, some EU leaders seem to have gone into denial, unless these are just frustrated soundbites to appease audiences at home.
  Thus the next Prime Minister's task should be less a matter of convincing our partners that it would be good for us if we were to remain in the EU, than one of convincing them a British exit from the EU could be catastrophic for them, whatever happens after it.
 
  Of course, diehard Eurocrats may balk at this. In the mistaken belief that sounding tough or sticking to principles is the best solution, many  EU politicians have called for the UK to be ejected from the European Union as soon as possible; but pushing the UK out of the EU would not only be, for the European Union, and act of immense folly, it would be an act of self-harm, not  just shooting itself in the foot, more like machine-gunning itself in all feet.
    Fools rush in where angels fear to tread is a well-known English adage that many in Europe would be wise to learn. Any action that might precipate a Brexit when, with negotiation and time, it can surely be avoided, must ultimately be to Europe's good, as well as to Britain's good, as there can be no such thing as a Brexit that is to Europe's advantage. Already some in the European parliament, such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, have condemned the EU for its intransigence; but many more need persuading.
    For Britain, there is just a very small possibility that Brexit could  - if the Brexiteers are to be believed - turn out well; but for the European Union, there can be no positive outcome.
    A calamitous Brexit followed a recession in the UK, which is a scenario that currently no expert would dare exclude, would likely be just as bad for Europe as for the UK.  By contrast a successful Brexit, after which the UK did as well as or better than before, would indicate to many other countries that there is little or nothing to be gained from remaining in the EU, and that the British were right. Either way, Europe, just as much as Britain, risks being the big loser.

    Convincing Europe's leaders of this unfortunate fact, convincing them that it is Europe's interest, even more than in Britain's interest, to answer British concerns, and offer a new deal (even if it involves changing some of the fundamental tenets of the European Union) should be Mrs. May's  no.1 priority.
   An acceptable compromise has to be the best, indeed the only positive solution.  Concessions will be required on both sides; but for Europe,refusing those concessions and rejecting an acceptable a compromise would be playing straight into the hands of extreme Eurosceptics and petty nationalists throughout Europe. A European refusal to reconsider British demands is more likely to hasten the break-up of the European Union, than to strengthen it. Apart from a few currency-speculators, nobody, neither in Britain nor in the rest of the European Union (of which Britain is still part, it should be remembered), will benefit from a breakdown of the European Union. And in a very uncertain world with Donald Trump leading the United States into the unknown, it is even more important that Europe should stand together and united. It is time that everybody recognised this, and worked towards an acceptable solution to this crisis.

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 © Andrew Rossiter and About-Britain.com 2016 
Photo of Theresa May - Crown Copyright - Creative commons licence





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