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.
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.
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.
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
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
Britain and Europe - a
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
ahead, it will put the EU in a no-win situation,
can be no winning
outcome for the European Union... even if there is
one for the UK.
May - the new British Prime Minister
Deciding on Britain's terms of exit will create a
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.
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
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.
- to bring together the three sides ("Remainers", soft-Brexiteers and hard-Brexiteers) in a deeply divided
- to find a way out of the Brexit crisis between
Britain and the EU.
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
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
Finding the right compromise will not be easy;
it will be highly desirable not just for Britain and for Europe too. The
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
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
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
to delay any
possible activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty until after the
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
Convincing the EU
Convincing Europe's leaders will be harder, but it
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
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
of convincing our partners that it would be good for us if
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.
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
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
on both sides; but for Europe,refusing those concessions and rejecting
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
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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