A Hard Brexit is Gonna Fall

by George Hatjoullis

There is presently a campaign by MPs to get some parliamentary involvement in the Brexit negotiations. This is unwise.Don’t get me wrong. I am a Remain voter and continuing Remain advocate. I think the Brexit initiative is undemocratic. The referendum was advisory not binding. It constitutes constitutional change which is not normally contemplated on a 52-48 result. There would normally be a quorum. The 52% represents substantially less than half those eligible to vote. To argue that the people have spoken is populist nonsense. The UK is a representative democracy in which parliament is sovereign, (and so claim the Leavers they would wish it to be). So why not let the parliament take the decision subject to the referendum advice? This would be unwise.

The referendum result revealed and validated (in the eyes of the Leave voters) longstanding xenophobic (and in many cases racist) emotions and resentment. A substantial minority of Britons have felt this way since my childhood (the early 1950s). The activities of populists and demagogues have fanned these resentments and emotions and sucked in a much larger minority, perhaps even a majority. The Brexit vote was about control of borders and immigration. Everything else is camouflage. The average Leave voter has little grasp of economics let alone the advantages of the single market. Concepts such as sovereignty, power, and democracy are only vaguely understood and usually in a simplistic form. However, they know when someone is not speaking english on a train or looks different or has a different name. And if someone tells them 75 million Turks are about to flood into the country the panic button is triggered. So let us not kid ourselves, the Brexit majority is about immigration and only about immigration.

I have gone over the ‘facts’ in so many previous blogs it is now pointless to repeat. Immigrants being young and fit make a net contribution to the NHS. It is the ageing Britons that are causing the strain, and chronic underfunding by Tory governments. Non-EU migration has continued apace so why should control of borders enable us to control EU migration? The economic shock of Brexit will be severe (when it happens). However, all this is irrelevant. There is an underlying fear of the ‘other’ and this fear has driven the UK electorate (that could be bothered to vote) to choose an exit from the EU. The xenophobia is not unique to the UK. It is evident all over Europe and it is being utilised by populists and demagogues to grasp power from the current elite (once you have power then you too are ‘elite’).

The greatest risk in my view is in the racist narrative that has inevitably accompanied these developments. A UK MP was shot because of it. There has been violence because of it. Abuse of ethnic minority Britons has been validated by it. Racist narratives are now the norm all over Europe. Theresa May claims to want a Britain that works for all and in the same breathe advances policies that make ethnic minority Britons less secure. If Brexit means Brexit then what is the purpose of this populist narrative by May? The suspicion is that she does not want a hard brexit and is using this narrative to keep her party together and the wolves at bay while she works out how to avoid a hard brexit. This would be unwise.

I fear the racist narrative more than I fear Brexit. It is insidious and dangerous. Brexit has economic costs but I can live with those. They will impact the typical Brexit voter more than most. Many recognise this, instinctively if not explicitly, but feel it is a price worth paying to ‘take back control of their country’. The referendum released the racist demons. They cannot be corralled in the short term. Any attempt by the government or parliament to back track on free movement will create a severe and possibly violent reaction from the Leave supporters. It is too dangerous. The government should proceed to insist on no free movement and see what the EU will offer subject to this constraint. They will offer zip, of course, so a hard brexit is gonna fall. Parliament should stay well clear of the whole business and let those that got us into this mess and continue to use the populist rhetoric take us forward. Brexit will be an economic catastrophe and it would be best not to do anything to give the populists any opportunity to blame anyone else when the proverbial starts to fly off the fan. The government should proceed to hard brexit quickly but in the meantime stop the populist rhetoric. Do more and STFU.