A Rock and a Hard Place

by George Hatjoullis

Parliament now consists largely of MPs from two parties, both equally committed to leaving the EU. Irrespective of the views of individual MPs and individual voters, this is the democratic reality. Somehow an illegitimate and unconstitutional referendum has been legitimized and made constitutional. Parliament endorsed the triggering of article 50. However this process began, leaving the EU now has constitutional validity.

During the general election I had some ‘debates’ with Remain supporters about the logic of tactical voting. They seemed so overwhelmed with their hatred of May et al that they managed not to register the position of Corby and McDonnell. These two visibly sabotaged the Remain position during the referendum campaign. They enabled the triggering of article 50. They enabled the general election. The Labour manifesto is quite clear in its commitment to leaving the EU. A vote for Labour was not a vote against austerity or more social justice. It was a vote to leave the EU. Many tactical Remain voters appear to have lost sight of this.

The EU offers a pluralist liberal democracy. It offers social justice. It offers equality before the law and upholds consumer and human rights. It is clumsy and slow and could use better public relations, but it is basically a good institution. It offers a huge single market, a customs union, and various other institutional arrangements. It is moving towards a common, non-aggressive, foreign policy. Each state has a veto over big issues and there is a qualified majority voting system in place for lesser issues. The European Parliament is democratically elected, more so than Westminster in some respects. Otherwise, how is it UKip has so many MEPs and no MPs? The EP is also becoming increasingly powerful. The European Commission, the bête noire of the leavers, is just the civil service. It’s only real power lies in introducing legislation. it cannot pass it or impose it.

Events are about to remove us from this set up and leave us between a rock and a hard place. The two polar extremes of my youth have returned. A fascist, racist, Tory party and a Stalinist Labour party. During the campaign of the 1975 EEC referendum (I was 22 and a recent economics graduate) I watched Enoch Powell and Tony Benn argue against the EEC on a common platform. One of my arguments in favour of remaining in the EEC was that these two unsavoury characters both supported leaving. The political heirs of Enoch and Tony now run the Tory and Labour parties. After 43 years of liberal, pluralist, democracy, and prosperity (albeit unevenly distributed), we have arrived exactly where I feared we would end up in 1975. Well, I guess we will always have the last 43 years (here’s looking at you, kid).

The LibDems seems on the verge of electing Vince Cable as leader and he is edging towards accepting the need for freedom of movement restrictions. The LibDems typically adopt a what-is-best-for-the-country approach but the electoral consequences have been devastating. They will now put the interests of the party first, it seems. Remain voters have nowhere to go even if they have sufficient intelligence to go there (though few, it seems, do). So what hope for remaining in the EU?

Probably better than anyone realises. The election has left the Tories hostage to the Democratic Unionist Party. This unsavoury alliance, and its price, has cost the Tories popularity. The momentum (pardon the pun) is with Stalinist Labour. The Tories will not be calling another election anytime soon (Labour would love that) and Labour cannot force one. This parliament will run for 5 years. This means the exit negotiation will be conducted by a very weak government with the clock ticking. Either a very bad deal or, more likely no deal, will emerge in two years, when the UK falls out of the EU. If the country is unhappy about leaving on these terms then these self-serving power seeking political parties may think again. Never say never….