My own position on Brexit is more nuanced than is currently fashionable (more below), but I am strongly against a no deal Brexit. Jo Swinson’s successful deflation of Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a caretaker administration purely to organise a general election, makes no deal much more probable.
It says a great deal about Swinson that she is emphatically in favour of a caretaker government led by arch Blairite Harriet Harman. Let us remind ourselves of Harman’s voting record:
If the Liberal Democrats are refusing to work with somebody, you would expect it to be the person who shared Cabinet responsibility for initiating illegally the death of millions in the Middle East. It is also worth recalling that while Acting Leader of the Labour Party Harman instructed her MPs to abstain on both Tory benefit cuts and Theresa May’s “Hostile Environment” immigration policy.
Yet Swinson actively promotes warmonger Harman as caretaker PM and would refuse to work with Jeremy Corbyn, who is apparently anathema to Liberals because he espouses social democratic economic policies and rejects neo-imperialist aggression abroad. I am confident my old friend Charlie Kennedy would have taken a different view.
Swinson was one of the Lib Dems who was least uncomfortable in coalition with the Tories, and her attitude now is based entirely on the wishes of Chuka Umunna and other actual and potential Blairite defectors to the Lib Dems. Swinson is more interested in playing to the Blairite visceral hatred of Corbyn than she is in stopping no deal Brexit, and it is proof if any were needed that the arrival of Blairite and Tory defectors is moving the Lib Dems still further to the right. I see not a single hint of the party’s old radicalism or principle.
The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have shown maturity and common sense in welcoming Corbyn’s initiative, with due reservations and caveats. Had the Lib Dems done so too, it would have encouraged Tory rebels to join in an all-party initiatvie. Swinson’s refusal to work with Corbyn, on the grounds that Tory rebels would also refuse, was as she well knew a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making it about Corbyn, Swinson made it impossible for Tory MPs to go along when the Lib Dems had refused.
Institutional and personal loyalties are very difficult things to shake off. The Tory Party has become a far right movement whose primary policies are motivated by nothing but racist hatred of immigrants. It is extremely hard for decent people like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve to accept that this has happened and it is irreversible.
If Westminster cannot stop hard Brexit and it goes ahead, it will be enabled by Swinson’s ambition, the hatreds of Blairites, and the failure of decent Tories to process psychologically what has happened to their party.
I suspect that the chaos caused by hard Brexit would be much less than generally predicted after three weeks, but that the economic situation caused by no deal would be very much worse than generally predicted after three years. Priti Patel’s announcement that free movement will end on 31 October is a nonsense. Over 80% of lorries arriving at Dover have non-British, EU drivers. Instituting immigration controls would be a physical impossibility.
My own euro-enthusiasm was dealt a fatal blow when the Spanish paramilitaries clubbed grandmothers lining up to vote in Catalonia, and all three constituent parts of the EU – Parliament, Council and Commission – rushed to congratulate the Francoist government in Madrid on upholding the Rule of Law.
I would therefore be content to live in a country which had a relationship with the EU similar to Norway or Switzerland, but was politically separate. I am entirely in favour of free movement, which I believe has been one of the greatest advances for liberty in my lifetime, and I support the single market. I also believe in democracy and am strongly convinced that England and Wales ought to leave the EU, because that is how they voted, while Scotland and Northern Ireland should remain in the EU, because that is how they voted.
On second referenda, I do not believe it is democratic to have one before the result has been respected and it has been tried. Thus the result of the Scottish referendum was respected, continuing in the Union has been tried, and proven not to be what was promised. After five years of respecting the result, it is perfectly legitimate to vote again.
The EU referendum is different. The people of England and Wales voted to leave and have not had the chance to try that for five years and see if it works out. I believe it would be undemocratic to have another vote before the result has been respected. Another referendum in England and Wales after five years out of the EU seems to me perfectly reasonable.
I appreciate none of those thoughts correspond with the generally held and remarkably polarised viewpoints of Leavers and Remainers, or sets of positions you might find from a political party or in mainstream media articles. The entire point of this blog is to ask you to consider different ways of thinking about things. I do not in the least insist or expect you to agree with me. But courteous consideration of the arguments is always welcome, even where opinions sharply differ from mine.
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