Amid all the Brexit claim and counter-claim, here’s a single, scary, incontrovertible fact. That on the day after Britain leaves the EU in 2019 (let’s call it B-Day+1), not a single British firm can tell you the terms on which it will be trading with any other country, anywhere in the world.
No wonder the pound is flinging itself around in a desperate cry for help. Why would anyone invest in a country that simply doesn’t know its own future?
This B-Day+1 argument runs through issue after issue. Not a single EU migrant in the UK knows what their status or rights will be on that day. British migrants abroad, whether working or retired, face the same uncertainty. Banks and businesses, scientists and students. No-one knows.
Paradoxically, a parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal would only add to this uncertainty. If whatever deal Theresa May strikes is rejected by parliament, Britain would leave the EU anyway with no deal. B-Day+1 in these circumstances would be jolly interesting indeed.
The critical, under-stated fact is that we still have a choice. We do not have to go down this perilous road. There is no legal obligation on Theresa May or anyone else, not even parliament, to trigger Article 50. And certainly not on the basis of a non-binding referendum result fuelled by lies and misinformation.
The referendum was a snapshot of national opinion at a particular moment in history after one of the most mendacious campaigns in British political history, as a friend pointed out the other day. It should therefore not be enough, on its own, to change the course of British and European history and blight millions of lives.
The government and parliament must act in what they believe are the best interests of the nation – and overwhelmingly they believe our interests lie within the EU. A free parliamentary vote on whether triggering Article 50 is in the national interest would produce a resounding “no”, based on the known genuine beliefs of MPs.
I once saw an emotional foster parent stand up at a training event to describe how she had finally given into a girl’s repeated desperate pleading to open her Christmas presents early. She finally relented, believing that doing what the child wanted was appropriate. The child never forgave her.
How much more is it the job of governments, parliaments, even the civil service, to act in the national interest, to hold the line for what is right in the face of pleading and even abuse?
If Brexit was a purchase, we’d legally be allowed a cooling-off period. How much more do we need a national cooling-off period to avert economic mayhem and the death of the British values most of us grew up with. Purchasing “freedom” from Brussels will come at a tremendous cost, to be disproportionately borne by the very people who were the most likely to vote for it: the poor, elderly and disadvantaged. There’s never been a better example of the need to be careful what you wish for.
But more to the point, the threat to Britain is not Brussels, and never was. It’s the poisonous far-right message of UKIP, which has seeped into everyday thinking and the political mainstream, its toxic spores carried by newspapers which ought to know better.
So what can we do to try to bring our politicians to their senses?
- Make your point – Write to your MP and simply tell him/her that you do not believe Article 50 should be triggered, and certainly not without a free parliamentary vote. Ideally, briefly state your reasons: for example that the vote was merely an indicator of national mood on the day; that people had been lied to, manipulated and misled; that some would now vote differently; that the issue was never really suitable for a referendum question; that the overwhelming vote of young people to stay has been swept aside; that the choice of hard or soft Brexit was not offered; that Brexit will further harm British economic and cultural interests; that the surge in hate crimes will only worsen. Whatever your reasons, state them.
- Make a noise – Use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to state your position, to help build up a head of steam. In years to come, if your grandchildren ask if you tried to stop it, at least be able to say you tried. Make clear that you haven’t yet given up on stopping Brexit.
- Make the case – Recognise that your responsibility didn’t end at the ballot box. Whether we voted in, out or neither, we’re all impacted by the outcome. So be prepared to make the case against Brexit and triggering Article 50 with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
- Make a stand – Work against the upsurge in hate and hate crimes. Stop buying newspapers that spread hate. Call out racism and hate crimes and recognise that a national mood of hatred towards Eastern Europeans will not stop there: racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are all in the same stable of hate-filled beliefs.
Meanwhile the image of a fully-laden coach headed for disaster is crystallising.
It’s the annual parish outing, with everyone on board the charabanc. The passengers have been told they’re going to a 1940s theme park, sort of Grantchester meets Warmington-on-Sea, where everyone is white and English and the women wear pinafores. Some of them are singing on board the bus. But the demented Sunday school teacher has taken the wheel and is driving straight towards the bridge she knows is broken.
The EU may not be a caravan of love. It’s badly in need of reform, and we all need to make a noise about that too. But it sure beats a charabanc heading for s*** creek. Let’s work together to try to stop it.