Coming to terms with Brexit

How should a pro-European Brit react to Brexit? Resist or acquiesce? 


Owen Smith has made much play of the notion of re-running the referendum after the proposed terms of Brexit become clear. But is it worth dying on the hill of resisting Brexit wholesale? Especially if this leaves the post-referendum power play in the hands of those negotiating for a potentially devastating ‘hard brexit’.

Between idealism and practicalities

The immediate aftermath of the Brexit result was emotionally scarring to pro-European Brits. It felt like a razor had torn its way across our very souls, leaving us exposed and raw. And we had good reason to feel this way. To a large degree some Brexiteers promoted a rather dishonest view of post-Brexit Britain. We have legitimate reason to feel that cynical populism led by empty platitudes and a plethora of lies strangled the rational discourse out of the referendum debates.

But we are where we are. The question is how to respond to the defeat – however it was come by.

Owen Smith argues we should focus our energies fighting for a repeat referendum, one which would endorse or censure the proposed terms of Brexit. But while this is intuitively appealing, for me it presents grave problems.

The first, and most obvious is its unconstitutional nature. Do we really wish to set the precedent that our sovereign parliaments decisions need public endorsement by populist referenda before they take legal force? If I learned anything from the EU referendum it was a contempt for government by referendum. Such votes invariably convolute the discourse, draw in separate political questions and mirky the waters. In short, referendums never settle anything definitively. One of the key aspects of a parliamentary democracy is that the decisions of parliament are sovereign. We risk undermining the nature of our parliamentary democracy if we start second guessing its decisions through polarising and scarring populist referendum battles.

More generally, does anyone seriously believe that there is the necessary political will to seek to hold a re-run EU referendum? It’s doubtful. The people have spoken, they won’t take kindly to being asked to speak again…

Besides, fighting for a repeat referendum on the question of Brexit risks leaving the immediate aftermath in the hands of those advocating ‘hard brexit’. I don’t know about you, but leaving the field of negotiations to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart isn’t my idea of sensible.

‘Hard brexit’ means losing our financial centres passporting rights. It means losing access to the single market. In short, it is a recipe for serious economic instability and pain for the immediate to middling future. We cannot let that happen.

So where does this leave our focus? As painful as it is to admit, it leaves us having to accept that Brexit is the new reality. Our focus must be on influencing brexit negotiations with an eye to easing the scale of the cut-off. We need to be present in brexit negotiations to fight for retention of passporting rights; so critical to London and Edinburgh as financial centres of excellence. We need to fight to ensure we retain single-market access, so our car manufacturing sector does not up-sticks and relocate onto the continent.

We suffered a disastrous and painful defeat with Brexit. But to abandon the negotiating field to die on the unhelpful and unlikely hill of seeking a re-run isn’t going to help us. It is time to try and make Brexit work. Seek to engineer a ‘soft brexit’, not a ‘hard brexit’. For in-between those two terms lies a myriad of painful economic, social and constitutional differences.


  1. Interesting.

    I’m torn about the matter of putting big decisions to the people as opposed to parliament. There are many arguments on both sides. Of course you get the lied that the people are fed by both sides. On the other hand if you leave it to parliament, you have whips deciding what way it will go (and individuals’ careers depending on their compliance).

    Although I loathe Smith, I can see where he is coming from. Basically he’s talking about the lies we were fed about how an independent UK would be placed.

    The thing that strikes me over and over is that not only did they lie, they also had no bloody idea. People like IDS and Fox actually seem to have believed that everyone in the world would simply roll over for the UK.

    As it is the City (excellence is not a word I’d chose given the 2008 crash, and the criminality of the big institutions) is panicking; the Japanese are straight talking…single market or curtains.

    Even the government in Australia is sending mixed messages.

    I wonder if they would have voted for this mess.

    The other question that is interesting, is whether parliament should debate the matter, without having the right to overturn it of course, and indeed, whether Messrs Davis, Fox and Johnson should be made to inform us of their progress or lack thereof.

    This is indeed a fascinating matter.


  2. Interesting contrast:

    It’s rather long-winded, the gist is that a “hard brexit” makes independence less likely as a result of tariffs being imposed upon Scottish and rUK trade(if Scotland remains in or rejoins the EU), as well as myths including a hard border, Scotland joining the Euro and Schengen. Overall tone and approach leaves a nasty taste, though, and draws on the worst of Project Fear. Very polarising.

    I agree with much of your post. A soft Brexit would be best… unfortunately, the referendum’s main plank was immigration. I simply can not see how the EU will give us single market access and financial passporting without free movement.

    A temporary brake on immigration and a transition to Norway or Switzerland status. Who’s going to sell that to the more eurosceptic Leavers?


    • It was motivated by immigration. And you are right, we cannot keep single market and passporting without accepting freedom of movement. I suppose I’m saying, price worth paying – accept freedom of movement.

      Ms May is thinking the same thing I bet; which is why she lined up the ‘brexiteers’ as her key ministers in these areas. When we don’t ‘take back control’ over ‘borders’ (silly rhetoric I know) then they; brexiteers; have to answer for it before the alter of public opinion.

      A little justice in it I suppose.

      As for Effie, she is not alone in thinking that a ‘hard brexit’ could hurt the SNP economic agenda further. It is a widely held view among elements of the conservative right. And while it is true that Scotland’s key trading partner is England (64% of Scots exports go to England), I doubt ‘shoving it to the EU’ at the expense of our economic wellbeing will do anything except make the UK seem like a less stable position than leaving to rejoin the EU (economics aside). I’d not nearly be as confident as she is in judging how Scots public opinion would react to the Union in the event of a ‘hard brexit’.

      I’m conservative, I don’t like radical gambles with the political and constitutional future of my country. So on this one, I’m not a fan of Effie’s proposition at all.


  3. I must say, I am relieved to see you make that clear. I don’t want a push towards a polarised society – the consequences of that can be seen in Northern Ireland.


  4. I’m curious how a soft Brexit could ever be engineered to any defined set of criteria. There is no organised Parliamentary opposition; the UK’s negotiating position will likely be the outcome of a cabinet power struggle; the talks themselves will necessarily be conducted in secret; unpicking 43 years of legislation is too complex to write down in a few pages of understandable text; and the EU has to juggle the voting rights of 27 individual governments. I think we might as well campaign for better weather or to replace astrological star signs with stellar emojis. In the face of all of that, resistance seems like the only rational option – I just don’t believe that a successful resistance is any less probable than successfully campaigning for a specific set of soft Brexit conditions. Neither, of course, has any real probability of success.

    To be perfectly honest, I would say all action on this issue is completely futile. Whatever Davis/Fox/Johnson deliver is what we will have to live with. Nobody in government has shown any particular understanding of the problem or even approached a consistent or shared position. They are also very, very sure of their own individually muddled views. If they said they were going to employ a random number generator to decide their negotiating position I honestly wouldn’t be any less worried than I am now.


  5. Well that didn’t take long before the true tory colours were hoisted up the mast.

    Looks like good old British (english) values are coming to the fore. We’ll all be wearing patches to designate us as a plebian of one sort or another. I have my Saltire with “Jock” sewn on each outer garment and proudly displayed for all the Yoons to see.

    Are you YES yet?


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