The UK’s decline will continue as long as our Brexit riddle is unresolved

by Jonathan Todd

Brexit is bigger than Labour and the Tories. As it renders our domestic policy dysfunctional, shreds our external reputation, and holds our economy hostage, only the deluded think that Boris Johnson trumps Brexit.

Let’s face it: The UK is now a failed state.

At the heart of Brexit’s tremendous power is its meaninglessness. Professor Danny Dyer sums it up:

“Who knows about Brexit? No one has got a fucking clue what Brexit is, yeah. You watch Question Time, it’s comedy. No one knows what it is – it’s like this mad riddle that no one knows what it is, right?”

This riddle is subtly complex. It seemed straightforward at the 2016 referendum. Brexit means Brexit. Most MPs voted to trigger Article 50.

MPs so voted because they wanted to respect the referendum, but they cannot take this respect further without solving the riddle.

They cannot. If they could, cabinet would not divide over Brexit’s meaning, parliament would vote through a version of Brexit, and Theresa May would be triumphant.

The unsolved riddle leaves these stark realities:

  1. The EU are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the chances of getting this agreement through parliament remain slim.
  2. The default position is that we no deal at the end of October. While the only thing that parliament can agree is its desire not to no deal, we may soon have a prime minister prepared to no deal and an EU, frustrated with the UK, willing to.
  3. There is no mandate for no deal. This was not promised in 2016.
  4. If a prime minister wants a mandate for an approach to Brexit that leaves open no deal and creates a parliament more likely to vote for their version of Brexit, they might seek this through a general election. But, as our two-party democracy transforms into a four-party circus, a general election now would be a lottery.
  5. Even in a less volatile climate, a general election would only solve our Brexit riddle if the parties stood on unambiguous and deliverable Brexit platforms. It requires a highly generous interpretation of their limited capabilities to think that they would do so.

We, for the most part, do not want to no deal – but may be unable to avoid this. We are unable to agree a way forward within this parliament, while being reluctant – due to the risks that it poses to both the Tories and Labour – to sanction a general election in the hope of creating a parliament more able to coalesce behind a Brexit.

The riddle was posed by an act of direct democracy and, as our institutions of indirect democracy are unable to answer it, perhaps only another act of direct democracy can.

But:

  1. No Tory will win their party leadership committed to a referendum. Perhaps they can pivot this position afterward? It remains somewhat surprising that the Tories appear so unwilling to accept that a referendum poses a smaller risk to them than a general election or no deal. With the chaos of no deal, in any case, not being an end point but a damaging staging post to negotiations with the EU around the items covered by the Withdrawal Agreement: the Irish border, citizens rights, and the finances of the UK’s divorce from the EU.
  2. Jeremy Corbyn – who, I suspect, is party leader for as long as he wants to be – will never not find excuses for avoiding a referendum.

Given our inability to solve the Brexit riddle by other means, a saner focus for debate now would be the terms of a referendum. But the incoherence of the two main parties forestalls this.

The longer this persists, the greater the risk of not only of no deal but ever deeper harm to our politics, economy and society.

If there is a solution, it cannot lie in tribalism. No party is now strong enough to unite behind a form of referendum and carry parliament with it.

It might be possible for the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Change UK, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and independents to unite behind a form of referendum. But they are responsible for only around 10% of MPs.

If this act of smaller party pluralism were to bring forward a form of referendum, some Labour and even Tory MPs may agree. We may arrive at a situation where pluralism births a parliament for a form of referendum, while the executive, under new leadership, remains opposed.

Irrespective of this potential conflict between parliament and the executive, MPs must be clear eyed about their ability to resolve the Brexit riddle in other ways. For better or worse, these appear absent.

Unfortunately, the pluralism and ability to see the bigger picture required for MPs to carry this through also seem absent. Meaning the UK’s decline continues, potentially apace.

Cut adrift from the EU in a world menaced by Trump, Xi and Putin. Years and Years might be too optimistic.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut


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16 Responses to “The UK’s decline will continue as long as our Brexit riddle is unresolved”

  1. Alf says:

    We need mandatory reselection. It’s the only thing that will bring the Blairites into line with party policy. The New Labour dinosaurs who refuse to move with the times must be shown the door!

  2. There are massive rows in the Country do people outside of the political class, care other than the Audience anger on Wurstion Time with remainer show that after 3 years of name calling they gave t broke us down

    As for no deal
    A quarter of labour voters in the EU election last month were leavers 80% of that quarter would be prepared for no deal if the talks fail in October
    So maybe that was 3% of rhe Vkte in the 23rd of May, the brexit party got 29 of 70 MEP, a 1/4 of green votes are leavers the Tories got 10% of the vite and 3/4 would accept no deal for now

    40% of SNP voters voted leave as have many Plaid and independents

    You’re right in Corbyn saying will never go for a 2nd ref even a Mays Deal versus no deal as he’d have to go for no deal
    This is not a decline in the Country, it’s energising as the political class ignored us as Paul boating said we didn’t listen in housing or demographic changes where communities saw self appointed new people move in didn’t listen and elected themselves to change the Area and we’ve seen communities desecrated without enough homes to fulfil it

    Danny Dyer talks nonsense

    If the Tories elect a brexiter who is in touch with the working class and thinks our the box like Raab Gove And Mcvey they could get back 9% of the brexit party vote back straight away and a couple of percent back from the libdems, even if labour get back a couple of percent from the greens, the Tories could win a election by inmy winning 15 seats such as.. Dennis Skinner snd Chris Williamson’s Ines

  3. Due to immigration the BNP well in the East end of London 12 years ago,The vote would go in a few years most of the votes dispersed shifting towards UKIP and to the Conservatives by 2012 and 2016 plus, Demographic asked about their communities changed and their worries concerns
    It wouldn’t be till 2015 when labour would come third again Behind UKIP in second Place, although labour would regain 2nd place in 2017 with 5,000 vote increase but ironically the Conservatives
    labour losing the working class vote over immigration ,yet then we’d say that we Weren’t even allowed to talk about that

    as such think they’ll only lose a few northern working class votes opposing brexit and it doesn’t matter as if they’re too thick to know what’s best for them it’s the working class fault- if they don’t see the benefits of a labour win

    Labour lost 4 million working class Votes over the new labour years And then We tell the working class they’re wrong not too vote for us, ironically the Conservatives vote going up even more , despite demographic changes making the Essex among The most safe Tory seats in the country

    Without going into the money Python 4 Yorkshire men ,sketch,actually when council homes were sold the biggest identity politics was those homes being sold on and people moving from inner London too outer into them, even the working class thought the Tories were for them in the 80’S

    The liberal London Labour Party,view was, If they think they’re the goodies based on the idea to oppose brexit ,and they think all the left in London are liberal and Labour lose with its appeal to middle class inner London, its not impossible or comparable
    To realise It’s not we who lost the WC vote and just said Oh dear, labour actively sent out to do it,
    As In London Labour, they just don’t get it, and they don’t care they’ll lose the vote then losing contact with the WC showed the party didn’t care
    Even a fact law like the common agricultrual policy which is completely capitalist was like by new labour

    UKIP came in second place behind the Tories in both Romford and Hornchurch and Upminster in 2015′ in the 2014 council elections we Got 17% of the vote but it 1 councillor yet UKIP won 5 councillors, In Harold Hill they would have got 6 had they put up 6 and they’d have won all of them,

    The right wards swing to UKIP was Ed Miliband playing with Tory politics although Labour would He’d have hit the excluded back if David Miliband has won as leader
    as Ukip won comfortably 5 seat in Harold Hill, The work done actually played well in south of the borough as Jon Cruddas the Labour MP for Dagenham who panicked that they would lose his seat in the 2010 election increased his majority by 3,000

    It wouldn’t be till 2015 when labour would come third again Behind UKIP in second Place, although labour would regain 2nd place in 2017 with 5,000 vote increase but ironically the Conservatives vote going up even more , despite demographic changes making them among The most safe seats in the country

       The vote would go in a few years most of the votes dispersed shifting towards UKIP and to the Conservatives by 2012 and 2016, The thing with London is IT , doesn’t realise the rest of the U.K. Doesn’t want to be like them, and it’s a media bias in every way to interpret the view, the London views is the same as all the U.K. View

  4. Tafia says:

    BREXIT is perfectly straightforward. To leave the Single Market, the Customs Union, the jurisdiction of the ECJ and all EU political and financial apparatus. Stick to that, don’t do anything else, don’t interfere.

    It really is that simple. Unfortunately Parliament is infested with lying garbage (such as Yvette Cooper, Phillip Hammond etc), gutless charlatans (Letwin, Glieve etc) and jumped-up gobby midgets (Starmer, Blackford, Bercow etc)

  5. Tafia says:

    Johnathan:-

    1. The EU are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the chances of getting this agreement through parliament remain slim.
    So what. We leave with No Deal then. And I take it you are refering to the May-EU Deal. That no longer exists on the UK side. None of the Tory candidates with a hope of winning (Johnson, Gove, Hunt, Leadsom, Rabb) is going to continue with it – it’s going straight in the skip next to May. It will never see the late of day again and all 5 of those intend to withdraw it. It will cease to exist in a matter of weeks.

    2. The default position is that we no deal at the end of October. While the only thing that parliament can agree is its desire not to no deal, we may soon have a prime minister prepared to no deal and an EU, frustrated with the UK, willing to.
    The only accurate statement in this whole sorry article.

    3. There is no mandate for no deal. This was not promised in 2016.
    Complete bollocks and a re-writing of history, not to mention total ignorance of Article 50. The Leave position in 2016 was to leave a2 years after triggering Article 50, with a deal if possible, without one if not. (ie as per Article 50). That was repeated over and over and over and over again. I voted Leave, that’s what I was offered, that’s what I voted for.

    4. If a prime minister wants a mandate for an approach to Brexit that leaves open no deal and creates a parliament more likely to vote for their version of Brexit, they might seek this through a general election.
    You can lay money on it. Tories call a vote of confidence in themselves in late September and force a General Election. Parliament has 14 days to form a government that can command a majority or we go to General Election which won’t be held until sometime in early November. Fro the minute the Confidence vote is held, Parliamnet initially is not allowed to discuss anything except forming a government and once it can’t, is disbanded leaving the Cabinet running the country unhindered. No Deal Brexit then happens automatically because it cannot be stopped.

    5. Even in a less volatile climate, a general election would only solve our Brexit riddle if the parties stood on unambiguous and deliverable Brexit platforms.
    The most deliverable Brexit platform is No Deal.

  6. Anne says:

    I agree with this article.
    This fiasco of a Tory leadership is compounding this diabolical situation and just highlights the very poor quality of politicians we have. The only one of them taking any sense is Rory Stewart.

  7. Alf what is labours policy on brexit they must be brought into line with?

  8. Anon says:

    Interesting…

    “But, as our two-party democracy transforms into a four-party circus,..”

    Why a circus – Plaid, SNP, Greens – are they not worthy? Shouldn’t we be voting for them?
    What manner of divine right do the two large parties have to our votes?

    And please….stop prattling on about my “citizens rights”; my rights have been fought for over a thousand years – most progress made for workers’ rights won over the last 200 years (Factory Acts, holidays, pensions etc.)
    All achieved outside the EU: in fact, with the mass mobilisation of workers from poorer countries, Blair’s low-bar minimum wage, and the advent of Zero Hour and Short Term Contracts, we have seen the UK’s working class reduced to corporate fodder.

    I don’t want any EU Potemkin ‘rights’ – I didn’t ask for them, I didn’t vote for them, and I certainly don’t want a bunch of corporate parasites deciding what rights I may or may not have.

    As for the state we are in now – there were many options available and compromises could have been arrived at (although I don’t want a customs union)
    The only problem that we have is that we have a government full of EU place men/women who are quite willing to sacrifice their own people for the glory of their precious EU.

    What a perversion of a once representative and democratic Labour Party!

  9. steve says:

    What on earth causes the Blairites to believe another referendum will be less divisive and more decisive than the last?

    There is something of the Iraq WMD scam about this. Like the Trotskyists many of them once were when involved in student politics, the Blairites, driven by a warped ideology, refuse to accept reality.

  10. Vern says:

    Not sure why you would begin to think that the UK is a failed state but hysteria and the media are best friends these days.
    The reason we are not moving forward is simply down to a group of people deliberately thwarting the outcome of a referendum.
    And Corbyn has again deliberately attempted to destroy the process by taking no deal off the table. Thankfully, the coup failed but I don’t suppose this will stop them trying again. The antics of the party are shameful and undemocratic. We will never forget this period of time when the party turned it’s back on the workers.
    A life spent opposing everything and everyone is now manifesting itself in day to day decision making.

  11. Landless Peasant says:

    Of course the UK is a failed State, a million people using foodbanks makes that patently obvious.

  12. Tafia says:

    Latest Westminster Poll from YouGov:-

    BXP – 26%
    LD – 22%
    Lab – 19%
    Con 17%
    Grn – 8%
    Oth – 1%

    (and historically, YouGov tend to over-estimate the Labour vote)

    On the Yougov poll, 1600 were sampled. One very interesting question was a first preference on the final Brexit outcome, 4 choices given:

    Remain – 44.5
    No Deal – 33.1
    May’s deal – 9.6
    Soft Deal – 12.8

    There’s a clear majority here for Brexit of some sort. Of those selecting May’s Deal or a Soft Deal, virtually all would opt for No Deal rather than Remain if they were the only two options..

  13. @Alf
    I’ve an idea. Why don’t the Labour party have a referendum on whether to support a People’s Vote, with mandatory reselection for any MP who doesn’t go with the members’ decision?

    Polls indicate that there’d be a clear result, but let’s find out for sure 😉
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/02/most-labour-members-believe-corbyn-should-back-second-brexit-vote

  14. ad says:

    “It remains somewhat surprising that the Tories appear so unwilling to accept that a referendum poses a smaller risk to them than a general election or no deal.”

    A general election is a risk to Tory MPs. No Deal is a risk to people in private-sector employment. Neither are a risk to most Tory members, who are retirees.

  15. George kendall, if the members who’d get the party to be a remain party keep their seats ,but their view would cause labour to lose any Noethern English Wo king class seats, if labour go doen ti their worse defeat ever, then the election after next could see those MPs that cause this deselected too then

  16. Tafia says:

    George “I’ve an idea. Why don’t the Labour party have a referendum on whether to support a People’s Vote, with mandatory reselection for any MP who doesn’t go with the members’ decision?”

    Yes but then you would have to honour a referendum to dishonour another one. Somewhat of a contradiction in terms and no matter what you choose you are automatically an untrustworthy liar.

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