Stopping Brexit is a race against time. Labour MPs are in pole position

by Rob Marchant

Perhaps, just perhaps, historians might look back at this week and say, that is the week that the tide started to turn against populist politics and at least some parts of the world managed to save themselves from it.

Probably for some states, Turkey, Hungary, Russia and perhaps Poland, from where I write, it is too late. But some with longer-established democratic traditions still may have the will and the mechanisms to turn it around, in time to prevent lasting damage.

It has been the week of two signal events: the first indictments in Trump/Russia, which may yet lead to the early collapse of an ignominious presidency; and a poll showing that public opinion may finally have twigged that Brexit negotiations are headed down a blind alley with no good result for Britain.

The first is the tip of an immense iceberg which is as yet far too early to call. But the second we can project a little into the future. So, when a YouGov poll says 53% of voters think we were wrong to leave the EU and 47% right, it is worth reflecting on. First, it could be a mere blip, an outlier. Second, this does not mean the Remainers in that poll think that we can even try and leave, as YouGov themselves argue here.

But let’s suppose that 53% were to become 60%, or even 70%. At what point does public opinion become strong enough that politicians have to sit up and think about remedial action? Clearly that point exists, if you can push the percentage high enough. Public opinion can be a fickle thing: but when it starts to decide something unequivocally, it cannot be ignored.

Conventional wisdom since the general election has said that you cannot challenge Brexit, because it is a done deal and that anything which goes against this “non-binding” vote is now democratically unacceptable.

But you know what? Sod the tyranny of conventional wisdom.

Tell that to the Catalans, currently unravelling centuries of ties and a forty-year old constitution which ties them into Spain, that a one-year old (non-binding) vote is enough to tie up your future forever. You can argue either way whether they should have independence or not, but what you cannot argue is this: they are not letting statute stand in the way of sheer, brute will power and neither should we.

Once you have moved on from the idea that a single (non-binding) vote must be recognized as immutable forever, your horizon expands. You start thinking the unthinkable, that things can be changed.

But the clock is ticking. There comes a point also where Brexit truly does become unstoppable. It is likely to be in 2019, when a final vote on terms is probable, if not cast-iron.

So on the one hand we have a potential move in public opinion against the tendency towards self-harm, if only it can become decisive enough. On the other, a ticking clock. If there were ever a time for action from Remainers, closet or otherwise, it is now.

Who is best placed to act? Why, MPs, of course, as Jonathan Todd wrote here at Uncut yesterday. And, in particular, Labour MPs. Only they have the numbers and the weight to act, if they can just be fearless in the limited window which is opening up.

Lib Dems and Scottish Nationalists are already counted. But Labour backbenchers, originally so vociferously against Brexit, have been apparently cowed by the twin surges: that of encroaching Corbynism on the one hand, and the apparent intractability of the British public on Brexit on the other. A case of head down, focus on the constituency. But this may just be their moment, if only they can grasp it.

Politicians in a representative democracy have a duty, not only to follow public opinion but also to lead it. If they can help tease the public towards an endgame in which Brexit is challenged, the polling could eventually reach that tipping point where the Tories collapse.

No-one can predict the mechanism. Some kind of cross-party coalition of convenience, probably. But it requires organization and some kind of spirit of resistance.

Perhaps this is all fanciful. Perhaps Brexit is already unstoppable, although even a Brexit implemented could be swung “softly” in a way which minimised the damage, à la Norway.

But in the end, do not those in a position to do something have an obligation to, well, do something? This is, after all, the most momentous constitutional event in Britain’s postwar history, like it or not.

We can act. Or we can sit there and wait for it all to happen, as bystanders.

Daddy, what did you do in the great Brexit crisis of 2017?

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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16 Responses to “Stopping Brexit is a race against time. Labour MPs are in pole position”

  1. swat says:

    Lets face it, these are lifechanging decisions and none of these Referendums should be allowed to change the status quo unless they achieve at least a 2/3 majority.
    But that means introducing compulsory voting, and framing straightforward questionss that even the politically illiterate can understand, with a Yes or No answer.
    Referendums have their uses, but rather like petitions in the hands of powerful monied people they can be used to protect established interests of the 1%. Basically they can be used to make money and line the pockets of the wealthy.
    That means campaigns must be on a strictly level playing field and not influenced by outside elements, as we’ve seen in US Presidential Elections, which are referenda of sorts. although the US has corrective balances, to ensure all the power is not in one hand.

  2. john p Reid says:

    Stopping progress magazine nobodies wasting their time with a view no one cares about, is a biggest race against time

  3. Rob says:

    Brexit SHOULD not be stopped. The referendum result requires it is enacted. And I say that as a remainer. I know it’s a bad thing but the best argument for being in the Eu will be Brexit. In the longer term, leaving, although it will do harm, will probably lead to an upsurge in enthusiasm for the EU. “Remain” is no longer a realistic or reasonable political option. In time, “Return” may well be.

  4. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I wish I could get a wee shot of Rob Marchant’s crystal ball.
    Rob, rather than spending all your time looking at the tragedy that is about about to engulf us after independnece any chance you can tell me the names of the winners at Ascot this weekend?

  5. The spinelessness of Labour MPs over the insanity of Brexit is only equalled by the mad blindness of the Tory right. Labour are being so weak: it’s embarrassing

  6. Tafia says:

    Being as Rob thinks Brexit will definately be a disaster, then he must know what the Exit Deal will be, how it will effect the stock markets across the G7 and exchange rates and what GDP growth will be for the UK in Q2, Q3 and Q4 2019 in the UK, the non-euro members of the EU and the eurozone.

    If he doesn’t then he knows jack-shit.

  7. Anne says:

    Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to occur to enable change to occur. I personally feel that there will be no winners from Brexit. Economically we have already begun a downward trajectory- the pound has fallen significantly against other currencies and it is difficult to see the pound gaining strength. Do we just sit back and allow further damage to occur and make ridiculous statements like “it is the will of the people’ or do we say enough, this is not in the best interests of our country. We require a strong economy to support our welfare state. Rather than employing thousands of civil servants I would rather this money was spent paying for more doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers and care workers.

  8. swat says:

    To Remain or to Return …. that is the question. Whether it nobler in the minds of etc etc etc.
    We are on a runaway train waiting for the inevitable crash to happen.
    Wouldn’t it be better to pull th
    e emergency cord now or press the emergency button now, Rob? That way, we save a hell of a lot on repairs.

  9. Vern says:

    Simple question. Can you explain to me what i is that makes you want to stay in the EU.
    I’m genuinely only interested in your own opinion – not what you read in the comics

  10. John Wall says:

    @Vern – I recall an article after the referendum that discussed, amongst other things, the Remain campaign. Seems that the professional campaigners asked the remainers to list, I think, ten good/positive things about the EU…….

    The problem the remainers had was that their typical line started “The EU isn’t perfect and needs to change…..” However, Cameron had recently clocked up a lot of Airmiles and achieved….nothing. I recall it being said that he didn’t ask for much and got less, which just enabled leavers to say that it isn’t going to change, let’s get out.

    The reasons why people voted to leave are well established – and immigration was an important factor. Had free movement of labour not been widened to free movement of people and had Blair not opened the floodgates the result would have probably been the other way.

    Contrary to what some claim there is a view amongst leavers that they’re prepared to accept some short term pain for long term gain.

    The EU is basically a failed bloc – when it was basically a relatively small “club” of industrialised countries, the EEC, it possibly had benefits. However, there have been too many, primarily, “political” decisions – and the chickens have come home to roost.

    Letting the poorer eastern and southern European countries join, with free movement of people, just caused mass migration. Some say that we need those people – although we’ve still got almost 1.5m unemployed (it seems that some on the left are more interested in importing foreigners than in reducing British unemployment, which is probably why the Conservatives are doing better amongst the working class than Labour). Let’s not forget that every doctor or nurse we “import” cannot be caring for the sick and needy in their country of origin.

    The Euro was another political fudge – the likes of Greece and Italy should never have been included. Some of these countries have been almost destroyed, have little chance of ever paying back what they borrowed and have massive unemployment – youth unemployment is so high that there is likely to be generation after generation without any hope of a job, again causing mass migration. What these countries needed was the ability to devalue their currency, short term pain for long term gain. If, for example, Greece had been able to devalue it would have become a very attractive holiday destination which would have sucked in visitors and Greeks would have been employed to service them.

    The EU has a lot to answer for.

  11. Tafia says:

    I was an ardent supporter of the EU – I thought it had got too big for its boots and too intrusive but I believed it could be scaled back and reformed. Then Cameron went on his negotiations and it became cruelly apparent that not only could the EU not be reformed, but it was on a journey of increased control and would resist any attempt at serious reform. It also showed how lazy our domestic politicians had got inthat they were quite content to allow the EU to do their job for them. At that point I became a reluctant leaver.

    Since then, because of the antics of the EU I have become a confirmed Leaver.

    And as you loint out in the pain/gain, I and all the people I know that voted Leave expect the first 5 years or so to be a roller-coaster but that eventually it will settle down. In fact I dont know a single Leaver who is in the slightest bothered about a no deal Brexit.

  12. Peter Johnson says:

    It use to grate with me that those who want to remain in the EU continually think up various scenarios for us remaining within it despite the people voting to leave it (you know…. that democratic referendum that we had?).

    As if having our minds changed for us by Remainers wouldn’t create any sort of reaction and we could just carry on as before and remain in the EU. “Nothing to see here, let’s carry on as normal!” The notion is ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for the author of this piece and those who share his opinion.

    Any attempt to reverse the Brexit referendum result will resort in absolute polictical chaos the like of which this country has never experienced before. There may well be outbreaks of significant violence too. Get real here. You are an utter fool to think that reversing the referendum decision would mean us carrying on as before, as though nothing had happened. Many of you politico-types from London are so out of touch with the rest of the UK – you have no idea how petulent, undemocratic and childish you sound. If you really want to know why the people voted for Brexit try this once-in-a-lifetime experience that will reveal all to you…have a good look in the bloody mirror.

    Roll on freedom, roll on Brexit.

  13. Anon says:

    Via Ralf Grahn’s blog, a European Council briefing on President Juncker’s State of the Union speech

    Mr Grahn picks out the following:

    “The five proposals are:
    1) using the general passerelle clause to shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council on remaining internal market issues and aspects of taxation policy;

    2) moving to QMV in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP);

    3) setting up a European Defence Union;

    4) extending the competences of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office;

    5) agreeing on a new composition for the European Parliament, including transnational lists. The additional suggestion is to merge the positions of President of the European Council and European Commission. ”

    If we reverse our decision to leave, we will not be staying in the same EU.

    The UK will either have to completely integrate with this EU future, or be in the EU and in some kind of outer circle, order-taking position.

    There is no going back.

  14. Proud Brexiter says:

    Am I living in a different dimension to whoever wrote this? Sorry, which part of “Brexit is what the public wants” don’t you understand? The majority of us voted to take control of our own desttiny, why are you trying to sabotage and hold us back? You will be stuffed by the will of the British people to retain an internal locus of control.

    I don’t understand why you don’t share my confidence and desire to be in control of my own destiny? Why do you need some “Big Brother” entity to run your life for you?

  15. Tafia says:

    Anon, Remain were adamant that the EU had no intention of having an EU Army. However as you point out:-

    2) moving to QMV in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
    This would be a prequisite to and would ultimately lead to having a formal Defence policy which could only be supported if the EU had a military command.

    3) setting up a European Defence Union
    Which would be that military command – and a military command without assets is a nonsense therefore it would need dedicated manpower and material resources or there is no point to it. It would be in direct competition with NATO (the real ‘keeper and guarentor of european peace’) and sooner or later would be opposed to it over something or other.

    My former CO used to have a phrase for just such a thing ‘Implied Tasking’. In this case it’s ‘Implied Policy’ – there’s no point in the EU doing this unless it intends to have primary control of member-states military assets.

  16. Anon says:

    @Tafia – agreed.

    I remember, in the run-up to Lisbon, attending any meeting I could get to, and always making a point of asking the question – “What powers were going to be given to the newly-introduced High Representative?”

    I was always given the fall back answers of the EU being answerable to states’ leaders in the European Council, and their parliaments – they had a veto.

    And, as you say, with foreign policy comes the means to carry out those policies – diplomatic and military.

    But we now have this strange creature, in the form of Federica Mogherini, running around and making deals with all sorts of regimes, and seemingly representing the views of 500million people.

    To place this power in the hands of an overarching, and mostly anonymous, body of quangocrats seems very dangerous to me.

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