A C Grayling thinks this Brexit mess has gone far enough

PUBLISHED: 14:01 26 June 2017

(Gary Barker)

(Gary Barker)

Archant

Someone needs to take a stand!

The first thing Theresa May said when she called the general election was that she wanted a mandate for the Brexit negotiations. Not only was this a confession that she did not have a mandate already – she was right: there is no democracy in the world where a vote by 37% of an electorate would mandate major constitutional change – but she was emphatically refused one. The hung parliament is a rejection of her, her government, and her Brexit.

David Davis’s visit to the EU this week has all the elements of farce. He goes without a plan, without a road-map, without an idea, without any prior documentation sent to Brussels other than Mrs May’s letter of March this year, and without a mandate for talks about any form of Brexit.

So what is Davis doing in Brussels? May’s government did not get the authority she asked for to send him there. Why is the EU bothering to talk to him, knowing that he has no authority to speak for the United Kingdom on Brexit? They are acting correctly, but a question arises about the role of the EU itself in protecting the rights of EU citizens – and in this case that means British EU citizens – whose government is acting in unacceptable ways, politically and constitutionally.

For one clear-cut example: exclusion of expatriates from the EU referendum franchise if they had been resident abroad for more than 15 years is contrary to their rights under the ECHR. There is a legal action in process on this. Both May and her predecessor as Conservative Prime Minister had promised to rectify this anomaly. When judgment is made in favour of the expats deprived of their rights, will that void the referendum result?

The mess that the UK is currently in requires at very least two things:

First, it requires that the Article 50 notification should be withdrawn (if indeed it was ever successfully made in the first place. There is legal doubt about this, soon to be investigated, and it would be par for the government course if the notification had not in fact been properly issued). The confused situation and a government perilously on life-support in a hung parliament cannot enact major constitutional changes.

Second, it requires at very least that there should be a second referendum on the question of the UK’s EU membership, given that the first referendum, and the subsequent general election, gave such an indecisive outcome – and given that in the first referendum the Leave campaign was premised on false information, false promises, distortions, and possibly – so it now begins to appear – on illegal funding, all matters now in the public domain. It would be unacceptable, indeed unconscionable, for these matters to remain unchallenged and ignored.

The government is tenuously propped up by a near-deal with the DUP in violation of the terms of the Good Friday peace arrangement. The DUP is a profoundly unappetising political entity, to put matters mildly. It seem that the Conservative government will do anything, get into bed with anybody, risk whatever it takes, to try to force through its unmandated will. The EU is itself a party to the Good Friday Agreement; parlaying with the current UK government puts it at risk of violating the neutrality accord cemented into that agreement.

All the forgoing is, of course, predicated on the supposition that the many pro-EU Remainer MPs in all political parties will do nothing to stop the attempt by May’s rump government to force Brexit through. It is already obvious that Brexit threatens serious harm to the UK economy, and serious harm to the UK social fabric – seven years of cuts and austerity have done great harm to that fabric already, with tragic results in west London, attrition of the NHS, undermining of policing, and a growing and dangerous inequality gap in general.

In assuming – and I both hope and expect to be proved wrong on this – that Remainer MPs will do nothing to ‘stop Brexit’ I do not qualify by saying ‘stop “Hard” Brexit’. The one and only thing May has ever said that has any genuine content is, “Brexit is Brexit”. She is right; there is no hard, soft, lite, open, or any other kind of Brexit. Why? Because the idea of a ‘Soft (lite, open, etc) Brexit’ is a nonsense. Access to the benefits of association with EU cannot come without observing EU conditions and requirements across a significant range of issues.

The idea of placing oneself under those conditions, and their future variation and development, without having any say on them, is a particularly stupid one. If one were to have the benefits of association with the EU and concomitant observance of the level playing field requirements and regulations, one should and must be a member of the EU. As we, at this moment, are.

Labour’s relative success in the general election can be attributed to a number of factors, but one of them is that a lot of Remainers voted Labour not because they agree with Labour’s confused official take on the matter, but because they were voting against the Conservatives. Labour’s position on Brexit is a disappointment and a puzzle. In a rather cosmetic and unthought-out manifesto presenting itself as more socialist than any Blairite manifesto would be, where is the internationalism? Why is the typically right-wing hostility to immigration kow-towed to? How can the party not see that those most at risk of being hurt, and hurt badly, by Brexit are those on low incomes in deprived areas of the country? The Labour stance is incoherent.

The general election result has killed the idea of a ‘Hard’ Brexit. For the reasons given above, this therefore means Brexit itself is dead – or all but. The politicians who would like to kill it are simply seeking a way to deliver the death-blow without appearing to be undemocratic. The fact that they cleave to the crudest and least accurate view of what democracy, and our British democracy, actually is, makes one shake one’s head.

Too many in the Westminster bubble fetishise the misleading EU referendum result; not only have they all allowed themselves to be hustled past the ‘advisory’ point and their own duty as a sovereign body to consider whether to take that advice, but they appear to overlook this key fact: it is not the votes cast but the proportion of the electorate that is the key factor in determining whether a mandate exists for major constitutional change. Look at the 1970 Scottish devolution referendum conditions, and reflect. Why were the same conditions not applied in the EU referendum? The inconsistencies and make-it-up-as-you-go-along air of the 2016 referendum and what follows gives one a nasty sense that the words ‘gerrymandering’ and ‘coup’ are too appropriate here.

Why say ‘all but’? Because it is not unimaginable that some sort of fudged spatch-cocked arrangement will be reached in a few years’ time which is dressed up as “Brexit” without being Brexit, but instead is in fact a version of the renegotiated terms of membership that Cameron – in his lazy and inattentive way – was seeking before the 2016 referendum. That in turn will pave the way for complete and full reintergration into the EU, which is an historical inevitability given the way the world is.

But here’s the catch. The arrangement that the UK has for its EU membership currently is a very advantageous one. The opt-outs and exceptions are in the UK’s favour. The EU is developing, and its best minds are working at reform. If there occurs a fudged cosmetic arrangement that politicians can pretend is a Brexit, then in several years’ time when the UK is well over this absurd current spasm and seeks full re-entry, the terms will not be as they are now.

That is why what we need is for someone to take a leading stand in our politics today and say, ‘That’s it: this mess has gone far enough; we are withdrawing the Article 50 notification, and deciding that it is not in the UK’s interests to leave the EU’.

What a blessed relief that would be. And then we could turn to the serious issue exposed by the debacle we are living through: the urgent need for reform of our constitution and of our electoral system; the urgent need to address the lack of transparency surrounding the way big money and partisan interests hijack our democratic order; the urgent need to punish the tabloids for outright lies and manipulations; the urgent need to hold to account such election behaviour as the implied promise of £350 million a week to the NHS – a lying promise soliciting votes, which should be punishable as any fraud is punishable.

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Friday, October 20, 2017

Our editor-at-large on his new party piece: the speech the PM should have made to her party conference

Friday, October 20, 2017

The ‘missing billions’ are a red herring, says ANGELA JAMESON. There are bigger things to worry about

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Leave trajectory has run into the sand, says JANE MERRICK. Now it is not just a ‘no deal’ that is on the cards, it’s a ‘no Brexit’

Friday, October 20, 2017

The comedian, musician and writer on the disgraced Hollywood mogul

Friday, October 20, 2017

STEVE ANGLESEY rounds up the losers and losers (because there are no winners) of another crazy seven days on Planet Brexit

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Theresa May’s refusal to tell a radio phone-in show how she would vote in a new Brexit referendum was a new low for the Maybot. Her interrogator IAIN DALE recalls the moment he put the question to her, and his surprise at her failure to answer it

Thursday, October 19, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT on the week's big talking points

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why ‘no deal’ doesn’t work as a negotiating tactic, says JONATHAN POWELL – the man who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brexit, and a careless attitude towards British influence in NATO, will consign the country to the margins and weaken the cornerstone of our defence, argues GEORGE ROBERTSON, the former NATO Secretary General

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Ukip leader Henry Bolton named the party's new 'shadow cabinet' today - and what a bunch they are

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Catalonians against self-rule came out in their thousands the weekend before last.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It might seem quixotic, at a time when Spain looks like it is falling apart, but could the country’s future lie in a union with neighbour Portugal? DAVID BARKER investigates ‘Iberism’

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ALEXANDRA HADDOW on the Nordic trendsetters who have style sussed

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A second referendum that reverses Brexit would have a "positive" and "significant" impact on the UK economy, which is on track to be crippled by its EU divorce, an influential think tank claimed today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making money is no longer enough for firms, say ANGELA JAMESON

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The question, in a quiet voice, came from a woman in the audience at the Henley Festival’s Brexit debate, in a quiet voice: “So what do I tell my children now? They planned to live and work for a time in Europe. What now?”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Millions of families already struggling with soaring prices could end up being another £500 worse off if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, according to a report.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A day of action across the UK saw thousands of people take to the streets to demand Brexit is stopped.

Friday, October 13, 2017

People have been asking me if I know Simon Brodkin, the character-comedian/prankster who interrupted the Prime Minister’s conference speech to hand her a mock redundancy notice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Angela Merkel’s power has taken a blow in the wake of the German election. Here Tony Paterson reports from Berlin on the new shape of German politics.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Roland Garros had every intention of pursuing a career as a concert pianist. An air show outside Reims during the late summer of 1909 changed all that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Chancellor has admitted no Brexit deal could leave planes grounded in March 2019.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Catalonian crisis has put Europe, as well as Spain, in jeopardy, says PAUL KNOTT.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It’s not a stretch to say that the economics of digital advertising are to blame for disasters like Brexit and Trump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Johnson is desperate to get into Number 10 – but it seems the Prime Minister has other ideas.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We’re living in the Age of Cool Dad, with politicians obsessed with burnishing their pop culture credentials, says SAMIRA AHMED.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Theresa May has claimed “the ball is in their court” in a statement to the House of Commons updating MPs on the Brexit negotiations. Brussels, however, disagree.

Monday, October 9, 2017

By attempting to quash the result before it was even known, Madrid has made the case for Catalan independence all but unanswerable.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lawyers have told the Government that Article 50 is not binding and can be scrapped at any time before the March 2019 deadline, it has been claimed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The deluded fantasies of Leavers must have been inspired by the big screen says Have I Got News For You writer NATHANIEL TAPLEY. Here, he brings you the most Brexity films of all time.

Monday, October 9, 2017

France might be home of its most famous race, but Italy is the country with cycling in its DNA. To find out why, Patrick Sawer makes a tearful pilgrimage to its shrine to the sport.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Trieste, the city which has survived centuries of seductive illusions.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

As ambitions go, Lee Humphries’ is an unusual, if lofty, one – to ascend the highest points of 100 different countries. As he crests the halfway mark in his quest, he explains all to Julian Shea.

Friday, October 6, 2017

PETER TRUDGILL traces the clockwork progress of the word ‘orange’ from southern India to northern Europe, and finds the odd detour.

Friday, October 6, 2017

JUSTIN REYNOLDS on the Thomas Mann novel which tried to make sense of the descent of Europe’s most cultured nation into Nazism.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

In the days before Stephen Paddock reignited America’s gun control debate by raining down rapid fire carnage on the Las Vegas strip, a familiar voice was again calling the shots inside Donald Trump’s head.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ahead of the return to London of arguably his greatest work, Glengarry Glen Ross, Charlie Connelly considers the craft of polymath and playwright David Mamet.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

As with other such tragedies, the Las Vegas massacre quickly brought out the worst of the internet, says JONO READ.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

They have a new leader, but do they have a new purpose? RICHARD PORRITT went behind enemy lines at the UKIP conference and found a party on the brink.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Spain is facing an existential threat, says JASON WALSH, with the country’s fragile compromise – which has held since the end of Franco’s dictatorship – now in tatters.

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter