Brexit End Game

With things reaching fever-pitch in Westminster, and each hour reporting new strategies and predictions for next week’s vote and the consequences for May’s government and the country, the real danger is the get-on-with-it boredom sleepwalking us into a disaster.

It’s been a cock-up – a divisive waste of national time and good will – since Cameron took an election promise literally and walked away from the consequences. Opposition leader Corbyn’s insistence on the immediate invocation of Article-50 on the basis of the split result of an advisory referendum – with no plan of any kind – has ensured the cock-up has matured into a full-scale disaster. As a natural labour / social / liberal democrat myself, I feel only admiration for May’s efforts.

I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that, the Chequers agreement and the negotiated compromise deal as the motion now awaiting debate and a vote in the house is almost certainly as good a deal as any compromise can be. In that, I’m as closely aligned with Rory Stewart MP as any intelligent participant that the deal should be supported as the way to heal politics and move on. But, of course – as in OBVIOUSLY – it will be defeated despite that, because no-one voted for a compromise, and no-one elected by those voters can afford to support such a compromise. It’s a serious political crisis. A coalition of #Brexit and #Remain will vote the deal down, so it is crucial which amendments, like those tabled by Hillary Benn MP, set the right outcome for defeat in its current from.

There is a fairly clear option still on the table, and for that reason I still support May’s line, even though “her” deal will be defeated. All along – as a remainer – my position has been that the missing ingredient is a timescale. Obviously there’s plenty wrong with the EU, worthy of reform in practice. Whether or not the threat of a vote to leave was good leverage in any reform negotiations – even actually leaving with conditions on a possible future return – I can buy the political tactics that might be needed. The problem all along has been the set of instant binary choices reducible to a one-time vote and instant implementation – and the litany of rhetorically lies about what is or is not a problem with the EU and with wishful alternatives and consequences. Reducing them all to numerical choices – people and finance.

In fact changing the EU situation was always going to be a process, and it still can be. A second so-called #PeoplesVote will be just as divisive even if the result is clearer for remain, and even that is surely in doubt. Rory Stewart is right that a second referendum is NOT a solution to rejecting the May deal. Referenda are divisive, full stop.

The process needed is to recognise the split decision – split on  many complex axes and timescales – in the immediate leave vote, and to establish an ongoing plan, a process to address all its gory detail. The status quo is we are currently members of an unsatisfactory arrangement, so let’s revoke Art-50, and simply give notice that we are mandated to work on a reform and/or leave project. We can’t simply cherry pick, each choice has interconnected consequences and responsibilities.

Let’s face it, the EU is not our only current concern with a democratic deficits. Broken democracies and populism everywhere, privatised national interests, regulation of international standards, failures of supra-national arrangements and globalised business powers, what we need is an ongoing project, a permanent “constitutional convention”. #Brexit is simply the latest tangible reason to invoke it. Local-National-International democratic arrangements can never be a cast-in-stone in a written-once-and-for-all constitution. It must always evolve, and time is the missing evolutionary ingredient in any binary referendum. The EU, like the UN or a rose by any other name, is a journey not a destination. Voting out was like asking the world to stop so we can get off. The journey is not optional and there is no option to start from somewhere else, so the best strategy is to optimise the steering arrangements, dealing with the status-quo.

Reject the May compromise deal, but not because it’s not the best compromise. Replace it with a parliamentary decision to set-up a standing cross-party constitutional convention, proceeding from the reality of the current status quo. First business is a phased reform of UK-EU arrangements. There is no reason to perpetuate the political division.

(The full remit of a constitutional convention is the subject of a further post, but this is not a new idea, it has arisen before in many local-regional-national constituency and voting re-arrangements.)

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