In an opinion piece in todays Guardian Online, Anne McElvoy writes about how those of us who voted to Remain in the EU and still believe that doing so was the right line to take should respond as the problems with the Brexit process come to light. To sum up her approach, she is calling for people not to be smug as the bottles begin to fall, but instead make coherent cases for a different approach “Should we just sit back and take bad arguments and foot-shuffling excuses from those who led the country into what is, at best, a huge risk on its prosperity, with the potential to destabilise Britain’s relations with the continent? No. But choose arguments and evidence with precision….. Remainers have no need to cringe, but do need to beware coming across as prideful, rather than determined to limit the worst damage from a hard Brexit in the wider interest.” Later on in the piece she writes “There is a very strong case for asserting that Britain’s economy and wider opportunities will be damaged – and the more so, the harder the Brexit. The clearest evidence is simple and it goes back to 19th-century liberalism, namely that protectionism does not work, whether it is applied to the job market or drawing up the drawbridges of mobility. So the weakness of the hard Leave case is the short-lived guarantees it offers for its claims. No sooner do they promise that getting out of the EU will constrain immigration than exceptions start to pile up for casual labour, for NHS workers, for students and, next year, for some other needed group.”
The truth is that as she points out, a recent opinion poll suggests 70% of the population are in favour of progressing to leave from the EU. This is entirely understandable, that few of us would disagree that the outcome from last June was clear. However had the case for both sides been presented with greater honesty and had the demands for such a major change required a higher threshold than a simple majority, the outcome would certainly have been very different. It is one thing to argue for integrity within the process and another to take the line of what would best serve the UK and indeed Europe in the future. Along with Anne’s call to adopt precision based arguments, we also need to find a way of articulating and understanding a new way forward. The risk is that 70% of the population may well believe that Brexit is the right way forward, but as soon as we have departed how many of us would then argue for a speedy return to a reformed EU? I find myself in that contorted position. My upbringing and culture tells me that we must go with the majority decision, yet my understanding of what is best for the UK tells me that being part of a wider trading network, where laws on issues such as the environment and airtravel, along with matters such as refugees and trafficking is absolutely vital. Equally the cultural benefit of people from EU nations living in our neighbourhoods would be an immense gain if we could retain it. The irony of several areas that voted heavily to Leave, being areas where immigration was actually very low is perhaps and indication that the lack of EU residents moving into their areas left them unaware of what a great asset such people bring with them.
If Anne is right and we need to avoid speaking of this being a catastrophe, when it is clear that such words don’t chime with the experience most of us will experience, then perhaps instead we need to begin to articulate what actually would like our future to look like. If this vision then becomes one that could be served by being part of a reformed EU as well as improved, if limited trade with nations like the US and Australasia, then perhaps we can call for this third way forward before we each the end of March 2019 (which is a mere 593 days away!). It may then be possible to put Brexit on hold and call for the changes we need before we have left the EU.