Steve Beauchampé considers the seemingly intractable political dilemma of Brexit, increasingly concerned by the tensions and intolerances within the UK’s political systems and structures. Although a Leave-options idea been around for a while he suggests that it has hidden merits that have so far been largely overlooked. He writes:
The result of 2016 EU Referendum was incontestably a win for Leave. The total number of votes cast is not in dispute. However, what form of Leave the electorate supported is unknown. Campaigners such as senior members of the Conservative European Research Group and Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage claim that Leave voters wanted a No Deal Brexit but we cannot know this for certain.
Whilst the predominant message from Leave campaigners in 2016 was that a No vote meant leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union, there were at times conflicting and ambiguous messages as to the precise definition of Leave. Departing the EU without a deal was certainly scoped out as a possibility but we do not have to examine the arguments made at the time too deeply to appreciate that other Leave scenarios were also suggested, even by high profile figures such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Farage.
It seems reasonable to assume that all Remain voters wished to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union (the obvious consequences of voting Remain), therefore if only 5% of Leave voters supported either of these options then there would be no majority for a No Deal Brexit. However we do not know for certain what the percentages were, either in 2016, or now.
MPs have voted against Theresa May’s Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement on three occasions and there are currently no further plans to bring it back to the House of Commons for a fourth vote. With parliament still unable to agree on how to deliver Brexit the position of many MPs seems recently to have been hardening, either towards backing No Deal or supporting a second, ‘confirmatory’ public vote. There are good reasons to think that the current political stasis could continue whoever succeeds Theresa May as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party and that this log jam might carry on even beyond the next General Election. Given such ongoing paralyses there seems perhaps only one way to resolve the question as to how we leave, whilst potentially allowing the country to move beyond Brexit. That is by asking the public what form of Leave they would support.
To achieve this those at either edge of the debate must compromise. Remainers have to accept that they lost in 2016 with voters promised that the referendum result would be both respected and implemented. This promise was backed up both when MPs overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50 (March 2017) and in the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos for the June 2017 General Election. Leavers meanwhile have to accept that they cannot know for certain what form of Brexit the public want because in 2016 the electorate were not asked that question.
This compromise takes the form of a second referendum, but crucially one where Remain is not an option (that having been democratically ruled out in 2016). Instead it proposes three or perhaps four forms of Leave, which roughly reflect what appear to be the most popular Leave alternatives based on House of Commons votes, opinion polls and public discourse. They also cover a broad spectrum of Brexit options.
Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement
European Free Trade Area (aka Common Market 2.0/Norway Plus)
Using a form of Single Transferable Vote (STV), voters list their preferred options from 1-4 with the first to reach 50%+1 the winner.
It is envisaged that the referendum campaign would last approximately six weeks.
Referendum Act 2019 would state that the result of the referendum is binding and will become law.
If No Deal or the Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement were to win then the UK could depart the EU within approximately three months of the vote taking place. If either the Common Market or EFTA options were preferred then a slightly longer period between the poll and the UK’s departure may be required. In all instances other than a No Deal Brexit a transition period of around 21 months, as already laid out in the current Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, would likely be necessary.
So as to focus concentration on the idea itself I shall for now leave aside the not inconsiderable matter of whether such a Bill would be able to command sufficient parliamentary support or would be acceptable to the EU.
The proposed referendum is designed to give each option a fair and equitable chance of winning, and to avoid the accusations of being ‘fixed’ or ‘loaded’ that have accompanied the People’s Vote campaign, which wants the choice to be between Theresa May’s Deal vs Remain. The above proposal however offers Leave supporters who are so minded the chance to secure a No Deal Brexit whilst taking a second In/Out referendum off the agenda. And it offers Remainers the chance to stop No Deal and provides them with an opportunity for the UK to remain in a Customs Union.
A Leave-options only referendum would essentially oblige all sides of the debate to take part in campaigning for their favoured option (not least for fear of ceding the result to an option they likely are desperate to avoid).
Having participated in such a referendum it would be hard for any politician or campaign group to refuse to accept its outcome and seek to overturn the result. Any that did so risk incurring the wrath of the wider public and would hopefully face a career destined to be played out on the margins of UK political life.
With up to four options available to the electorate it is unlikely that any of them would receive sufficient support to win on first preference votes. This means that both voters and campaigners would need to consider what compromises they would be prepared to accept, something which would by definition encourage many from the bunker-like positions in which an increasing proportion of both politicians and electors appear to be placing themselves.
In the almost three years since the 2016 referendum the arguments for and against Brexit have continued unabated. They have become repetitive, divisive and toxic whilst also being a massive turn off for many voters, desperate to move on. Yet the current impasse seems both intractable and unresolvable without one side suffering a humiliating defeat. And that would merely prolong the arguments and result in a simmering anger and frustration whose legacy could dominate and overwhelm UK politics for a generation.
Faced with such an unappetising prospect, a significantly different approach is surely required.
May 29th 2019
This is Richard House’s challenging assertion as anti-Corbyn Labour MPs deserted the party in recent days. He continues:
“It’s too easily forgotten that the deserters are the same people who never accepted Corbyn’s leadership of the party from day one, and who’ve continually done everything possible – eagerly aided by their establishment media friends – to undermine him at every turn, so making his leadership job quite impossible.
“Remember the attempted MPs’ coup led by these people in their unconstitutional attempt to get rid of Corbyn? – this was long before the Labour Party anti-Semitism hysteria had ever been heard of.
“And having failed to displace Corbyn with their spiteful coup attempt, their fall-back was to concoct a carefully choreographed plan: namely, create a hysterical (but fictional) media storm about anti-Semitism; allow it to rage for a few months; then re-kindle it (literally making it up as they went along); and finally, when the fire was raging again, use this as a baseless pretext for splitting the Labour Party so we can have another five years of heartless Tory rule. Establishment job done.
“These “courageous” people have discharged their quasi-Tory bidding very well.
“Oh, and of course it’s just a coincidence that these deserters are all virulent Remainers who’ve never accepted the democratic result of the EU referendum, and will continue to do anything possible to reverse it.”
“One thing that May and Corbyn do have in common is that at least they’re trying to stay true to the democratic result of the EU referendum.
He concludes that – rather than having to devote huge amounts of time and energy defending themselves from relentless attacks from ‘serial underminers‘ within their own party – Corbyn and his team can now spend all their time on exposing the nation’s headlong social disintegration under Tory austerity.
And above all “inspiring us with their stellar policy portfolio”.o
Dr Richard House
Source: Western Daily Press, 25 February 2019, p. 16–17
Today, the Times has published evidence that leading Conservative donors, who spent millions on the Brexit campaign, now believe that Britain may never leave the European Union at all.
This evidence supports Owen Jones’ view of a division in society “between a rapacious elite that has plunged Britain into economic and social crisis on one hand, and a majority that suffers the consequences on the other”.
One named donor was hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, founder of Odey Asset Management and a big financial backer of the campaign to leave the union, who has given more than £870,000 to money to pro-Leave groups, to Conservatives, Ukip and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s North East Somerset constituency in the last general election.
Odey had been betting heavily on a sharp fall in the value of UK government debt in April, according to investor documents seen by the Financial Times.
He revealed yesterday however (in the Times), that he was now betting on the pound to strengthen after Brexit failed, in the expectation that leaving the bloc would hit the UK economy hard.
Jeremy Hosking (below right), a fund manager who donated £1.69 million to the Brexit campaign and has given £375,000 to the Conservatives since 2015, said he was worried that the country would end up with something that was “not a Brexit deal at all”.
Terence Mordaunt, who donated £50,000 to the Brexit campaign and more than £30,000 to the Tories since 2003, said he feared that “we may never get out”.
He said: “I don’t think Theresa May’s deal actually fulfils what was promised in the referendum. It will take a long time and it gives a huge amount of power to Europe in the future. We may never get out.”
Billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who founded the financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, gave £3.2 million to the Leave campaign, the second-biggest donation, said: “I have totally given up. I am totally in despair, I don’t think Brexit will happen at all.”
Government insists that Theresa May’s Brexit deal will give the UK “flexibility”.
Jeremy Corbyn asks: “But flexibility for whom?” He suggests:
- Flexibility for employers to exploit workers.
- Flexibility for big corporations to pollute our environment.
- Flexibility for multinational giants to undercut our neighbours and drive down standards everywhere.
In the Financial Times, lawyer David Allen Green points out some of government‘s actual or planned ‘constitutional trespasses’ over the past three or so years:
- Theresa May’s government prolonged the current parliamentary session over two years, to avoid a Queen’s Speech on which they could lose a vote.
- The government packed the standing committees (which scrutinise legislation) with Conservative majorities by procedural sleight of hand.
- A secretary of state repeatedly misled the House and its committees over the extent and existence of Brexit sector analyses reports.
- The government deliberately broke the Commons’ “pairing” convention when an opposition MP was on maternity leave so that the government could win a vote.
- The government committed itself to billions of pounds of public expenditure in a blatant bribe to the Democratic Unionist party for support.
- The government repeatedly seeks to circumvent or abuse the Sewel convention in its dealings with the devolved administrations.
- The government seeks to legislate for staggeringly wider “Henry VIII powers” so that it can legislate and even repeal Acts without any recourse to parliament.
- The government sought to make the Article 50 notification without any parliamentary approval and forced the litigation to go all the way to the Supreme Court (where it lost).
- The government employed three QCs to oppose the litigation on whether Article 50 could be revoked unilaterally (which it also lost).
- This government became the first administration in parliamentary history to be held in contempt of parliament following its refusal to publish the full Brexit legal advice issued by the Attorney General.
He ends: “Mr Bercow did more in allowing that vote to “bring back control” than any single leave-supporting MP has done since the referendum. The press should be celebrating that an over-mighty executive was halted and that the people’s representatives got to have their say”.
The referendum is non-binding.
The FT’s leader today expanded on this:
“A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification.
“The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.
What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty
“This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation”.
The UK would have two years to negotiate a deal after triggering the exit clause of the EU treaties; extending talks beyond that would require unanimous agreement of the EU’s member states.
A Telegraph article adds that issues would include what financial regulations would still apply to the City of London, trade tariffs and movement rights of EU citizens and UK nationals. The agreement would have to be ratified both by the European council and the parliament in Strasbourg. During that time Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws – however it would not take part in any decision making.
And could the United Kingdom legally disregard a vote for Brexit?
“What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable.
- The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect . . .
- Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote.
- Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum.
He adds: “There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way”.
Green shows that there are ‘ways and means’ to avoid Brexit.
Recently Lesley Docksey sent this heartfelt reflection:
“The trouble is we know the problem, and it’s all very well George and Seamas saying we have to ban this, get rid of that and set up something else.
“But how do we actually do it, how do we the people force a break between the corporate power and politicians?”
Despite the poor record of service by the private sector in prisons, transport, energy and water, British schools and hospitals are loudly threatened with takeover, a slavish imitation of our special friend’s policies for schools and hospitals.
Anne sent this link to an article by Jon Stone about the fire hazard and other structural failings of Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, first opened in 2000 under the “private finance initiative”, under which the NHS pays a private company rent-like payments to make use of facilities. The UK now owes more than £222bn to banks and corporations for these Private Finance Initiatives, conceived by Conservatives in the 1990s and ‘embraced’ by New Labour.
Will this hospital be handed over to ‘the state’? In other words, farmed out to Capita, G4S or Serco?
In the FT, Gill Plimmer reported that the Official Journal of the European Union database, which records every public sector contract worth more than £115m, reveals that £20bn worth of government contracts is now handed to the private sector. About half of council waste management services and 23% of human resources, IT and payroll functions are now privatised. Tens of thousands of health, defence, security and IT workers have transferred to corporate employers such as Babcock, G4S, Serco, Capia, Mitie and Carillion. This continues, even though the reputation of the private sector in delivering public services has been repeatedly damaged – examples include the high profile failure of G4S during the Olympics and the legal action facing Virgin Care over its running of NHS and social care services in Devon. Monbiot’s devastating, fully referenced account of such failures may be read here and others have been written by Gill Plimmer in the Financial Times.
As all these services are transferred via the state into corporate care, the cities themselves are being coerced to follow the mayoral route – which, as Steve Beauchampé notes in the Birmingham Press -was soundly rejected by voters in Birmingham, Coventry and seven other cities.
Did Liverpool – which held no referendum – make the right choice?
Chancellor Osborne is insisting that powers must be devolved through the office of a regional mayor – so much easier to induce or threaten than a whole council – a puppet?
As economic geographer, Professor Michael Chisholm summarised the position more politely, “One could cynically say that the proposal for elected mayors is yet another structural diversion while the steady centralisation of power continues”.
Beauchampé proposes consigning this ‘mayoral hokum’ to its rightful place in the dustbin of history, rejecting the notion that in a democracy just one person can understand, represent and address people’s priorities, needs and hopes, creating and implementing a vision for our fast changing region and its youthful population. He sets out a ‘radical’ – because truly democratic – alternative as a draft proposal.
But, as Lesley asks, “how do we the people force the break between the corporate power and politicians?”
Proportional representation could be the first step.
Golden parachutes provide income when the executive leaves the company before the end of a specific period of time and – in the Financial Times – Ben McLannahan reports on top banking executives pocketing millions of dollars before taking jobs in government:
“Critics argue that such benefits, which do not apply to people quitting for other jobs in the private sector, have ensured a succession of financial insiders in senior policy positions and deferential treatment towards Wall Street”.
The revolving door
Citi is among a handful of big banks allowing government-bound staff to cash out of incentive programmes by accelerating the vesting of their stock awards. Citi has been a particularly rich source of state appointees in recent years, from Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary, to Stanley Fischer, vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve. The latest to move was that of Antonio Weiss, a former banker now serving as a counsellor to Mr Lew, who acknowledged December that he would leave Lazard with up to $21m in unvested income and deferred compensation.
AFL-CIO, America’s biggest trade union federation which manages $94bn in assets, will begin a campaign against this practice at Citigroup’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday and put similar proposals to the shareholder meetings of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase in coming weeks.
67.9% of those who voted in Switzerland’s referendum seeking constitutional limits on remuneration came out in favour of the initiative, which was passed in every canton. Swiss Justice and Police Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters that the result was “the expression of widespread unease in the Swiss population about the level of salaries paid to top managers.” There is also widespread unease in the British population about such matters.
The Golden Parachute ban on excessive executive salaries and other means of compensation passed into Swiss law in 2014 but some parts only come into force this year, including the binding shareholder vote on remuneration.
Or will we need a Thomas Minder (above right) to come to the rescue?