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Proposal: why a Leave-options referendum just might create a pathway through the Brexit stasis

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.

They are:

No Deal

Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement

Customs Union

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

 

 

 

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Vested interests rule as Blairites attempt to replace their elite-free, increasingly ‘in tune’ leader

Ever since devolution and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in the late 1990s, there has been a growing vibrancy to politics in Scotland. Energised by the 2014 independence referendum, boosted further by the election of the estimable Nicola Sturgeon as SNP Leader and First Minister, Scotland appears as a young, optimistic, politically engaged country . . .

In the ‘Disunited Kingdom’ Steve Beauchampe continues:

Around two-thirds of under-25s voted Remain, the opposite of how middle aged and older people acted. The feeling that those generations which had enjoyed free education, a free health service, an abundance of affordable housing and triple lock protected pensioner benefits were limiting the life chances of the nation’s children and young adults was palpable. ‘Grandma, what have you done?’’ read one on-line headline.

Two decades and more of unforgiving, neo-liberal economics and globalization saw the export of jobs and the import of cheap labour and even cheaper raw materials; nearly a decade of austerity and the decimation of public services and the societal values which they underpinned; local pride sapped by a London-centric economy and an unprecedented and growing wealth gap. All this within a moribund political system where the First Past The Post electoral process locks in a two-party hegemony whilst awarding UKIP and the Green Party, who collectively amassed around five million votes at the 2015 General Election, a mere two parliamentary seats.

The impact of all this and more reached a crescendo in an outpouring of anger and frustration, although given the myriad warnings of the economic consequences of a Leave vote the response of electors seems as illogical as rioters attacking their own community.

The political elites voters so often complain of are not about to be replaced, our political infrastructure alone makes this a near-impossibility.

Because leaving the EU addresses none of the above grievances and if there is any taking back of control, to quote the slogan used relentlessly by the Leave campaign, then it will be done by those such as super wealthy, Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith, supported by a coterie of hard-right Europhobes rather than by the 17 million others who voted Leave.

And Labour’s Blairite wing, despite public rejection of their strong pro-EU stance, are attempting to replace their elite-free leader

JC large rally

Blairites – despite the fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s more conditional support for the EU and reformist agenda arguably chimed more closely with that of many Remain voters than he has been given credit for – are trying to replace him with yet another business-friendly, corporately connected, ‘Britain is open for business’ espousing candidate.

And whilst it would be pleasing to see increased calls for greater transparency and democratic accountability resulting from the UK’s EU referendum, the debate itself could have achieved this. Regrettably however, the more tangible outcome of our Leave vote is the empowerment of UKIP’s (often more extreme) nationalistic and sometimes fascistic counterparts in mainland Europe, most notably Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale in France but also the Freedom Party in Austria, Law and Justice (Poland), Golden Dawn (Greece) and Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, have received succour in their never pleasant, sometimes odious, desires to break up an increasingly multi-cultural EU and wallow in their insularities. Their rise means additional fear and hardship for immigrant communities.

The law of unintended consequences writ very large – sometimes people really should be more careful what they wish for.

 

 

 

 

SNP MP – Britain’s Game of Thrones?

Read the article by Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West and secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group, here.

Highlights

The hard right-wing Brexiters are on manoeuvres, resulting in a Queen’s Speech light on measures for dealing with our society’s major problems. No mention of:

  • the scandal of 209,000 UK workers being denied payment of the legal minimum wage in their pay packets,
  • The absence of any real legislation to deal with the scandal of tax avoidance
  • the absurdity of closing 90 per cent of HMRC offices.

A total of 3,765 workers are employed in the Department for Work and Pensions to tackle benefit fraud estimated at £1.2 billion, while at the same time 320 workers are employed in HM Revenue and Customs’s affluent unit chasing tax evasion and avoidance, estimated at £70bn.

The “blue on blue” attacks may provide some entertainment but . . .

The rhetoric on immigration is shameful. Slogans suggesting that Britain is “flooded” or being “swamped” don’t stand up to the simple reality — EU nationals make up 4.6 per cent of the UK population. equivalent of a net contribution of £55 a second to the public purse 75 per cent of migrants are renting privately, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, and regulation of private rental costs.

eu 4 myths table

The Tory government handed asylum-seeker services to private-sector providers, such as Orchard and Shipman, which has resulted in those asylum-seekers and refugees being housed in the most appalling disgraceful conditions I’ve witnessed for myself in my constituency. Brexit won’t magically free up affordable, quality public-sector or private rental housing.

The misleading case that EU migration leads to a cut in wages is wrong on several counts.

First, because business is exploiting loopholes in how Britain operates the EU Posted Workers Directive, which guarantees the payment of the national minimum wage and not the rate for the job. This loophole needs to be closed so that workers alongside each other are not being paid different rates of pay for doing the same job.

In terms of workers’ rights those advocating Leave should be careful what they wish for. Recently Employment Minister Priti Patel let the proverbial cat out of the proverbial bag. In a speech to the Institute of Directors she said: “If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs.”

We should certainly not accept her claims on jobs or economic benefits to this kind of deregulation (it rather reminds us of right-wing claims on how the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, when it did the opposite), but her hostile attitude to employment protections is particularly striking and represents the agenda of those on the Conservative benches who back Brexit. These “burdens” viewed from working people’s end of the telescope are actually protections which we should be very keen on.

Freed from the constraints of the EU, it seems entirely likely that, unfettered by EU norms and processes, the Conservative government will sign up to a TTIP on stilts, meaning not just a threat to public services but the safety of goods and services.

The EU is not perfect by any means, and more work requires to be done. Those on the left who argue that our membership is the biggest obstacle to improving workers’ rights and achieving greater levels of equality in our country need to take a good hard look at the levels of damage an even harder right-wing Tory government could inflict post-Brexit on this country.

We in the SNP believe in independence for nations but also in independence within Europe, and a vote to Remain is a bigger protection against the economic and social ravages a right-wing no-holds-barred gang of Tory Brexiteers would inflict on us all.