Abandon Tory #BrexitShambles…

Harold Wilson once said “a week is a long time in politics”… The last few days make that sound like an understatement.

Last Sunday I offered something to Liberal Democrat Voice suggesting that it’s time to switch the language on Brexit into an explicit attack on “Tory Brexit”. The resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson take that a great deal further. I’m writing this now wondering whether there will be another resignation before it is read on Liberal Democrat Voice, and whether we will be in another Tory leadership contest, or hurtling into a General Election.

There’s been forceful posturing about “getting a good deal” and “how these negotiations work” and “abandonment of Brexit”. On the other side of the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn quipped that May’s Brexit deal took “two years to form and two days to unravel”.

In among the noise and the drama, Sophie in ’t Veld the Dutch D66/ALDE MEP was interviewed on the Today programme, saying that Brexit is about damage limitation – she expressed regret that it is happening, but the priority is to limit damage on both sides from what I’m bound to call the UK’s monumental act of self harm. Nothing there about “good deals” or “punishment” or “status”, just a wise leader acting wisely. At least there are people in the European Parliament who are looking out for our interests.

Prior to this weekend, I had been hearing whispers from Labour about “Tory Brexit”, with the implication that it’s time to shift the rhetoric. Labour has had to move gradually in order to not lose faith with those Labour supporters who voted Leave. It’s been difficult to talk about lies from the Leave campaign without seeming to accuse people of being gullible.

The temperature had already been changing, with mounting evidence that the Leave campaign broke electoral law, which is likely to lead to action from the Electoral Commission, and cynically lied, preying on people’s fears, rather than helping to enable the sort of engage that would have enabled people to make an informed decision. The snag is that those things are as likely to contribute to cynicism about politics as they to pressure for a meaningful People’s Vote on Brexit.

Support for Brexit has seemed to be a mix of people holding fantisies of Britain’s questionably-glorious Imperial past, and the financially-excluded expressing real pain. It’s increasingly sounding like the privileged duping those who have already lost out.

Vocal support for Brexit is now the Tory right wing. Not the natural voice of the left-behind.

I suspect we will find out rather soon whether the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson are driven by principle, or self-interested preparations for a leadership challenge.

The rumour mill is also suggesting that Theresa May edging towards putting country ahead of party – arguing that her proposals are the best option on Brexit for the UK. From where I stand, they show that there is no Brexit deal that is as good as full EU membership. But what we are now seeing is the Tory right wing showing their colours. These are the people driving Brexit now, and whose lies in the Leave campaign were most outrageous, because they came from people who had some claim to be political leaders.

Its tempting to get sucked into the Tory soap opera. It’s actually time to heed the words of Sophie in ’t Veld and limit the damage from the Tory fantasies. It’s time to attack Tory Brexit – in the full knowledge that the choice is between Tory Brexit and no Brexit.

And the probability of a 2018 General Election has gone up. The country needs us and Labour both to oppose the disastrous consequences of Tory Brexit.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '18 - 10:12am

    How can it be abandoned?

    It is isn’t certain we could get back into the EU on pre 2016 terms once we have left in 2019, even if people were to change their minds. The EU would probably want us to end our veto on the Euro and Schengen, and at least some of our opt-ots. It would need to be re- negotiated.

    It’s possible, though unlikely, that the EU won’t want us back in. But we’d have to at least wait until they clarify that, and under what conditions, before we have any more voting.

    The EU will almost certainly not accept the government’s opening bid in the White Paper so that’s not a real option either!

    The only definitive option we have, at the moment, is Hard Leave.

  • I think the danger with attacking ‘Tory brexit’ is that Labour’s plans are still no-freedom-of-movement, no-single-market, no-referendum-on-deal and only ‘a’ customs union rather than the customs union (which seems identical to the Tories’ ‘customs partnership’ in all but name, and just as unworkable.)

    *IF* Labour switch to opposing brexit (or, at the bare minimum, supporting EEA membership and/or a vote on the deal) then we should absolutely work with them and attack ‘Tory brexit.’

    But that’s a huge IF. Until that happens, they’re just as guilty as their colleagues in blue (Chukka and co. being honourable exceptions, of course.) Until then, attacking only a ‘Tory brexit’ lets Labour completely off the hook.

    And this is coming from an ex-Labour voter, who is still much closer to Labour than the Conservatives.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '18 - 11:59am

    If you believe some opinion polls, support from UKIP has gone up. Surely if people are once again prepared to attach their colours to such a tainted mast, then there must be one hell of a lot of people out there who still want OUT. Best of luck, Mr Argent, if you really think you can win them round.

    The whole process, since Cameron was forced to honour his election ‘pledge’, has been an unmitigated shambles ON BOTH SIDES. Throw Trump into the equation and you really do wonder whether the so called ‘free world’ has taken leave of its senses.

    I’m one of those people who is reluctant to predict how things will turn out. After all, who really thought that Remain would lose or that Trump would be POTUS? As Harold Macmillan used to say; “Events, dear boy, events”.

  • Michael Cole 16th Jul '18 - 1:02pm

    Mark, It would be a huge tactical mistake to join with Labour, even if they perform an unlikely Brexit volte-face .

    You say “The country needs us and Labour both to oppose the disastrous consequences of Tory Brexit.” Our campaign is making an impact (so far limited but increasing) on the British electorate and clearly identifies us vis-a-vis the other major Parties.

    Individual Labour politicians are to be welcomed to join our campaign but do not allow it to be blurred and diluted.

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