Brexit will unravel

So, the children snatched the keys of the family car. They haven’t a clue how to drive it. They’ve locked the doors. You can’t make them listen. You watch helplessly. It shudders forward as they fight amongst themselves. They won’t unlock or take notice until they’ve driven it into the sea. They’re convinced it’s amphibious!

What can you do? How can we stop them driving over the cliff?

…The story of Brexit so far.

But I don’t believe the car will topple off the cliff. It’ll either run out of fuel, conk out, hit a tree or run into a ditch. The occupants may be badly injured. But letting the consequences of their naïve bluster come face to face with harsh and unforgiving reality would be far worse.

Brexit will unravel. Most but not all of the ingredients are there.

The Government will never put a figure on UK liabilities; fearing the consequences of a backlash from their own supports if the figure isn’t a big fat zero! There’s no plausible solution to the Irish border conundrum. Neither ‘soft’ nor ‘transitional’ arrangements are possible so long as the shrill voices of Tory Europhobes dominate the airwaves.

In truth, negotiations have already all but broken down. Theresa May’s European counterparts may feel genuine sympathy for the impossible position in which she now finds herself. But this’ll count for nothing during merciless deal settling.

However, many ‘Remainers’ have become ‘futile resigners’; in that they are resigned to leave and believe it’s futile to hold out hope of stopping it.

In spite of the daily diet which exposes the Brexit negotiators’ buffoonery, humiliation and chaotic ineptitude most have given up or are convinced it would be improper to deny brexiteers their entitlement… even if it’s an entitlement to undermine Britain’s economic prospects, it’s standing in the world, and to become more isolationist and inward-looking. A crucial factor favouring brexit is the persistence of public opinion which still appears to be on side.

On the other hand, the Brexit campaign has a fatal flaw. At its core are folk who even David Cameron reasonably described as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, and who can also be found in large numbers in his own Party. They are more motivated by hatred (of the EU and foreigners) than of wanting “their country back”. They don’t just want to leave the EU they want to fatally damage it as well.

The enmity that lies at its heart will eat away at its core.

But our constantly banging on about second referendums is counterproductive. It’s perceived as the ill-considered ranting of a snobbish metropolitan liberal elite and has merely galvanised support for Brexit. When things really start unravelling it will be a few brave brexiteers themselves who’ll be calling for the second referendum.

All that’s needed is to expose Brexit to the intense spotlight. Transparency, good reporting and effective scrutiny is enough to expose the destructive absurdity and chaos of Brexit.

Left to its own devices and exposed to reasonable scrutiny Brexit will unravel on its own.

One part of this will be another snap election next year, so be ready for that too…

* Andrew George was Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives until May 2015.

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  • Mike Norman 5th Nov '17 - 10:34am

    I suspect you’ll be right in the end Andrew. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that referenda doesnt seem to settle debates in the way we’ve assumed. I suppose the alternative may end up being a cloaked referendum, ie a general election on the final deal. That might split other parties, but these are the stakes.

  • Peter Martin 5th Nov '17 - 11:31am

    I’d agree that “constantly banging on about second referendums” is perceived as the “ill-considered ranting of a snobbish metropolitan liberal elite”.

    But what about comparing leavers to ” children [who’ve] snatched the keys of the family car. They haven’t a clue how to drive it” ?

    That sounds even worse!

  • adrian sanders 5th Nov '17 - 12:54pm

    Andrew wrote: “But our constantly banging on about second referendums is counterproductive. It’s perceived as the ill-considered ranting of a snobbish metropolitan liberal elite and has merely galvanised support for Brexit. When things really start unravelling it will be a few brave brexiteers themselves who’ll be calling for the second referendum.”

    He is spot on and why we are reduced to third place in all but two seats in our former Devon & Cornwall heartland. There needs to be a poll to endorse or reject the deal once it is known given we cannot rely on MPs to offer their judgement and vote for the best deal on the table, the one we had before the referendum.

  • No Brexiters will not be calling for a second referendum. You live in an echo chamber and are convinced by the sound of your own voice.

  • paul barker 5th Nov '17 - 2:27pm

    The Image used in the 1st paragraph is striking & sums up how a lot of us feel but its patronising & counter -productive.
    Of course Brexit is falling apart, we can see the wheels coming off but it still needs to be stopped, one way or another, we cant just let our Nations be trashed.

  • adrian sanders 5th Nov '17 - 2:50pm

    Should have read – reduced to third place in all but four seats…… And could have added – With the exception of Torbay all had a former MP standing as our candidate.

  • Pushy parents that try to force their kids to stay in expensive dance classes they have no interest in deserve to have the car keys taken from them, especially when said parents keep making empty promises and are driving aimlessly in the wrong direction, anyway.

  • Adrian Sanders

    This is not about winning seats, it is about doing what we believe is the right thing for the country.

  • adrian sanders 5th Nov '17 - 6:51pm

    Barry Long – We face a number of political opponents who believe the right thing for the country is not to elect Liberal Democrats. I agree that the right thing for the country is to exit Brexit as does Andrew George. I also believe we need a public vote once we know what the deal is – afterall when we voted in 1975 we did so having already joined and in the knowledge of what the terms of entry were. Having a vote on the terms of exit can only be right. But Andrew’s post isn’t to oppose a poll and neither was my comment but to point out that we have allowed ourselves to be portrayed as something we are not – anti-democratic, aloof and part of an elite that thinks it knows best. This might not be how we are seen in remain voting areas but it is in the far South West among electors who used to support us. Banging on about how wrong the decision was and why we need a second poll makes it more difficult for those who voted leave to save face and change their view. We need to encourage leave voters to find a way to save face. Rubbing their noses in it won’t do that and losing hard won parliamentary seats makes that task even more difficult and distant. When I talk to folk in my ward or on a street stall I talk about the issues that interest them and have a direct impact on their lives – health, crime, housing, welfare, education, pensions etc – We know all these issues will be adversely affected by Brexit and we need to say so as part of campaigning on those issues. Just campaigning for a second referendum or being seen to be only be interested in a second referendum is, as Andrew said, counter productive, and we all lose.

  • @ Barry Long “This is not about winning seats, it is about doing what we believe is the right thing for the country.”

    Barry, may I very gently and obviously suggest that winning seats is a necessary first step in the process of doing what you believe is the right thing for the country.

  • There can be no second referendum, for there already was one. The first was in 1975 – which voted IN. The second was last year.
    A referendum on the terms of Brexit would either be the THIRD EU Referendum, or the first on the terms. This is important because the leavers say you can’t re-run a referendum just because you disagree with it. Calling it third should remind people that this is exactly what the leavers did. Or calling it a new referendum on the ‘deal’ means it’s not a re-run.
    The other thing to watch out for is that is we DO get a referendum on the deal, the options are Accept the deal or Stay IN, not Accept the deal or leave without one.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Nov '17 - 9:37pm

    This article, again, seems to show that REMAIN thinking has not moved on one step since the day that David Cameron took his leave. In effect the article’s argument is that LEAVE people are all thick/awful, leaving the EU will somehow ‘go wrong.’ Something will fall from the sky and everyone will then say how wonderful the EU is and demand a hard remain.

    Indeed it is telling that there doesn’t appear to be a single positive argument for the EU in this article, or in pretty much any of the comments that follow.

    Look Mr George, with the greatest of respect, is there anywhere on any level where you have given any kind of thought as to WHY it is that so many people voted to leave the EU? And, I would suggest more importantly, what to do about it? Is there anywhere at all where you have considered that it’s not all about some talkboard culture war but that people do in fact have reason not to like the EU? You may well not agree with those reasons or wish to contest them – fine. But if this article is anything to go by you don’t seem to have given a single thought as to why REMAIN messages at the referendum fell short by well over a million votes. David Cameron’s argument is summary was, ‘come on – it’s not THAT bad.’ REMAIN came across effectively as a vote for More Of The Same.

    If you can’t see why it is that some people feel, to say the least, unhappy with the situation prior to the referendum then you aren’t thinking deeply enough. Why do some people not like EU style ‘liberalisation?’ Why is the balance of contributors to recipients so bad? What can be done meaningfully about ridiculously asymmetric migration? Those are the questions now – not, ‘aren’t leavers all thick.’

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Nov '17 - 9:43pm

    Adrian Sanders – ‘…more difficult for those who voted leave to save face and change their view.’

    Wouldn’t the best way to get people to change their view be to give them something they might actually think is worth voting for? REMAIN (all of it) massively underestimated the extent of the problem. What I wanted to hear from REMAIN was what it would do differently WITHIN the EU. What I actually got was More Of The Same.

    At the moment REMAIN just seems to think that one more heave is some kind of alternative to asking some very searching questions about the UK and its place in the EU. Without a seriously different offer a second referendum is simply a back door way to put remain back on the ballot paper and I would expect a lot of people would see it for what it is.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Nov '17 - 9:58pm

    It doesn’t matter a toss what we would do about the EU if we’re not going to be in it. We have to fight to make sure we do stay and that must be the number one priority.
    And sorry chaps we can’t rely on the wheels coming off Brexit. We have to undo the nuts and make sure they do.
    I have tried reasoning with Brexiteers. With the exception of a lady in Halifax who listened carefully to what I said and did accept that the rules about immigration are not what she thought they were, they mostly stick their fingers in their ears and say I can’t hear you.
    I don’t know what the answer is because we do have to find a way to persuade people that leaving will be a disaster.
    Threads like this would be much more use if they addressed that issue.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Nov '17 - 10:04pm

    Mick Tayor – So basically the Cameron and co approach? All’s well and good with the EU – all that’s wrong is the need to explain it better to thick people.

  • Peter Watson 5th Nov '17 - 11:22pm

    Mick Taylor “we do have to find a way to persuade people that leaving will be a disaster.
    Threads like this would be much more use if they addressed that issue.”
    Threads like this have always been about the disaster of leaving, and just like the Remain campaign, that message does not seem to have broken through but the failed strategy has not been changed.
    Perhaps it is not too late to change tactics and talk more about the benefits of remaining in the EU (more carrot, less stick). To an extent though, I agree with you that “it doesn’t matter a toss what we would do about the EU”. Before the referendum the strategy could have better acknowledged Brexiters’ concerns and addressed improvements to the EU but I fear it is now too late for that and it would confuse and dilute a positive pro-Remain message.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Nov '17 - 1:22am

    Attended a meeting yesterday and heard Paul Holmes speak on how to succeed again in local areas.

    David Raw would have liked it, positive about winning , despite , as with David, a very negative view of the coalition. Paul is one who knows why and cares, people voted for Brexit, and whether they did or didn’t , they could support us again if we seem to demonstrate we care about what they and most of us do.

    Again on here nothing but Brexit.

    Scrooge says “I shall retire to Bedlam !”

  • Arnold Kiel 6th Nov '17 - 2:02am

    It is true, many unaddressed grievances are behind most leave-votes, and leavers don’t like the EU, but Little Jackie Paper is wrong to maintain that these two drivers are related. The UK’s business model is weak despite EU-membership, further weakened by the prospect of Brexit, but would be nonexistent outside.

    The EU is based on two simple rules: 1. we decide unanimously. 2. we codify the decisions and enforce them. EU dislikers must be confronted with the simple question: which of these two principles you want to abolish? there is nothing more to it.

    EU-bashing is just as senseless as is leaving it, but I would not bet the UK’s inevitable U-turn towards remaining on convincing a significant majority of voters. Not because our arguments aren’t strong, but because they are so overwhelmingly superior to the leave-side that many leavers are psychologically locked in an embarrassingly indefensible position. The many who, before June 2016, have resigned from political participation for a profound sense of futility, and who are still relishing in the feeling of having had one impactful vote against the establishment that has so long neglected them, would have to admit that they were fooled again. Proposing another referendum is asking them to expressly acknowledge their inability to ever have an impact. They have, rightly or wrongly, won once, and are not ready to give up that win so easily.

    The line: “accept your Brexit idea was bad” is likely to harden this feeling. I would say: “sorry, the all gain-no pain Brexit you were promised is unavailable”. Based on this reasoning, being “overruled” by Parliament is more bearable than being asked to cast another vote to publicly acknowledge the futility of voting and your eternally hopeless lack of impact.

    The likely consolation voters will give themselves is a Labor Government. So be it.

  • Martin Walker 6th Nov '17 - 8:22am

    If only the keys to the car had been given to the children. In reality, the parents decided to send the car for scrap because they wouldn’t need it in the future, and weren’t bothered where their children may want to drive in the future!

  • William Fowler 6th Nov '17 - 8:32am

    Mrs May’s main interest is in staying in power and she will do whatever it takes to cling on. Corbyn’s main interest is in letting the Conservative party destroy itself as the effects of Brexit become apparent so he can grab power himself. If either thinks staying in the EU will win the day they will go for it but power is more important than anything else, so I would say just about anything could happen including massive u-turns.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Nov ’17 – 9:58pm…………And sorry chaps we can’t rely on the wheels coming off Brexit. We have to undo the nuts and make sure they do………..

    And that, sadly, seems about the level of debate/ambition within this party…Summed up it means, “We lost the referendum but we’ll now try ‘sabotage’ to ensure that you can’t get ANY deal”..

    Far better to put forward constructive “red lines” (although we don’t have much of a positive history with ‘red lines’) for leaving…..I didn’t/don’t like the result of the referendum but I accept it and, rather than throwing my toys out of the pram, I want a deal that enables the UK to succeed; if that deal isn’t on offer then parliament, not a second referendum,should vote to remain…Why? Because most of my ‘Leaver’ friends still want to leave and the ‘nuclear option’ (take note Vince) of a second referendum may well backfire…

  • One of the reasons I left the Labour party and joined the SDP many years ago was because of my views on Europe. A political party should state what it stands for and convince people that those aims are right. I will not hide my views about Brexit to gain political advantage.

  • David Evans 6th Nov '17 - 10:34am

    William’s first two sentences are absolutely true, but the last is based on a total misconception. The one thing you learn from election results is that U turns do not lead to success.

    You only have to look at what happened to us in coalition to realise what happens when you do a U turn on something fundamental. The Conservatives with Theresa May and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn have known that for decades, as did Cameron, Blair, Major and many before that. That is why their parties have survived and even prospered.

    Sadly Nick and many of his followers imagined that rule didn’t apply to them. And that is why, when Brexit came in 2016, there weren’t enough Lib Dems left to stop it.

  • Garth Shephard 6th Nov '17 - 12:13pm

    We might expect Article 50 to run its course and for us to leave the EU in March 2019. However, the muted transition period will likely see us remain a member of the EU until the next (planned) general election.
    Not having left the EU at the end of the Article 50 period will enrage many Brexiteers. But as they have already shown, they are prepared to give the government the benefit of the doubt and support its stance against an uncooperative Europe.
    By March 2019, we might expect uncertainties about Brexit to have caused many multi-nationals to invest in Europe and to draw-back on UK investments. We might also detect poorer prospects for the economy, UK employment and tax receipts.
    But only if we are looking! Many Leave voters will not be looking for this and therefore will not be aware that the writing is on the wall.
    We cannot count on the prospect of electors losing faith in Brexit before the next general election or of the Tories tearing themselves apart in a leadership battle.
    We can however count on the Conservative government claiming success in the negotiations as a platform for their election manifesto.

  • Laurence Cox 6th Nov '17 - 3:27pm

    Many people seem to have the rosy-eyed view that before the rise of UKIP the UK population’s view of the EU was fairly positive. In fact, it was far from the case as this posting from last year reveals:

    Between 1977 and 1983 Leave was ahead; between 1983 and the end of Thatcher’s time as PM, Remain was ahead; during the Major years and Blair’s first term, Leave and Remain were neck-and-neck. UKIP really began to be a factor from 2004 onwards, winning 16.7% of the vote in the European Parliamentary elections that year. Their vote share in 2009 was almost identical (16.5%) but rose to 27.5% in 2014. There is no obvious correlation of the UKIP vote with the opinion polling on Remain/Leave.

    What does correlate quite well with Remain/Leave is the state of the economy – 1977-83 was a bad time for the UK, as was the early 90s (when the UK was in the ERM) and just after 2008 with the effects of the banking crisis. In contrast, the late 80s and the later Blair years were good for the UK economy.

    Unlike Andrew George, I don’t think that we can simply sit by and wait for Brexit to unravel; we have to paint a positive view of the EU benefits for the UK. That means also being very open about what we see as the EU’s failings and how we propose they should be fixed. For too long the EU has been primarily about the Franco-German axis with the UK playing a spoiling role by pushing for expansion rather than deepening. It may be time for all to accept that we need a 2-level EU with those who want to go for more EU, forming a core group (not necessarily comprising all the Eurozone countries), while the rest (like the UK) form an outer ring, still part of the EU, but with more independence over economic policy. Even if there is a snap general election in 2018, we still need to make the case for a reformed EU, if we are going to justify our continued support for another referendum.

  • Andrew Smith 6th Nov '17 - 4:30pm

    A first referendum on the facts is all very well except all the facts were available last time; but a small majority chose to believe the lies of the Eurosceptic press. When whatever deal is negotiated falls short of the cake and eat it promised by Johnson the press will blame conniving Johnny Foreigner. My real concern is that whilst we wait for another referendum huge, long term damage will be done to the economy as businesses cannot afford to wait for a further plebiscite – the outcome of which is by no means certain – before making investment decisions. Need to attack the leaders of the Leave campaign for their false promises rather than those that believed them. The state of the economy may well focus people’s minds and we need to be willing to stop Brexit before any further referendum.

  • Nigel Hardy 7th Nov '17 - 4:44pm

    The referendum result was used by the Brexit voters (who on average were less educated, less skilled and less well informed than the Remainers) to express their discontent with democracy (or lack of) in Britain. Data has shown they were also the over fifties (Age 50 -64 males 61% Leave, 65+ males 62% Leave) living in a bygone era. As death diminishes their numbers the greater the Remainers voice will be, helped by more newly eligible voters should their be a another referendum.

    It may well be that the children attempting to drive the car hit a post, fence or ditch unable to take it further. No deal is not what the DUP want who want to remain the single market for farming, so they with all opposition parties could scupper that. Then parliament could well say what’s the point of paying a huge divorce Bill and being a rule taker in the EEA? I could see a snap GE next year as the ineptitude of the children driving lands them in a ditch.

    The thing that’s lacking as others here have said is the absence of political debate about what the UK could do in the future of the EU by staying in and why it’s better in than out. We can’t expect the Tories to engage in this debate for another decade, but why are Labour not leading the conversation? Without them the other parties voices will be muted.

  • Richard Dean 8th Nov '17 - 7:03pm

    It surely won’t unravel unless someone makes that happen. The children will crash the car, run screaming to the parents for help, and then blame the parents for the mess.

    The Tories can’t unravel it, they’d lose too much face. Labour might, but they seem rather confused.

  • Riccardo Sallustio 10th Nov '17 - 10:04pm

    I believe that Richard Dean summarised it well. At this stage, only external events can take the steering wheel away from the screaming children without causing a car crash. There are a few events which may still play an important role such as finding more evidence of Russian interference in the EU Referendum or the House of Lords refusing to approve the EU Withdrawal Act or the Fouchet action before the ECJ or the Article 50 challenge before the High Court or serious constitutional issues such as the Northern Irish border. Taken in isolation each event may delay Brexit but the combination of just a couple of them has the ability to unravel it for good.

  • Nigel Hardy 7th Nov ’17 – 4:44pm:
    No deal is not what the DUP want who want to remain the single market for farming,…

    The ‘single market’ that the DUP want to remain part of is the “UK single market”. They are in full support of the UK leaving the EU single market (EU Internal Market)…

    ‘NI will not be divided from rest of the UK after Brexit: Dodds’ [10 November 2017]:

    The Prime Minister has said that the UK will leave the Single Market and Customs Union. This applies to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the Union.


    The Secretary of State moved earlier this week to reiterate that Brexit must respect the integrity of the UK. This is welcome. The DUP will not accept a deal that imposes barriers to Northern Ireland’s position within the UK single market.

  • Nigel Hardy 11th Nov '17 - 3:22pm

    Jeff 11th Nov ’17 – 12:33am
    The DUP, as understand it, want to retain access to the single market for the farming of NI, and that can only be the EU single market. NI voted by a clear majority to remain in EU as it recognises the frictionless border between north and south to be one of most important things to benefit them. If the DUP ignore that and sell NI down the river they will only hasten the arrival of re-unification day.

  • Michael Berridge 12th Nov '17 - 9:19pm

    “In effect the article’s argument is that … leaving the EU will somehow ‘go wrong.’ Something will fall from the sky …” That’s right Little Jackie Paper. Leaving the EU (under WTO rules, “Hard Brexit”) will cost jobs and damage the economy, so business confidence, purchasing power, Britain’s standing in the world – all those will fall. No, the sky won’t fall, we will survive. Just as we survived the First World War. But it won’t be pretty. We simply cannot afford to leave on “no deal” terms. Philip Hammond understands this. I wish more Tories did.

  • Michael Berridge 12th Nov '17 - 9:21pm

    “In effect the article’s argument is that … leaving the EU will somehow ‘go wrong.’ Something will fall from the sky …” That’s right Little Jackie Paper. Leaving the EU (under WTO rules, “Hard Brexit”) will cost jobs and damage the economy, so business confidence, purchasing power, Britain’s standing in the world – all those will fall. No, the sky won’t fall, we will survive. Just as we survived the First World War. But it won’t be pretty. We simply cannot afford to leave on “no deal” terms. Philip Hammond understands this. I wish more Tories did.

  • There will be no end to the conflict, both between the UK and the EU, or within the UK, until we leave. I am sure the UK economy will be knocked back a bit but the real issues are sovereignty and immigration. The UK electorate does not buy into the EU idea – the direction of travel is towards a United States of Europe (something you keen types have been anxious to hide) and as Mark Pack’s revelations have shown, barely 5% of the UK electorate buys into this. The deeper we get dragged into this the more violent will be the kick-back. Its not going this party any good either. The more realistic of us have always understood that our pro-EU policies were an electoral millstone – the party never campaigned on Europe as hard as it did this last GE and it got the worst vote share (per seat contested) since 1928. The only reason why we got more seats from fewer votes (and the Tories the opposite) was, I suspect, tactical voting. Its a pity we don’t have anyone smarter than D Davis negotiating for us but I am still certain that leaving will be best in the long run and that this party is on the wrong side of history.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '17 - 11:26pm

    The Good Friday agreement was hugely important, not least because it took so many people to achieve. There was a referendum in Northern Ireland and a referendum in the Republic. It would be very unwise to put it at risk. In the process several of the actors needed to put aside some of what they initially considered to be red lines.
    There is only one way to deal with the border issue now, which is for the UK to have a customs union. David Davis has said NO, but he is not the final arbiter.
    Jacob Rees-Mogg considers that exiting the customs union is an important part of Brexit, but the supposed gains to hopefully profitable trade are in the future and therefore uncertain. Governments have made U-turns before.
    As part of their slow progress towards a closer relationship with the EU the Turkish Prime Minister negotiated a customs union but she lost the subsequent general election. Therefore there is an existing example of a large country in a customs union but outside the single market, at least for the moment and a closer economic relationship for Turkey seems unlikely at the moment because of the aftermath of the
    There is a solution to the Irish Question without the Irish changing the question.

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