Relax! Brexit is going perfectly

If you were hoping to see Britain make an orderly and dignified exit
from the EU on 29th March this year then I imagine you think that the
Brexit process is going very badly indeed. But if, like me, you hope
that Britain doesn’t leave the EU at all, then I think you should be
delighted with how things are progressing.

Some of the problems currently besetting the Brexit process were
predictable from the beginning. It was clear even during the 2016
referendum campaign that people were voting Leave for a wide variety
of reasons, which (being generous) could not all be satisfied at once.
To put it another way: regardless of the eventual terms of exit, when
asked “Do you want to leave on *these* terms”, a majority of British
people would say “No”.

But a lot of the things that are crippling the Brexit process now were
not nearly so predictable. The unexpected result of the 2017
election, which suddenly gave huge influence to the DUP, thwarted the
only obvious way to satisfy the exit conditions laid down by the prime
minister – which required some divergence between Great Britain and
Northern Ireland – and helped to ensure that the resulting withdrawal
agreement was unpalatable to many MPs. The legal ruling secured by
Gina Miller ensured that MPs got a “meaningful” vote on the withdrawal
agreement – and roundly rejected it. And the legal ruling that the UK
can unilaterally revoke article 50 meant that MPs *could* reject the
withdrawal agreement without fear of it automatically resulting in a
“no deal” exit. As a Remainer, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect
combination of events!

So far so good. But do we get from the current parliamentary deadlock
to an exit from Brexit? A general election wouldn’t help much –
since, alas, a Liberal Democrat parliamentary majority still doesn’t
seem a likely outcome. But anyway, the Labour party has failed to
force an election, and even if the prime minister took the kamikaze
option of calling one voluntarily, her own party might not agree to it
after what happened last time. Gradually all options are falling away
except for that of a referendum, exactly as the Liberal Democrats have
been calling for all along.

Would the prime minister ever agree to it? Well, when calling the
election in 2017 she said, “The people are united behind Brexit but
parliament is not” – which was not at all true, of course, but by the
same logic a referendum would solve her current predicament. And with
the current direction of travel, delaying article 50 and calling a
referendum may soon look like her only viable option.

When it happens, we must try to present it not as a re-run of 2016,
but as a referendum to “ratify the prime minister’s deal” – just as
many other countries have done with treaties in the past. And when
offered the choice between the unpalatable reality of Brexit and no
Brexit at all, and given a sufficiently positive campaign for the very
real benefits of being part of the EU, I believe that the British
people will vote to Remain. And, even if they don’t, with a bit of
luck the campaign would at least be honest this time, and we could all
accept the democratic decision to Leave, without the lies and
illegalities of 2016.

I could be wrong, of course. But I think it’s time for some optimism.

* Malcolm Wood is a LibDem member in Edinburgh West, and former GE candidate in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Stephen Harte 22nd Jan '19 - 1:46pm

    Hope you are right Malcolm!

  • Paul Barker 22nd Jan '19 - 1:51pm

    We haven’t won yet & if we do win, victory will in large part be down to the arrogance, laziness & venality of the Brexiteers.
    It looks like Article 50 will be delayed at least but some sort of Soft Brexit/Bino could still get a majority in the Commons.
    If we do get a Peoples Vote then I expect at least some on The Leave side to call for a boycott.
    I still think the best possible result would be to cancel Article 50 with no Peoples Vote.

  • Paul Barker 22nd Jan '19 - 2:53pm

    We haven’t won yet, we should not take anything for granted. There is still a possibility that a Soft Brexit could go through The Commons with Labour backing, explicit or not.
    If we do get another Referendum, I expect that some Leavers will campaign for a Boycott.

  • Gina Miller won a ruling for Parliament to make the decision rather than the one that has been made in the Referendum. That’s gone well!!! MPs are happy to vote against various scenarios but there doesn’t seem to be any that attracts a majority in favour. We can all say what we’re against, that’s the easy bit! So, going back to the people in a second referendum seems the best course. (PV2 or 3 if your count the 1975 one). Perhaps we should accept this time that the people do know best, provided they are fully informed and not lied to, as both sides did the first time. “Leave” gave positive reasons (albeit not all true) for leaving last time and Remain, this time, need to counter this with positive reasons for staying, not just warnings against Leaving as they did last time (again not all true).

    If “Remain” wins, I would consider that a good outcome, but the issues which “Leavers” were/are concerned about must be addressed, not ignored again as they were prior to 2016. If they are not reached out to, we will see the rise of more right-wing and left-wing extremism and alienation from the democratic process. Also, “Leave” voters should not be dismissed as “old”, “uneducated”, “racist” etc. Some were/would be, but I would hope the Lib Dems would not fall into the trap of sweeping generalisations.

  • Dyson off to Singapore, Sony to Amsterdam, P&O reflagging their ships as Cypriot. Come one and all my brave Brexiteers explain to us all why things are going well. When the arch Brexiteer Mr Dyson is leaving I fear your leadership isn’t planning to stay around when the price comes due, not I fear an option available to you. Perhaps one day you’ll realise how badly you’ve been had.

  • Daily Mail comments have usually recorded strong support for Brexit-supporting comments even when borderline unhinged or in flat denial of reality. I just checked to see how the comments were treating the Dyson story and it’s overwhelmingly hostile with very little push-back. Perhaps reality is starting to sink in. Fingers crossed.

  • “when offered the choice between the unpalatable reality of Brexit…”

    Unpalatable to Remainers by definition, but for more than half the people who voted it was very palatable indeed and it matters not a jot for practical purposes that they had a wide variety of reasons for doing so. That won’t stop them from having acute buyer’s remorse after the event (rather common after elections as Clegg discovered) but by then it will be too late.

    Negotiations and elections (and referendums) have in common that, ideally, you need to get inside your opponent’s head to understand his motives, intentions etc. better than he does himself and plan accordingly. Lib Dems in contrast have a really bad habit of, in effect, talking to themselves by assuming that every reasonable person must think just as they do and that those that don’t simply aren’t worth bothering about.

    Hence, for example, the studious ignoring of the anti-EU clamour that’s been growing for many years that’s broken out in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and elsewhere. The obvious solution was to channel it into a movement to reform the EU. Dismissing the concerns has just pushed people into the hands of parties dismissed by the cognoscenti as ‘populists’. In the circumstances it’s hardly surprising that “Take Back Control” was such a powerful slogan. The less they were listed to the more appealing it sounded even if it is in fact entirely bogus.

    Now those ignored people are voting and doing so in sufficient numbers to defeat the ‘unpopulists’.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Jan '19 - 8:01pm

    @ Gordon,
    I wondered what , if any, changes might ensue when Paul Dacre was replaced as editor by Geordie Greig.

    You may have already read it, but there is an interesting article in The Conversation.
    ‘New editor: and new ‘enemies’ of the people.

  • David,
    I carry no torch for those two failed polticians, in fact I made my disdain so apparent that for long periods of the coalition my comments would not be published. I’m glad however you raised them, because in many ways the failed policy of Nick and Co gives us a blueprint for Brexit. It starts off with people rushing to join the crusade for sun lit uplands, it ends with the leadership gone and people coming to the conclusion they have been had. Now some people will never admit that and will proclaim till their dying day they where right, but ask the general public and they won’t agree; this is the fate that awaits the Brexiteers, their leaderside running to Monoco or Singerpore, leaving them behind to rebuild. In the case of the Lib Dems after Clegg it was to rebuild a party, for the Brexiteers it is much worse they need to rebuild a country. I should point out Iraq was similar, it starts off with mass support by the end everyone was against it ( especially those that were actually in favour) apart from the main proclaimers of it Blair and Co who get to take all the blame.
    As to leaving, well I’m too old, my children however are not and if they and their fellows leave, well it’s a dark future for those that will depend on them.

  • David,
    I’ve replied to your question, but as I’ve reverted to my old position of being less than charitable to Nick and Co, I may be back on the banned list, reminds me of the coalition years, where criticism failed to have a voice.

  • Today has not been a good day for the Brexiteers, their leaders running for distant climes ( no doubt riding unicorns) other companies running for the EU. The sad thing is my brave Brexiteers is it will get worse, reality works like that, you can of cause continue to march to the cliff singing “I believe I can fly” but remember as you hurtle over it, the last sound you will make is ” splat”.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Jan '19 - 10:03pm

    @ frankie,

    You are exposed to people who voted leave, some who are frank racists.

    We were not born racists. I admire your values, which are mine, but I have never under understood this unicorn thing.

  • I suppose unicorns are used Jayne because they don’t exist. If you look at peoples reasons for voting Brexit often they don’t exist either. A section of my relatives voted for Brexit and vote Labour. When asked why they voted for Brexit their case was as follows “After we leave the EU, we can vote in a Labour government and kick out all the muslims”; now I’m no fan of the Labour party but that isn’t going to happen, nor ever could happen, so in their case they have voted for a racist unicorn. Others have other fantastical private Brexits, but like unicorns they don’t exist outside of the realms of fantasy.

  • The unicorn thing is just a dismissive clichéd jibe. It’s like calling people snowflakes or whatever. Ooh you believe in unicorns, ooh you’re a snowflake and so on. The thing about rhetoric is that when it becomes too repetitive and uses the same attack over and over again it becomes trite to the point of being meaningless. The other point is that repeated cliché ends up as a simple banality for example “at the end of the day”, the “bottom line” and “whatnot”.
    The best you can say is that it plays to the gallery and thus can pass for wit in the form of an instantly codified trope.

  • Would you care to discuss why all your leaders are voting with their feet Glenn? I mean that well known Bexiteer Jim Radcliffe, now resident of Monaco has such little faith in the EU that he’s just announced a 3 billion euro new investment in the UK, well actually he didn’t it’s in Belgium
    I know your still commited to the cause they expouse, perhaps you should pay attention to their deeds rather than their words. They truly are a bunch of “Do as I say, not as I do merchants”, tis a pity you lack the wit to see that.

  • Frankie
    I don’t see them as my leaders. Do you see Cameron, Osborne, and so on as your leaders? I also not that Dyson is not relocating to Europe.

  • Can you remove comment posted at 10.45? Too many typos .

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jan '19 - 1:27pm

    It’s Wednesday, so we watch PMQs, or, at least, most weeks, most of it.
    Those of us who have FreeSat can switch to the Parliament Channel, where they can hear the Speaker saying “last but not least” for the final question/s, raw and unedited.

  • As I understand it the challenge is to get a parliamentary majority for a People’s Vote, which needs labour backing at a minimum. Hope springs eternal among labour’s young followers that this will happen eventually. But the gang of antiquated communists around Jeremy Corbyn will resist to the end.

  • @Glenn – re: “I also note that Dyson is not relocating to Europe.”

    But he doesn’t need to as he already has regional offices scattered across the EU27, I expect in the coming weeks, as part of the relocation of the Corporate HQ, one or other of these will be quietly (ie. not reported by the mainstream media) upgraded to the EU Regional HQ, given the UK will no longer be either the Corporate HQ or (post-Brexit) in the EU. So Dyson will continue to have the same access to the EU27 as the UK currently enjoys through its EU membership….

    The funny thing about Dyson, is that Brexiteers believe the cover story being given; when all the evidence is that Dyson’s relocation of the Corporate HQ is all about Brexit. It is telling that Dyson’s management team are keen to downplay Dyson’s UK heritage and focus on it being a “global technology company” ie. stateless.

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