The reason why there is so much confusion and chaos about what Britain should aim for in the Brexit negotiations is simple. Neither of the two possible types of Brexit is an easy option.
The stark choice is:
- Either we leave the single market and the customs union, the dire economic consequences of which are becoming clearer by the day.
- Or we stay inside the single market and customs union, but then we must follow their rules, on which we no longer have a say. We become a rule taker, not a rule maker.
This is an unpalatable choice. Postponing it for two extra years, by seeking to stay in the customs union and single market for a transitional period after Brexit, simply makes the consequences of that choice less immediate.
Brexiteers hope thereby to achieve Brexit before the public becomes sufficiently aware of those consequences.
They know that more and more people are likely to say that neither alternative works for Britain and to conclude that the only way to both avoid economic damage and keep our say on the rules is to remain a member of the EU.
Brexiteers speak loudly about respecting the ‘will of the people’ but do not want the people to have a chance to change their mind or to express their views on the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
And the government is doubling down on its determination to ignore people’s rising concerns as the facts become clear and as the deceptive promises of the Leave campaign are abandoned. It has responded to a petition with over 100,000 signatures by saying that it will only offer parliament ‘the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.’
In other words, either accept its deal, no matter how bad it is, or face a chaotic cliff edge exit.
In no way is that a “meaningful vote”, as promised to MPs. Unless there is an option to call a halt to Brexit once the actual deal can be evaluated, if need be by calling a referendum on it, then MPs and our much vaunted parliamentary sovereignty will have been sidelined. As will the people.
As Keynes said, ‘when the facts change (or become clearer), I change my mind.’
And as David Davis said, ‘a democracy that cannot change its mind ceases to be a democracy.’
Time to admit that those dictums apply here.