Part One – How it all happened
The United Kingdom has left the European Union, after around five decades. On December 31 2020 we will be at the end of the Transition Period. All our existing national mutual arrangements, treaties and deals with the EU on all matters will end. Unless there is a Deal.
The EU is the largest trading and political block in the world, and geographically it is on our doorstep. The UK was adamant in the 1970s that it wanted to join the block, and since then, has massively contributed to and benefited from its evolution, growth, power and developing value. Prior to 2015, all UK Governments supported membership of the EU, although of course there were some disagreements over funding and jurisdiction, most notably and memorably when Mrs. Thatcher wielded her handbag and sought and obtained certain opt outs and rebates.
Now we really are exiting. What 52% of those who voted in the 2016 Brexit Referendum (37% of the electorate) wished to happen has been brought to pass. I wonder if they feel pleased with their decision and the outcome which has been achieved? If I was a pro-Brexit voter, I would now be thoroughly disillusioned. But as a Remain voter, I am extremely angry and appalled at the overall turn of events. Why?
I am very angry for two main reasons
Firstly, the 52% Referendum majority in favour of Brexit was almost certainly obtained falsely and illegally. The lies told by the Leave campaign during the Referendum were outrageous, very influential, and together with their illegal extra funding, their aggressively and illegally targeted Facebook ads and their support from Russian trolling operations, clinched their majority. The Russian Ambassador messaged the Kremlin with the news – ‘Job done, Britain sunk and will not rise again for a long time’ (reported in Shadow State, by Luke Harding – June 2020). That was the Steal. Our membership of the EU was stolen from us as a result of those Leave voters, constituting a substantial proportion of the 52%, who were persuaded or deceived by these lies into thinking that the EU was responsible for many of the perceived ills in our society. These ranged from too many immigrants to pressures on our public services, that our future would be very good outside the European Union, and that the costs of leaving were either non-existent or low. The Remain campaign was uninspiring and flat-footed by comparison. The under-powered and under-funded Electoral Commission was no threat to the mendacity of the Leave campaign.
The second reason I am angry and appalled is the increasing absence of principle and integrity shown by the Conservative Party and its supporters. Democracy can function well in many different ways, but in the UK and USA the two-party system has become the standard form. This is regrettable for many reasons, mainly because of the adversarial system it requires, but it works with some semblance of reasonableness if parties adhere to the rules and constitutional principles and conventions and act with reasonable integrity and voters trust it. As ex-President Clinton has noted, democracy requires trust. The Conservative Party, which sometimes claims to be a One Nation Party, has now revealed this claim to be just vacuous propaganda. It is now naked in its greed for power, nakedly partisan, is backed by a largely client media in the ownership of a few wealthy individuals with their own personal agendas, it is extraordinarily well funded, with a constant supply of large financial donations, and is now using American-style underhand electoral methods. This all makes it very well placed to win and retain power.
The decline in the Conservative Party’s principles and integrity began with the rise of UKIP, the growth of the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs (a party within a party). The Cameron Government’s 2015 electoral response to these issues was to offer to hold a “binding” Referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. This was not just a very serious mistake, it was an abrogation of the Government’s responsibility to govern on behalf of the nation in the nation’s best interests. The Referendum was in fact not binding, as evidenced by House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 07212 which said that the EU Referendum Bill “does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum”. It was clearly not in the UK’s best interests to leave the EU in any case and the Government knew that and it was not the Government’s policy to do so. To hand responsibility for such a major feature of the UK’s future over to the totally unpredictable outcome of a simple majority Referendum was a wholesale abrogation of the Government’s duty. It was a bid to avoid a party split, and to retain power, achieved at the cost of not acting in the national interest.
Enter Theresa May
The accession of Theresa May to the role of Prime Minister made everything worse. In the first place she had believed that remaining a member of the EU was the right policy for Britain (she voted for Remain), yet she took on the job of negotiating Britain’s departure. Her vicar father would surely have turned in his grave at such duplicity. Unfortunately she was not alone, as a majority of Conservative MPs abandoned their view that Remain was the best policy, and lined up behind her, putting their own personal career and job prospects as they saw it ahead of the nation’s best interests.
But they were not elected to a responsible public office to further themselves. They were elected to work on behalf of their constituents and in pursuit of the nation’s best interests. My own MP, excellent in many respects, representing a constituency that voted Remain, voting Remain himself, has since then voted consistently for all Government Brexit legislation, on the grounds, as he told me, that there would be civil unrest if the Referendum outcome was not honoured. Sounded like a fig leaf to me.
Then we entered the discussion of what type of Brexit deal, not something that was discussed during the Referendum, and May, pressured by the ERG, and anxious (again) to avoid a party split, quickly announced that she was triggering Article 50, to set the clock ticking on a two-year countdown to exit day. This was absolutely nonsensical, since trade deals historically took around 8 years to conclude. A two-year horizon was clearly against the national interest. Next she announced, without much debate, that the UK was leaving the Customs Union and Single Market, ruling out any Soft Brexit which could have minimized the Brexit damage and unified the country to some degree.
Again she was responding to ERG pressure, and gave little thought or assigned little importance to what this would mean for the UK’s exporters and importers, for jobs, or to prices for consumers, particularly food, and the impact of this on low income families and the vulnerable. All in the name of Conservative Party unity and the retention of power. Where was the One Nation Conservatism, which could have gone some way to healing the breach in national opinion between the 52% and the 48%? This announcement was a derogation of responsibility, and a piece of hypocrisy, when set against her promise outside Downing Street when she took the job of Prime Minister that she would seek to unite the country and govern on behalf of everyone. Add in her ‘Hostile Environment’ policy and her vendetta against the Windrush generation, and it was clear that her previous depiction of the Conservative Party as ‘the Nasty Party’ was fully justified.
Enter Boris Johnson (and Dominic Cummings)
Even worse was to come. ‘No Deal is better than a Bad Deal’ (Who had said anything, pre-Referendum, about a Bad Deal or No Deal? Only good deals were mentioned). The Northern Irish border, the backstop, ministerial resignations, the failure of May’s Withdrawal Deal in Parliament, and the Conservative Party election process for a new leader. MPs chose Hunt and Johnson, both saying they were committed to Brexit, with Hunt saying he would try to avoid a No Deal outcome. But Conservative Party members chose to lumber the country with the clearly unfit Johnson as the new Prime Minister. Despite what he had said in 2014 that ’Nobody serious wants to leave the EU, business doesn’t want it, the City doesn’t want it, it won’t happen’ (quoted in Anne Applebaum, Twilight of Democracy, 2020), now, in 2016 he had led the Leave campaign and was Tory Prime Minister dedicated to Brexit in 2019. Nakedly ambitious, opportunist, hypocritical yes. Principled? No. The Conservative Party not now known for its trustworthiness and UK democracy is given a serious blow.
Each successive Conservative Prime Minister was worse than the last. Johnson was generally seen as an intellectual lightweight, unprincipled, self-interested, lacking relevant or worthwhile experience, lacking much of a social conscience, without serious purpose, a fantasist, who has proved in practice to be undemocratic, thin-skinned, vengeful, lazy and incompetent too, with a perpetual get-out-of-jail card of blaming someone but taking no responsibility himself. But eight months after winning a landslide election victory, Johnson now appears more like a puppet, or muppet, a useful idiot to push on to the stage to make us laugh while the business of Government is conducted behind him, mostly by Cummings it seems, who doesn’t seem to do much advising, but a lot of controlling.
Getting Conservative MPs who don’t toe the line sacked from the whip, appointing a submissive and compliant Cabinet, whacking the BBC with financial restrictions and a new Brexiteer chairman and a new Brexiteer head of Ofcom, reforming ‘the blob’ (i.e. sacking six very senior civil servants, and bypassing all convention or established procedure in appointing new Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary ), abolishing PHE, proroguing Parliament illegally, bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny, pushing for or gambling with a very hard ball approach to the ongoing Brexit negotiations which could easily mean that No Deal or a very thin Deal is the eventual outcome, granting huge Government contracts, some to his friends, without much scrutiny or competition and on ridiculously generous terms, while not releasing any information about them, are some of his (Johnson or Cummings’, we don’t know) recent achievements towards dismantling UK democracy and cementing in right-wing administration.
State aid appears to be Cummings’ latest venture, shoveling shed-loads of taxpayer cash towards his old colleagues and cronies from the past who are starting up so-called Hi-tech businesses as fast as they can. This brings to mind my own old company, Marconi, a company competing with Siemens of Germany in the worldwide electronics market, which four financiers who knew nothing about the business somehow got their hands on in the 1980s. They thought they knew where the future lay, so they mortgaged the company to the hilt, bought into some American computer company, which quickly failed, leaving Marconi, a superb British Hi-Tech manufacturing company employing thousands of people, bankrupt.
Cummings, now Chief Special Adviser under Johnson, blogged: ‘The old institutions like the EU are incapable of solving global coordination problems …. need to reinvent everything, from schools to the civil service to Parliament itself’. A true Maoist. He appears to be prepared to wreck the Brexit negotiations for this reason, and for this reason he should not be an advisor to the Government at all but should have been sacked last March. So much for democratic conventions.
Brexit should not have happened, need not have happened, and it is disastrous for the UK that it has happened. UK membership of the EU has been stolen from the UK public through a combination of a malicious, illegal, lying Leave campaign, which was aided by the Kremlin, regulatory weakness, and the shameless betrayal of the country for its own interests by the Conservative Party (Party before country). The Parliamentary Select Committee Russia Report, which publicized Russian donations to the Conservative Party and recommended an investigation into Russian influence on UK elections was sat on by the Prime Minister for nine months (we don’t know how or why he had the power to do this after it had received security clearance, it now seems that rather than Parliamentary Sovereignty we now have Prime Ministerial Sovereignty), and he then refused to implement the recommendations. Quite scandalous, but this now passes as the norm for the anti-democratic behaviour of this Conservative Government, which has now been severely criticized by the Speaker for bypassing Parliament.
So where does that leave us?
But underneath the Brexit umbrella with its flags, trumpets, nationalist nostalgia and misappropriated patriotism and sovereignty lies another, deeper, darker, underground agenda. This is now unfolding before our eyes, heralding racism, anti-immigration, climate change denial, bonfire of protective consumer and human rights rules and regulations, privatised health and the populist hard-right free-market. The small Government agenda of the Republican Party in America is now being copied within the latest edition of the Conservative Party. No wonder Farage, Johnson and Gove find Trump so fascinating. Put on your safety harness.
If you want more then wait for Part Two coming shortly with a catalogue of Referendum lies.