Is there a way out of the Brexit chaos, asks Iain Begg (LSE)? With still no solution in sight for Brexit, the time has come for a more imaginative approach, he writes. The UK’s politicians need to look beyond partisan positions and tactical manoeuvring to find a way of reconciling the many trade-offs – democratic as well as economic – around Brexit.
Instead of a focus on the national interest and how to meet the daunting challenges of maintaining faith in the democratic process, the debate on the end-game of the United Kingdom’s efforts to conclude a deal for its withdrawal from the European Union has been dominated by largely procedural matters. The talk has been of meaningful votes, confidence votes, the likely effects of obscure and incompatible amendments, the details of the Irish border backstop, transitions of fluctuating durations, facilitated customs arrangements and so on. Empty rhetoric on how ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and about the ‘settled will of the people’ adds to the confusion.
Now, the government has executed one of the most spectacular ‘u-turns’ of recent times by postponing a vote in the House of Commons, despite repeatedly saying it would not. By doing so, Prime Minister Theresa May has belatedly accepted what everyone has been telling for weeks: she could not win the vote for the deal she has secured from Brussels.
Yet as the latest episodes of the saga unfold, it has become increasingly clear that the UK political system has failed to comprehend the two fundamental questions it needs to answer. First, what sort of relationship does it want with the EU. Second, what is the mechanism for deciding, given the apparent inability of Parliament to muster a majority for any deal?
The shape of a future economic relationship between the UK and the EU has been under discussion since well before the 2016 referendum. Although there are many variants, four underlying models can be distinguished.
Remaining in the EU is the first, while the second is the UK being no different from the great majority of the EU’s other global partners in having either no privileged access or a trade deal that does not preclude similar deals with other parts of the world. For many advocates of Brexit, this was the choice posed in the referendum and, given the vote to leave, a full (or hard) Brexit should be the outcome.
The trouble with hard Brexit is that it creates obstacles to trading with the nearest neighbours and thus implies lower prosperity. The more sanguine Brexiteers believe any costs will be only short-term and the UK economy will soon benefit from new relationships with dynamic parts of the world, but the consensus is that there will be an economic price to pay for hard Brexit.
This is why two other models have come to the fore. The withdrawal deal May has, for now, opted not to put before the House of Commons included a short and non-binding political statement setting out the expectations of a new arrangement and including provisions for avoiding a hard border in Ireland, an aim all sides agree to be vital.
While it will require long and hard negotiations, the essence of the May deal for a future relationship is that the UK would no longer be part of the single market, delivering an end to free movement of EU workers, but would stay close to the customs union. The UK would also no longer be bound by the EU’s common policies on agriculture and fisheries. However, until mutually acceptable arrangements for the Irish border can be devised, the UK would have to accept a ‘backstop’, which could mean a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Latterly, objections to the May deal have seen a resurgence of interest in a model similar to the one Norway has with the EU. It would preclude more than token curbs on free movement of workers, require the UK to continue paying into the EU and would mean the UK having to conform to many EU rules it had little scope to influence. But it would mean relatively little economic disruption and costs. Some of those calling for the Norway model have the rather fanciful view that it could be an interim arrangement.
How to decide?
The binary choice in the referendum did not allow for the latter two options, both of which have been vilified as ‘BRINO’ – Brexit in name only – and it is worth recalling that May insisted shortly after becoming Prime Minister that there would be ‘no attempts to sort of stay in the EU through the back door’. But because they are adjudged to be less damaging for the British economy, they offer a potential compromise.
As a representative democracy, the ‘normal’ means of decision-making in the UK is through Parliament voting by simple majority on legislative proposals from the government. In the 2016 referendum, Parliament chose to delegate the decision to the people, but since then government ministers and party politicians have been unable to decide how to implement the result.
As things stand, there is no majority in the House of Commons for any of the four basic options. Tinkering with this or that detail, clarifying the exceptional circumstances in which the Irish backstop would be triggered or amplifying some of the vague promises in the political statement about the future UK-EU relationship will not alter this fact.
Procedural rules in Parliament further complicate matters, but breaking the deadlock will ultimately require the House of Commons to ‘take back control’ and to assemble, and legitimise, a majority for some way forward. It could be to establish a national government (a government of national unity seems implausible…) with a primary mandate of deciding what the country wants as the outcome.
Hard choices will be needed on some of the key elements of the relationship with the EU, such as free movement, the Irish border or the scope for trade and investment deals with other parts of the world. Parliament would then have to decide which of the four models best reconciles the tensions between the different priorities.
There would then be two options. Either Parliament would have to assert its constitutional right to decide and enact the required legislation, or it could revert to asking the people in a further referendum. Accusations of betraying democracy would abound and the national government would have to brace itself for waves of protest, but is there a credible alternative?
This article gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics.
Iain Begg is a Professorial Research Fellow at the European Institute and Co-Director of the Dahrendorf Forum, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Quelle surprise. The people voted the wrong way, so they must be bypassed somehow. The writing has in fact been on the wall for years. Democracy is being railroaded by the EU federalisation project. This, in turn, is part of the globalisation drive for a world dictatorship. What the author here proposes is what the entire charade was for. Ever since the referendum result was clear, a way had to be found to undo it. Parliament, or most of it, is all in with the government and the entire EU caboodle. The arguments against Brexit are specious, but the government and most of Parliament and almost the entire academic huffing and puffing machine are all in favour of undermining parliamentary democracy in Europe. Maybe they will pull it off. It has taken a thousand years and more for parliamentary democracy to evolve to something that was working reasonably well. It has taken less than fifty years to overthrow it. Interesting.
As a political moderate, I feel that Iain Begg’s proposals have a lot of merit.
The issue of Brexit is too important to be bounced between the parties in a partisan political way. I am fed up being dictated to by the extremists of the “Sun”, the “Daily Express”, the European Research Group, and the DUP. Yes, the people voted narrowly (52% against 48%) for Brexit, but certainly they did not vote for a “no deal” Brexit. This may very well mean, hard as it is for me as a Remainer to admit it, some form of “soft Brexit” similar to May’s plan being the best option to keep the country broadly united.
It would be for the parties in Parliament to come together and agree this. An ill prepared referendum or general election would only worsen the current situation. At the same time, a “hard Brexit” is looming by default, so an urgent extension to the Article 50 time period is needed.
Friiedrich, this has been debated at length. Remainers keep repeating the same furphies. It does not stack up. The terms ‘no deal’, ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’ terms to twist the debate and overturn the referendum result, as you well-know if you are as exercised by the issue as you appear to be. Cameron was very explicit, the terms and wording of the referendum was very specific and when May took over as PM she was also very specific until she slowly started to overturn and abrogate the referendum result. Remain lost.
Cameron said the result would be implemented. May said the result would be implemented. Parliament, upon being called upon to give its blessing, or otherwise, assented by a large majority. If you cannot see what has been done since, then you are not thinking. Cameron cannot be accused of lying on this particular point. He went back on his word and did a runner. May is the lying one. She has made herself a bed of lies and is lying in it, still spinning lies. Apart from all the obvious collusion, for a PM to go on as she has is a precedent. She is making a meal of it, with the full support of the mainstream media. Oh yes, a few are singing a counter tune, but it is from the same song sheet. The way those who voted leave have been thrashed and abused does not bode well for the future of stable government. However, the people decide. Next GE will see some changes, and if the losers in the electorate don’t like it, they have every justification if they do not accept the majority verdict. Even more justification for not accepting election results: it is always a minority government under FPTP.
A chaos socalled because the UK government refuses to implement Brexit as voted and as promised and voted through Parliament. A chaos perpetrated in order to sabotage and do away with parliamentary democracy. It is all too obvious. It’s a coup de etats, einem Putsch-pardon my German.
Thank you Jacob Jonker. I Think you are exactly right about the way the Leave Vote is being overturned. I would love to know what you think about why our Government allows the Financial Service Industry to be so powerful.and ruthless. It seems to have little interest in any place other than London.London wanted separate status from the rest of the UK and remain within the EU.Any government’s job is to ensure prosperity for all people and their businesses including Fishing and to make sure that the transport system works for the whole country not just London.The Government should not have rescued RBS. The 2008 crash should not have happened.in this country.I am horrified that.property speculation is still going on.at speed. I think London is killing itself with social cleansing of council houses.I shudder at the phalic glass and steel structures which are as cold as the EU parliament building ..Social cleansing of London is a disgrace with the sell of of council homes to developers.cynical.The Financial Service industry has corupt aspects and our whole economy should not rely on . I think the EU has crippled enterprise and freedom for most of it’s citizens and it has done nothing to curb the excesses of London. … .
Is this the other Mrs Cheek? Maybe the same person turning the other cheek. Anyway, I will take the question on its merits. London is a different country, in a way, and the Financial Services industry based there is essentially a global operation. This has advantages for the country as whole, by which I include all citizens and permanent residents, and, again using the same premise, it has disadvantages for the country as a whole. To answer the question properly, one, someone, would have to write a book of about ten volumes. However, there are literally scores of good books available on the subject which, together, give a sufficient overall picture to allow one a definite conclusion as to why things are as they are and why the government, every one of them going back forever, almost, leaves the City, the FSI, to be ah, ruthless and powerful as is.
The answer in short will be below.
Right;shut the windows, got power, coffee, all set. It starts with the very existence of the universe. For things to be made manifest, opposing energies are required. See basic physics and quantum physics. Whittled down, there are at a minimum two opposing forces. In the natural world, including human society, there are more potentially identifiable energies, push and pull factors, influences influencing the result of the next quantum moment pulse/setting that any body, other than the universe itself, which does it al the time, every quantum pulse, could possibly calculate. Roughly speaking, we have to accept that we can only factor in what we know, and then only get an approximate guess to the degree we understand. In tuition, i.e., plugging into the universe, helps. In short, everything has an influence upon everything else.
Next, political order. The end of history has been on offer, not least from the JWs, but also others-some very good at explaining the development of political order and the decay of some orders that are getting past their use-by date. History is still being made, btw. Humans are fully part of nature and subject to natural law. Genetically wired to exhibit certain behaviours. Boiled down to two opposites: cooperation and competition. These opposites operate at all levels of material, including the spiritual realms, manifestation. The history of the British Isles and Europe generally has brought us at this juncture. Imagine every Planck second from way back, five thousand years, every setting at every quantum pulse depending for the result upon the vast array of different influences. There is a system in engineering to calculate this for known factors. I forgot what it is called. But go over it once more and you’ll get the drift.
Human society is keep alive by the continual dying off of stasis. While stasis dies, other energies hitherto kept in check come to fill the place gradually vacated by the dying force of old momentum. There is a continuum of pulse settings, constant change. Marx is supposed to have remarked that all is flux. I have not read Marx. However, this much has been known since the beginning of nous, conscious knowing; all is flux. It’s a given.
Whichever came first, religion or politics, the quest for power over others has been there from day one. Religion is in fact politics, proto-politics. Still interchangeable with politics as yet, due to the fact that political operatives rely very much still on ideology and faith. After religion cum politics society got organised at successively more complex levels in a hierarchical manner, almost exclusively so. Both cooperation-submission and competition cum struggle to overpower and enslave the other got epi-genetically re-enforced and culturally embedded. Moneys, silver, gold and other mediums of exchange gained an entry and became increasingly important in human organisational affairs. The story of money is one one must study to gain an understanding of the relationship between government and, in this instance, the Financial Services Industry in London. Without at least one fluid medium of exchange modern society would not be, could not function. Such a fluid medium of exchange might be plain trust, but whatever it is, it only works if it can be trusted.
People always, almost, like to buy cheap and sell dear. Collect a sterling pound’s worth, or more, for a pound’s worth of goods or services, and pay less for a pound’s worth of goods and services. Like US President Trump, at the minute, Kings of yore, in order to be king, King, had to defend the realm or conquer more territorium-wage war, in other words- but always, almost, had a problem with supply. Gimme the money, they would say. Mint coins with gold. Buy,beg, borrow or steal the gold and mint socalled gold coins, or silver, that were denatured, cut, adulterated, debased, etc. Royals also had an expensive lifestyle to support. The solution was brought by internationalists who had knowledge of state finances gathered way back in Egyptian rule by pharaohs. International high finance was born. The rest is history. We know Tibet shut itself off from the world and was soon unable to defend itself when a powerful neighbour regained its composure after centuries of disarray and being stood over, to a degree, by colonialists from the West.
In order to survive as an individual, family, tribe, nation and/or nation-state, one must needs deal with the world at large in order to stay in touch, know what’s what, what the rest of the world is about and maintain the wherewithal needed to not be taken over.
The City is international in being, outlook and execution. Money creation is a strong hand. Government has always been corrupt, but besides, government has long been by and for the people who mattered. The union movement, then Labour, until both were coopted, put some balance in the political equation of rulers versus the ruled, but the benign paternalism which ensued did not last, because the ruled got complacent and took their politicians on trust. In this our world, because the ruled let money rule their lives, money constitutes power, and when people, the ruled, give themselves over to money and perceived economic advantage over and above all else, money rules, power rules totally and since power corrupts, total power corrupts totally. London is the modern equivalent of the old Babylon. The City its essense. The provinces in the UK can be said to have been neglected by politicians, but really, the people themselves, the ruled, have neglected themselves, have neglected to keep up. The Brexit affair is such a fertile field for people to study. The political operatives know their charges. Look how public opinion is pushed and pulled to stop people thinking for themselves. It’s a lesson in political Machiavellian cooperation of certain forces competing against disorganised and divided people who allow themselves to be ruled, divided and swayed. A touch of geopolitics hits Britain’s national politics. It’s a lesson for the masses. Paternalism has morphed into something else. A strange political beast, if another description fails to adequately describe it.
It’s all due to some imbalance in the affairs of the democratic nation-states. There!
Thank you again Jacob Jomker. I like your long reply and you have quite likely explained well. I have put in a rather loose ended missive.though, because I think there is a raw truth about the stories told by people about their lives and the bad effect EU politics has had on them..Without every story though, like the friend I have who is a concert pianist and is worried about free movement after Brexit it will be difficult to know if any decision one makes is right.In the end one just has to go by a gut feeling. .
A national government would not work because the 650 MP’s are so divided nothing would get resolved.