BREXIT – The Modern Political Disaster

The Wider Picture

The human race faces huge challenges and our survival is at stake. These challenges are global issues affecting billions of people in many and various ways. The main ones are population and the environment. If we are ever to solve such problems we must be prepared to work together, to collaborate and cooperate across the entire world. The ability for any individual states to address these problems is necessarily limited.

The challenges are not just technical. Managing population growth and continuing to survive and maintain our current quality of life with an ageing population, will be very difficult. Shifting the world from its dependence upon carbon based energy sources, especially oil, will have huge economic, social, political and demographic impact, which for many will be worse than living with the issues we are trying to solve.

Relatively few of us in the developed Western World alive today will really face the real consequences of environmental and population extremes. But it is the excesses and opulence of our world that has led to much to the environmental destruction and the consequential inequitable distribution of wealth throughout the world that has resulted in over population, especially in parts of the world less capable of managing it.

Whatever the answer might be, if there is one, it must arise from initiatives within the developed world. We have the technologies, the intellectual and organisational abilities and we have the true understanding of the problem so we really have no excuse for not appreciating the consequences of our inaction. We also have the money and resources required to create change.

Of course, current generations close their eyes to the challenges of the future, or worse still, salve their consciences by fiddling around the edges of these problems by implementing measures that make little or no difference besides making us think we are actually doing something. Whatever, it is our future generations that will bear the real consequences of this inaction.

We can go on talking about what the problem is, but are we ever going to set out to solve it?

So, at a time when we need to be working closer together, building global initiatives to solve these huge problems we see the world dividing through conflict and selfishness. The Trump drive to “Make America Great Again” at the cost of the rest of the world and by denying the realities of climate change, is very much the kind of thing that will secure our unfortunate and disastrous futures.

And Brexit is very much the same sort of wrong decision separating us from Europe and trying to re-establish ourselves as a little, independent islands while we desperately need to be closer to the rest of the world to successfully defeat these threats that will see our numbers decimated.

The Decision – How our Prime Minister gambled the country’s future on solving the pathetic in-fighting within his own party that he was unable to control himself

The conservatives have been riven with differences over Europe for decades. The rise of UKIP created a further challenge to the party as they ran scared of losing members to the ranks of the right-wing extremists and Euro-haters. Unable to manage to keep the odd back bencher from departing to political obscurity and despite knowing that a significant majority of MPs in the House would back remaining in the EU, David Cameron decided to put an end to it by proving that the country really wanted to remain part of the EU. He then asked the public to decide something they are simply not capable of deciding, having a very poor and limited knowledge of the workings of the EU and the implications of deciding to leave.

Furthermore, Cameron completely mis-judged the mood of the people. With his background and up-bringing he was never going to understand just how difficult life has been for so many under the cosh of austerity brought on by the extravagance, greed and selfishness of decades of mismanagement of the economy by the Government for the benefit of the wealthy minority. In particular, he had no idea that many people would believe that their problems; their declining standard of living, the breakdown of their communities, the challenges of the economy, the NHS, education, law and order and so many other issues, were down to the EU, especially because of immigration. He also failed to understand that these day-to-day issues people face lead them to want to see change. Without thinking of the consequences, people just wanted things to be different. They can only get better. The same thinking got Donald Trump elected president of the US.

The Process – How the sequence of events has led to the situation we find ourselves in now

Mistake 1 - Asking the British public, who were thoroughly fed up with austerity, what they thought was a good idea

The first mistake made was to call a referendum. We have a blind faith in democracy, but if you ask people to judge and decide upon an issue that they do not understand it is hard to see how democracy can help to ensure we get the right outcome. Who would know what leaving the EU would actually mean – after all it has not happened to any other state before. I’m not sure we even know what it means today.

Furthermore, how many really understood the benefits of being in the EU? Some of us have worked widely with partners, customers, suppliers, colleagues, across Europe and the opportunities and the overall experiences have been very positive. I susupect that a lot of people have very little experience of Europe, other than perhaps a holiday in Spain.

Assuming that the outcome of any particular democratic process is by definition the ideal is worth questioning. Just because we ask people to decide in a free decision process is not always the best way to arrive at the right decision. That is why we elect representatives to make these decisions for us on an informed basis (more on that later).

Mistake 2 – How to make one big red bus so effective in promulgating a message

The campaign preceding the referendum was so widely questionable for so many reasons. The leave campaign put forward largely flawed arguments and on occasions were undoubtedly guilty of duplicity when it came to presenting the facts. The bus was amazingly successful in getting their message across and giving people an entirely false view of what the EU meant.

What was so much worse was the way the pro-remainers set out their campaign, especially Mr Cameron himself, who was effectively gambling his career and political legacy on the result. It is tempting to believe that he was just too confident that the people would return the correct result, demonstrate their collective enthusiasm for Europe and silence his Eurosceptic pretenders to his throne. In fact, many were complacent in that fact. Remain supporters could have done far more to help people to understand the implications of leaving the EU. Showing the electorate exactly what it would mean.

Sadly, fewer young people chose to vote in the referendum, and it has been subsequently argued that it is their vote that matters as they will have to live with the long term consequences. As we now know, there was a huge gap in the perspective of the young and old in the referendum result. Much more should have been done to get young people to vote. The remainers should have held regular rallies at all further education establishments in the country, and even in secondary schools. We should have given 16-year olds the vote too.

Mistake 3 The Result – Most people were surprised

In the end, the outcome was a shock to so many who were convinced that we would choose to stay.

Why did people vote to leave the EU?

This is a difficult question to answer. Many were just fed up with the way things were. Many voted purely for change.

Why did people think we would be better off outside the EU?

The main reasons given were; immigration and sovereignty, although it is probably true that it boiled down to the basic idea of not being told what to do by those on the continent, especially the so-called faceless bureaucrats setting all these ridiculous rules that we are forced to live by.

Demographically and geographically there was considerable variation of perspective. In some parts of the country, the decision was particularly surprising. Many people work for foreign companies; Nissan (French/Japanese), Toyota (Japanese), Vauxhall and Ford (American), Jaguar Land Rover (Indian), water companies, electricity companies, train companies, numerous financial companies, the list goes on. Some of these companies are in the UK because we are in the EU and most if not all, have established a way of working with the EU which will be disrupted by leaving. How many people voted to leave in places like Sunderland, Derby, the West Midlands, etc whose jobs must, by definition, be affected by the UK departing the EU?

David Cameron resigned, Nigel Farage stood down as UKIP leader and Boris Johnson slid off into the shadows to leave Jacob Rees-Mogg to lead the on-going campaign to convince people this was a good idea after all. Another Old Etonian with a limited grip on reality.

Theresa May clasped the poisoned chalice with both hands and took on the mantle of accepting ultimate responsibility for the outcome. From day 1 she could not win. Whatever the outcome no one would be happy with it and every opportunistic politician would be there to take advantage of her discomfort.

So many seemed to have the naïve idea that we might be in a position to demand the solution we want, as if our negotiating position was very strong and the EU would be so keen to arrive at an outcome that is beneficial to the UK.

Mistake 4 – Make your negotiation that much harder by imposing a time limit on yourself

Theresa May then took over with the process of making poor decisions. She invoked Article 50 of the Treaty which ensured that we self-imposed a two-year deadline for negotiating. All before any meaningful preparation for negotiation. Anyone with any experience of negotiating would know that any time limit imposes undue stress and puts the weaker negotiating partner at a major disadvantage, and so it has become.

The PM may well have argued that it was her responsibility to enact the will of the people (this expression became a mantra for many), but there is a perfectly reasonable argument that the Government should give itself time to plan for the negotiation and to achieve a much better, more detailed view of what Brexit would mean for us. Once we had done that we could invoke article 50 fully prepared to commence negotiations immediately.

Mistake 5 – Theresa decides inexplicably to surrender her majority

Despite having given herself limited time to negotiate and finalise a deal in time for leaving the EU, the Prime Minister decided to go to the country, presumably to give herself a greater authority to conduct the negotiations and to silence her detractors who all had their own idea of what Brexit should actually mean.

Well, that went well didn’t it?

Losing her majority, she was forced to compound the problem by bribing the DUP to support her so that she could achieve a small majority when she had to. Giving the right-wing, narrow-minded bigots of Northern Ireland any form of power is completely unacceptable by any standards. This has proved to be even truer as the border with the Irish Republic has proved to be the most difficult and thorny issues of the Brexit negotiations.

As well as wasting time, she managed to make the whole thing so much harder when facing down opposition in the House.

Mistake 5 – It is universally known that it so much better to have your adversaries inside the tent

The whole process of preparing for Brexit should have been a cross-party, non-political undertaking. Everyone in the House of Commons should have been prepared to put political differences behind them and resisted the temptation to make political mileage from Brexit and instead committed themselves to doing what is best for the nation. In order to achieve that, the PM should have established a cross-party working group giving every party a chance to contribute and to get their sign up for the process from the beginning. The working group should also have included leading figures such as the Governor of the Bank of England, Head of the CBI, NFU, The Unions, charities, etc and leading contributors in any other area likely to be affected by Brexit.

This group should have worked towards an agreed scope to inform the negotiation process, enabling the PM to enter negotiations with clear objectives defining:

  1. The red-lines, ie those things we have to have and cannot move on;
  2. The negotiable issues where we would have a preferred position and defined scope to negotiate and where compromise might be possible;
  3. The issues that are nice to have, but can be conceded if necessary;
  4. Things that we expect to give and receive as part of the negotiation;
  5. The things we know the EU will expect to get.

The group would research the needs and objectives of the EU, to understand what is important to them and where they have room for negotiation so that the PM would be able to understand her opposite number as much as possible.

All this would result in a briefing that would give the negotiators the power, authority and consent to negotiate and when they return with a deal that is within this scope, they can be sure it will be acceptable. Where the negotiation takes them outside the scope, they would have a clear mandate to tell the EU that they cannot agree to whatever their expectation is.

All this is about doing the necessary preparation work for the negotiation and ensuring the negotiators are properly equipped to do their job with appropriate authority.

Mistake 6 – Thinking we have a strong negotiating experience

Falling for one’s own rhetoric is a cardinal sin even in politics, so to go into this process believing that we are well positioned to get a good deal is plain naïve. The EU has one prime objective and that is to protect the institution of the EU. It cannot put that at risk by giving us a deal that would appear to make us better off after leaving the EU, otherwise EU sceptics throughout Europe would have so much ammunition to their argument of leaving the EU and that could put the entire EU project in jeopardy

We have very little to offer that might persuade the EU to be beneficent to us. It is almost certain that their position is likely to be, take it or leave it.

Mistake 7 – Whoever thought Parliament would agree to a deal they had no buy-in to?

Giving the House the right to vote on the deal that comes out of the negotiations only guarantees that the political manoeuvring of the PM’s opponents will enable them to vote down the deal with the express intention of forcing a general election and a leadership election. Given that they are only interested in their own political position they are hardly going to say that the deal looks just fine. Even within her own party, Theresa May is going to get dissent.

Ultimately, the deal on the table that they are being asked to agree to is not what they want Brexit to be, but in fact, what Brexit actually is, ie the reality of the situation. For too long the Leavers have been telling us what Brexit will be, full of empty promises as to how much better off we will be. Brexit will be what the EU determines it to be and if we do not like that, we have a no-deal option, which by almost any sane person is seen as a total disaster. So, now we have to come to terms with what Brexit is rather than what has been promised by those in no position to deliver it. It is not Theresa May’s fault it is like that. One can only assume that when she sat down with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier they simply said; “Theresa, this is how it will be”.

Now we have had that vote and the outcome was just as expected, perhaps even worse. Some are now trying to force the Government into not accepting a no-deal scenario, as if they are able to commit to that at all. So, what happens now? Indeed, are there any options available at all? The EU has been crystal clear that there will be no further negotiation of the deal, so what else is there besides no-deal? Can we delay the inevitable by postponing the Brexit date? Perhaps, but without any meaningful alternative, which so far no one in Parliament has come up with anything and for which there is absolutely no consensus, where does that lead us?

As expected of course, Jeremy Corbyn is trying to use this situation to force a general election on the grounds that the Conservatives are at an all-time low and this is his best chance of becoming PM, even after Labour lost all those Scottish seats to the SNP. Once again, political self-interest has priority over the nation's. He refuses to join multi-party talks, which should have taken place 2 years ago, so one cannot believe he has any interest in sorting this for the country. It is very hard to believe though that he honestly thinks he can become PM and then go to the EU and negotiate a better deal. Surely no one can believe that!

So the debacle continues unabated.

Consequences – So much more than just Brexit

The campaigning for the referendum was entirely divisive, splitting the country between leave and remain, even to the extent of coming between family members. No single issue has had such a contentious effect on people.

Brexit has dominated the political seen for two years while little or nothing else is getting done, and certainly the media has found little else to talk about. Consequently, we have seen a huge neglect of serious issues which are impacting all our lives. A few examples:

  1. Increasing inequity in wealth distribution throughout the country, with more getting poorer and the wealthy getting richer;
  2. Higher levels of homelessness with more and more living on the streets;
  3. Serious crimes of violence, especially amongst the young;
  4. Degenerating standards of education with high levels of exclusion, ridiculous focus on PC issues and teachers being under huge stress leading to low morale and rapid turnover of staff;
  5. Under-funding of the NHS leading to long waits to get attention, whether it is to see your GP, to see a specialist, have a routine operation or when you need an ambulance or care in A&E;
  6. A failing criminal justice system leading to poor levels of conviction and alarming levels of wrongful conviction;
  7. Poor performance in our transport systems with chaos on the railways when the timetables change, to poor punctuality and regular cancellations;
  8. Crowded roads with long delays and poor maintenance standards leaving roads in dangerously poor condition with pot-holes;
  9. An economy that still struggles even after massive levels of austerity to eliminate the deficit.

And the list goes on.

We have witnessed some of the most outrageous, infantile and pathetic behaviour by so many MPs and we have had to watch a successive line of people who are hugely out of their depth dealing with this and other issues. Possibly the most serious consequence of this travesty is the total lack of faith we have now in our leaders. We seem to witness example after example of inexplicable behaviour and inadequate performance and decisions that only seem to be fundamentally corrupt and not at all in the public interest.

Where to now?

In the 19th century this country undertook several phases of parliamentary reform. Perhaps the last of any consequence of these was granting universal suffrage. Since then, little has changed. Custom and tradition seem to dictate that however unsuitable and inappropriate the conduct of our representatives might be, we are lucky to have such an outstanding system.

However, one could argue that it is fundamentally flawed and no longer fit for purpose. The environment within which we live, the impact of the media, etc dictates that the time has come for radical change. I am no believer in revolution as that just replaces one failing system with one that is far worse. However, we should look to different and alternative ways of doing things which will lead to some key improvements and we should not be afraid to question existing ways.

A good model would be the way a company which is well managed, is run, with a board and an executive team. This model has many benefits. It has some democracy with the shareholders, it has a team which runs the business on a day to day basis with a chief executive in charge and it has a group of directors who advise and support the company to bring to bear their expertise for the benefit of the company.

Some ideas of how this might work in practice:

  1. Removing the link between the parties and their roles within Parliament so each MP acts according to their principles, the best interests of the country and their constituents.
  2. Remove the funding of political parties by anyone looking for favours after the election. This is fundamentally corrupt. Politicians should do what is right, not what they are paid to do by interested parties.
  3. Elect the Government and possibly also the PM from within the ranks of the House.
  4. Organise the upper house to support and advise the Government. Fill it with esteemed and contributive supporters from all walks of life where their skills, expertise and experience can be of value to the nation. Relevant people can work then with the appropriate departments to help make them successful.
  5. Establish a meaningful way of introducing, debating, supporting and voting on legislation. Get rid of the whips. Have constructive, open debate conducted in a civilised and mature way.
  6. Ensure that big and important decision such as going to war with Iraq or calling a referendum on EU membership can only be made by the House and not by a single individual.
  7. Introduce some qualification standard for being an MP, Minister, PM etc.

The objective must be to get Parliament working much more effectively, breaking down the destructive and negative nature of confrontational politics and making sure that those tasked have the competence, experience, support etc. that their role necessitates.

Substantial change is needed and a more collaborative approach to politics ushered in. Perhaps we will stop this shameful catalogue of avoidable errors.

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