Tag Archives: Europe

Britain’s Political Clans and Brexit

A new study by BMG research and researchers at the University of Manchester[1], suggests that it is possible to group the UK electorate into 10 distinct values based “clans”, and that these “clan” identities provide a better explanation of voting behaviour in 2015, 2017 and the Brexit referendum, than traditional left/right, social class or demographic factors.  The research is based on survey evidence from 27,000 people, who responded to 27 values based questions.

The argument is that values, which may be unconscious, and which are linked to people’s emotions, serve as decision-making shortcuts or standards for evaluating actions, policies, people and events. They are thus the underlying drivers of voting behaviour, perhaps taking precedence over “rational” weighing of costs and benefits.

This fits with the widespread observation that voting behaviour in the EU Referendum, and much of the subsequent political debate on Brexit, is emotional, and that attitudes to Brexit and subsequent developments are surprisingly uninfluenced by changing evidence. It has also been observed that, while 31% of the electorate say that are not supporters of any political party, only 10% do not define themselves as “leavers” or “remainers” on the Brexit issue[2] (and 44% say that they are “very strong” “remainers” or “leavers”).

The paper also argues that the “clan” approach more accurately represents the political realities, which are masked by traditional binary analyses. For example, “left v right” misrepresents a much more complex reality, where, for example, people may simultaneously hold left wing economic, and right wing social, views. They demonstrate that in the 2015 and 2017 elections and the Brexit referendum, clan membership was a more accurate predictor of voting behaviour than socio-economic group.

Six clans, which account for two thirds of the electorate, are strongly associated with leave or remain positions. Because their positions are rooted in fundamental values, they are the least likely to change their views.

  • “Remainers”: In three clans the clear majority of members voted remain (by 39, 67 and 82%). These three clans represent 30% of the electorate, and their values are international, broadly left wing on social policy and relaxed/positive about migration.
  • “Leavers”: In three clans a clear majority voted leave (by 50, 66, and 69%). These three clans represent 33% of the electorate, and support a small state, feel strongly about British institutions and are conservative on social issues. Some have socialist views on the economy, but they are opposed to migration and multiculturalism.

In terms of future policy, it is the other four clans whose positions are most interesting, although they are the least interested in politics. Nevertheless they form the battleground for any new referendum campaign:

NHS – “Notting Hill Society” (10% of the electorate: 52:48% for remain).

The most pro-business of all clans. Mixing a modern form of conservatism (associated with Cameron and Osborne) on the environment and society, with traditional views on family life and British institutions. Relatively positive on migration and multiculturalism. This is the oldest of these four clans (the leave associated clans are all rather older).

For the NHS clan, the key issues probably relate to the impact of Brexit on business and trade, and the impact on environmental regulation.

MWL – “Modern Working Life” (7%: 52:48% for remain))

Strong believers in the value of hard work and social mobility, supporting the view that it is always possible to achieve your goals, so long as you work hard. They tend to adopt left-of-centre economic values, but on balance they believe individuals, not others, should be responsible for their own financial well-being, and tend to hold liberal views on the environment, LGBT rights and gender equality. They are also moderately positive about immigration. This is the youngest clan and the one who swung dramatically from Conservative to Labour in the 2017 election (by 21%).

For the MWL clan, the key arguments are likely to be around social (and perhaps geographical) mobility, the opportunities to work and issues of environment and equality.

SAR – “Strength, Agreeable & Respect” (9%: 58:42% for leave)

These tend to favour authority and discipline, leaning in favour of a ‘just desserts’ approach to crime and punishment, and a tendency to favour authority and discipline in various areas of public policy, including defence, human rights and the justice system. They have a preference for a strong and often uncompromising state, which extends to areas such as defence and Britain’s place in the world. Mixed views on most other areas of social and economic policy.

For the SAR clan, the key arguments are likely to be around defence and security, and Britain’s place in the world.

APY – Apathy (10%: 52:48% for leave)

Generally uninterested and disengaged from politics, with very few strong views on many issues. They are unlikely to have given much thought to most economic, political and societal questions, either because they are simply not interested, or because they feel alienated by the current state of our politics.

This clan are least likely to turnout for any future referendum, and it is difficult to identify what issues might change this. However, they should not be ignored since, in the 2016 Referendum, a significant number of people who had never voted before chose to do so, perhaps because in a referendum every vote counts (unlike most votes under the normal UK “first past the post” electoral system).

 

[1] https://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CONFIDENTIAL_FRACTURED_POLITICS_TURNER_M_ET_AL_2018_V4.pdf

[2] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2018/10/23/remainer-or-leaver-the-emergence-of-the-brexit-identity-prism/

Is Labour running out of time on Brexit

The Labour Party strategy on Brexit is to wait to see the deal which the government negotiates with the EU, measure it against the “six tests”, and decide whether to support it. This maximises confusion in the Conservative Party and the prospect of a General Election. However, I believe that time is running out, the prospects of an election are very thin, and the Party should be taking a stronger and more public line.

The six tests were all proposed by leading leave campaigners, but it is clear that no possible Brexit agreement can meet them. So the Party will vote against the government’s deal when it comes to Parliament. However, since the Conservatives, with the DUP, have an absolute majority, we will lose and it will go ahead. If there are any rebels, they are likely to cancel each other out. The result will probably be bad, and the Conservatives will have to take the blame, but by then Brexit will be over.

The Labour hope is that the Conservative Party will implode over this, leading to a General Election and a Labour government. However, losing the vote in Parliament does not bring down the government. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act a General Election is only called by a two thirds majority for a motion in the Commons, or if the government lose a vote of no confidence and no other leader can form a government. Either way, Labour strategy relies on Tory rebels, voting in the knowledge that they are probably putting Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, and I don’t believe that even the most rabid Brexiters will risk that. That is the gamble that Theresa May has made, and I think she will win.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks on. At the end of March next year we will crash out of the EU unless one of three things happens:

  • A deal is agreed. The most likely deal now is going to be a version of the Norway agreement. People will be told that it is “real” Brexit, and many will accept that. However, it will not satisfy hard Brexiters, nor those Remainers who care about the UK’s votes and influence.
  • The Article 50 notice is withdrawn. This is legally possible, but Parliament is unlikely to risk doing this for fear of appearing to defy “the will of the people”, unless a referendum has given authority.
  • The EU agree to an extension of the Article 50 period This is only likely to be acceptable to the EU if they can see a prospect that we might decide to remain.

Virtually all MPs, and all interested parties in the UK and the rest of the EU agree that crashing out would be catastrophic, but the UK government claims to be preparing for it, and some commentators in Europe are beginning to think it is the only, or simplest, solution (since they already have systems in place for working with third countries).
The longer this takes, the less likely a deal (including remaining in the EU) is. There are a number of severe constraints:

  • There are 8 months left (including the dead summer holiday period, the party conference season and Christmas).
  • The EU says that 6 months are needed for ratification of any deal by the 30+ Parliaments and the institutions of the EU.
  • A UK General Election requires weeks of preparation, and is difficult to hold in mid-winter.
  • A Referendum requires at least two months for campaigning.
  • In May there are elections for the European Parliament. The UK’s seats have already been distributed among the 27. Withdrawing Article 50 would severely disrupt the process.

Theresa May is gambling that the threat of a Corbyn government will, in the end, keep her MPs in line, and that if she drags the process out long enough, the only feasible option will be to accept a soft, Norway style deal. By delaying taking a clear stand, Labour risks us falling into that by default. Is that what we believe is best for the country, and the people?

The Labour Party position on Brexit

On 19th May, Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit spoke at the Fabian Society Summer Conference. I found this the clearest and most explicable account I have read of the Labour Party’s position, and for the first time I felt I understood the logic behind it – even if I disagree with it.
The key points are that the Labour Party:

– is concentrating on supporting the Lords amendments which give control back to Parliament.
– remains committed to its six tests of the Brexit deal (all of which have been promised by Theresa May), and will vote against the motion to approve the deal if it fails to meet them.
– is not supporting the People’s Vote campaign, because the timescales make it impractical, and polling suggests it might deliver a divisive and inconclusive result.

However, nothing is ruled out, since things can change rapidly.

My full note is at: The Labour position Fabians May 18 web

What next on Brexit?

During the last year, my thinking about our relationship with the European Union has been evolving. I remain convinced that leaving is a major act of political, social, and economic self harm (in that order), which will damage most many of those who voted to leave. This is a (long) account of my views. I have written it against the background of a debate in the Broadland Constituency Labour Party about what the Party should do, but has wider implications.

A political project

For me, membership of the European Union is about values, peace and solidarity with our friends and neighbours. The European Union is probably the most ambitious political project ever attempted. It set out to create a community of shared values, among countries of widely differing sizes and cultures, operating in 24 official languages. Above all it set out to prevent Europe sliding back into the internal warfare which had been the norm for centuries, culminating in the horrors of two twentieth century wars. Since its creation we have seen the establishment of democracy across all the member states, and the longest period of peace in Europe since the Roman Empire. No one under 80 today has any real experience of what it was like to live with war, and we have come to think of peace as normal: it is not: we live in an increasingly dangerous world, where we need friends, not enemies.

One of the strategies of the Brexit campaigners, over the decades they have been fighting the battle, is to claim that the EU is fundamentally an economic union, and can therefore be judged by economic outcomes: a weighing of costs and benefits. But this is a (deliberate) mistake.

The EU was founded on a set of fundamentally social democratic values. It supports democracy, citizens’ rights, equitable treatment of countries and organisations. Through the EU, the member states agree major, overarching goals for public policy. It recognises the role of government, at regional, national and European levels in regulating markets and ensuring fair treatment for all players. It aims to address big and complex issues which extend beyond the boundaries of nation states, like climate, demographic, technological and industrial change. It also aims to make it easy for people throughout the Union to behave as if they were in one country, with no barriers to movement, working and living.

A democratic institution

In any democracy there are competing views, interests and strategies. Good governance depends on maintaining a delicate balance between majority and minority interests, and between member states and the collective Union. Of course, it cannot always satisfy everyone. Complex compromises are essential. Sometimes this involves long implementation timescales, sometimes exceptions are made for individual member states. Reaching agreement with all the parties and countries can be mind numbingly slow and tedious, but is still better than war. Inevitably disputes arise about the interpretation of EU laws and regulations, and The European Court of Justice (to which each member state appoints a judge) exists to adjudicate on such disputes.

Negotiating and agreeing solutions involves complex work by the EU’s civil service, the Commission (which is a relatively small for the size of the task: about the size of a middle sized UK Government Department). Sometimes the Commission funds research to understand the challenges and possible solutions.  Where solutions call for significant legislation or regulation, the decisions are taken jointly by the member states (through the Council), and the elected Parliament. To pass, legislation must be supported by a majority of countries, representing a majority of the population, as well as a majority in the Parliament. Over time, the processes and institutions have evolved to increase transparency, accountability and democratic influence.

The Euro is a special, and difficult issue in the debate on the EU. In retrospect, many believe that it was a mistake to set it up without an accountable democratic system of governance, and the UK was certainly wise to opt out (another example of how the EU can adapt to a particular nation’s issues). The result has been inappropriate lending policies followed by the imposition of punitive regulations on some member states. These problems have been exacerbated by the economic crisis of 2008 (not the fault of the EU), and as a result, public confidence in the Euro, and the EU as a whole has been badly shaken. Those who criticise the lack of democratic accountability in the management of the Euro have a case, but the Euro is not the EU.

Losing our influence

Since we voted to join the European Economic Community in 1975, the UK has always been one of the most influential members. Because it is the third largest country by population, very few significant decisions are taken without UK support, usually in alliance with Germany and France. On issues of particular sensitivity to the UK we have been given special treatment (exclusion from the Schengen Agreement on free movement, and from the Euro, and a large rebate on our notional subscriptions). British diplomats, lawyers and civil servants have a high reputation and significant roles in the workings of the EU. When the Lisbon Treaty established the role of High Representative on Foreign Affairs (to speak for the EU on international issues) the first appointee was a British Labour politician. It is ironic that it was a British lawyer who drafted Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, with the aim of appeasing the right wing of the British Conservative Party.

The suggestion that the UK has no influence over laws and regulations is a myth. Between 1999 and 2016, the EU passed 2592 laws. In the Council of Ministers, the UK voted in favour of 95% of these (2466). The level of disagreement is, of course, higher than this, since drafts are only presented to Parliament and the Council after lengthy diplomatic preliminary work, where some ideas are removed before even being published. UK Ministers have sometimes voted against the majority of elected UK MEPs.

The EU’s evolving mission

Meanwhile, the EU continues to evolve, and will go on doing so after/if the UK leaves.  The Union has agreed a set of ten future policy priorities:

  • Jobs, growth and investment
  • Digital single market
  • Energy union and climate
  • Internal market
  • Deeper and fairer economic and monetary union
  • A balanced and progressive trade policy to harness globalisation
  • Justice and fundamental rights
  • Migration
  • A stronger global actor
  • Democratic change

All of these issues matter to the UK, and to the electorate who voted in the referendum. If we stay within the EU, we would have the opportunity to influence the direction of these policies. Outside, we have no voice, but the EU will move on without us. For the last 43 years we have been “rule makers” in EU policy, and if we leave we will necessarily become “rule takers”, since our economy depends so heavily of the EU, There is no option to ignore the policies of the EU. We are 60 million, the 27 countries are 440 million. It is absurd to think that we will continue to have as much influence over the issues which matter most to us after Brexit as we have now.

In 2019 elections will be held for the European Parliament. If Brexit goes ahead, the UK’s parliamentary seats will be redistributed among the other member states, and we will lose our democratic voice.

The EU and the member states

The EU is a collaborative club of member states, who join for mutual benefit, and agree to contribute to the costs. The success of the common enterprise depends on everyone playing by the rules, but being prepared to tolerate compromises to meet the particular needs of individual states.

What is not negotiable is commitment to the “four freedoms” (freedom of movement of goods, services, money and people) which gives equal rights to all citizens, companies and organisations, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which adjudicates in disputes.

If any member state refuses to abide by these rules, it acquires an unfair advantage over the other members, which is precisely what the Union was created to avoid. It is therefore essential to the survival of the entire enterprise that no country breaks these rules. The EU has no interest in “punishing” the UK if it leaves, but it cannot reasonably be expected to agree to the UK having an unfair advantage over its members. If everyone leaves the club and expects to keep the benefits, there is no longer a club!

What did people vote for?

The Brexit referendum offered a simple binary choice. Campaigners on both side offered visions of the consequences of leaving or remaining, but most of this was inevitably speculation, and much was exaggerated. In a real sense, no one could know what they were voting for.

Opinion polls since have tried to investigate what people thought they were voting for, and the picture is not at all clear. Some thought it was primarily about immigration, while others prioritised “control” (though whose control over what was much less clear). One significant poll shortly after the referendum illustrates the problem. When asked whether people would prioritise remaining in the Single Market over controlling immigration, the balance was 2:1 in favour of remaining in the Single Market: a policy which the Government has repeatedly rejected.

What outcomes are possible?

In principle there can only be four outcomes from the Brexit negotiations:

“No deal”

meets the requirement to honour the referendum result, but it is inconceivable, and no one seriously believes that it will happen. If all existing agreements and treaties lapsed on 29th March 2019, there would be no legal authority to adjudicate in disputes between the UK and the rest of the EU, and businesses would be unlikely to risk operating across the border. Air traffic would stop, existing EU contracts would be in limbo, imports of medical isotopes for cancer treatment would stop, and financial services based in the UK would no longer be able to do business in the rest of the EU. The Irish border would be closed, with a threat to political stability. The legal status and rights of UK citizens living in the EU, and EU citizens living in the UK would be unclear. World Trade Organisation tariffs would be introduced immediately on UK exports to the EU (and probably EU imports to the UK), causing major delays at ports, given the need for large numbers of additional customs checks. Import delays would provoke serious food shortages. If businesses believed that this was at all likely, the emergency plans required to protect their commercial interests might cause significant unemployment and social disruption.

Soft Brexit

can also meet the requirement to “leave”, though Brexit campaigners differ in what compromises they would accept. There are several variants of “soft Brexit” (including Norway, Canada, Switzerland), but all involve “cherry picking” which bits of EU rules and institutions we remain in, and what we pay for the privilege. All depend on the willingness of the other member states to agree, and all require us to renounce our seats on the Council, Parliament, Commission and Court of Justice, and to give up our votes on laws, regulations and the future direction of the Union. To continue to cooperate on issues like medicines, crime and air traffic we would need to create a large number of new institutions to parallel those which we are members of as members of the EU. We would need to create a new body to adjudicate in disputes, to replace the ECJ. Any realistic version of “soft Brexit” would thus be very expensive to implement and while it would satisfy the requirement to “leave”, it would not actually increase control over anything significant.

Stop Brexit

is still an option, but would clearly not honour the expectations of those who voted for Brexit. Up until 29th March 2019, the UK can withdraw its notice to leave, and return to its previous status. The UK would retain unrestricted access to the EU market, and benefit from the EU’s trade agreements with 70 odd other countries either agreed or in active negotiation. In return it must continue to contribute to the budget and subscribe to the four freedoms. Although Parliament has the constitutional right to decide to stop the Brexit process, it is unlikely to do so for fear of punishment by the electorate for abandoning the “will of the people”. It therefore requires either a substantial change in public opinion (which is not yet evident) or a new mandate (through a general election or a new referendum on the terms on offer).

Leave and return.

The UK might decide to leave the EU on one of the bases listed above, and then, after some years, change its mind. Opinion polling suggests that public opinion is quite likely to support this, since opposition to membership is far greater among older people. However, under EU law, the UK would have to apply like any new applicant state, and abide by the rules. This would probably require us to join Schengen and the Euro, and lose the current budget rebate. This would be a very expensive option.

The Labour Party’s policy

Finally, a comment on the parochial interests of the UK Labour Party. The last two years have shown the extraordinary irresponsibility of the British Conservative Party, prepared to put at risk the UK’s economy, social welfare and standing in the world (all issues they claim to care about), to deal with an internal party squabble. Once again, they have demonstrated that retaining control of government in the party interest outbids any national interest. Against this, the Labour Party needs to be a strong voice for what is best for the UK as a whole. This should be a principled position, not based on our chances of tipping out a weak and divided government, desirable as that is.

Respected legal opinion is that nothing in the 2017 Labour Manifesto is prohibited by EU laws. Where there is any doubt, our chances of changing things are greater as members than as outsiders. It is also clear that there are many things that some on the political right would like that are prevented by membership. Freedom from EU laws and regulations would enable a Conservative UK government to repeal legislation protecting workers’, citizens’, and consumers’ rights. It would also protect us from the EU’s plans to regulate tax havens. It is not a coincidence that the leave campaign was led and funded by some of the richest people in the country, and supported by print media owned by tax exiles.

Conclusion

The referendum was limited, but legitimate. Although only 37% of the electorate voted leave, people were told that that a simple majority of those voting would be sufficient result, and 52% of them chose leave. They were told conflicting things about whether the result would be binding on the government, and about what leaving might mean. Only when the current negotiations are complete will anyone know what the real choice is.
Parliament has the constitutional right to stop Brexit when it sees the result of the negotiation, but to do so would be politically dangerous, not only for parties and MPs but for social cohesion and the national interest. I therefore believe that Parliament requires a new mandate on the terms actually available. This could be achieved by:

  • a general election where the parties took distinct clear positions, for and against Brexit on the terms negotiated
  • a general election where one party at least campaigned for a referendum on the terms negotiated
  • a referendum on the terms negotiated, without a general election

Each of these has risks and advantages, but to allow this government, with no Parliamentary majority, to put the future of our security, economy and rights at risk to resolve internal party disputes would be the height of irresponsibility.

The clock is ticking. The terms must be clear by October to allow them to be ratified by the other member states. Any of these three options is likely to require some extension of the Article 50 period beyond March 2019, and the other member states might be sympathetic to agreeing this, since most of them would prefer us to remain members, However, this causes problems for the European Parliament elections due in May 2019. It is vital, in the national interest, that the Labour Party makes its position as clear as possible, as quickly as possible.

Its our future: give us the choice!

In a democracy, we elect a Government, and if we don’t like what they do, we vote them out.
Leaving the European Union is not like that: once we have left, its over for us, our children and grandchildren, so it is important to get it right.
Since the Referendum, people have seen how complicated it is to leave the EU. Although many people simply want the Government to “get on with it”, a growing number are having second thoughts, and think we should have a vote on the final deal.
When we voted in the Referendum the choice was simple – “leave” or “remain”. But what “leave” meant could not be clear, since no country has ever left before. With a “soft Brexit” we would carry on much as before, but just give up our voting rights and the protection of the European Court of Justice. With a “hard Brexit” we would break all our ties, which almost all experts (whether they are “remainers” or “leavers”) think would be disastrous for our living standards and quality of life.
The Government hopes for something in between. It believes that it can negotiate a deal with most of the advantages of membership and few of the costs. The other 27 countries have repeatedly made it quite clear that they will not agree to this – if you leave a club you give up the right to make the rules. In the first round of negotiation, the UK Government has had to accept almost all the proposals made by the EU, on money, citizens’ rights and the Irish border. It is likely that the second phase will go the same way.
It is now clear that if we want to continue to trade with the countries of the EU (who represent around half of our international trade) there will be a price. We will lose our vote on European laws and regulations, but will still have to abide by many of them. Immigration will probably not fall, because our economy needs more nurses, doctors, chefs, and fruit pickers than we have here. We will still have to contribute to the EU budget as a price of keeping the benefits of free trade. We will lose the right to travel freely across Europe, the protection of our human rights, and a host of other benefits from free healthcare in Europe to access to nuclear isotopes for medical use.
Membership of the EU has been good for Britain, and we have been very influential in European policy and legislation. The EU has helped secure peace across the member states for the first time for centuries. It has given us environmental protection, and high standards for food and consumer products. European regulations, and the adjudication of the European Court of Justice have ensured that UK businesses can compete on a level playing field with their European competitors, and that individuals are protected against unfair treatment by employers and their own government. Its funding programmes have invested in the poorest communities in Britain to support growth and development, when our own Government did not.
Most of the problems we face, and which probably provoked the “leave” vote, were caused by our Governments, not by “Europe”. The massive growth in inequality of wealth and income was a result of our own Government’s failure to manage the economy and taxation. Under the rules of the EU (which we helped create) we could have supported our steel industry, maintained a nationalised railway, and prevented privatisation in the NHS. Within the EU’s rules on “free movement” we could have managed migration by people who do not find employment, in the way that many other EU countries do – our Government chose not to do so.
Since the Referendum it has become clear that the Government wants to “take back control” of our laws and borders, but to give that control, not to voters, or to our elected MPs, but to the Executive. Theresa May has repeatedly tried to bypass our elected MPs, resisting attempts to allow Parliament to vote on Brexit strategy, and hiding the Government’s own analysis of the effects of Brexit. This is not democracy.
For this reason, groups of concerned citizens across the UK have been coming together to campaign for a referendum on the deal which our Government negotiates, with a clear option to decide that the deal on offer will be worse for Britain and its people that staying in the EU (it is ironic that the people who will benefit most from staying in, are in the areas which voted most strongly to leave).
However, we live in a democracy, and if there is a clear vote in favour of leaving on the terms which the Government negotiates, I would accept that decision. What is unacceptable is for a Government without a Parliamentary majority to decide what is best for us.

A dark day for the UK

Yesterday the UK Government served notice that it intends to leave the European Union. We are leaving the second largest economy in the world, severing links which have kept the peace and brought us together with friends and neighbours for over 40 years. We have created uncertainty and instability in the lives of millions of people who have moved here from other parts of the EU, or have moved from here to other parts of the EU. We have given up our influence, our friends, and our economic future.  We have abandoned the idea that we could work better with our neighbours to solve major problems like climate change, product safety and quality, and decent working conditions. We have abandoned the idea that it is better to have a single European Court to rule on the implementation of agreements between European countries

For 40 years we have been one of the “big three” nations in the EU, with a major say in policy decisions. Membership magnified our influence on the world stage, and not much ever happened in Europe without the agreement of Germany, France and the UK. That is one reason why the overwhelming majority of MPs of all parties voted remain. Those who want to “take back control” over laws and regulations can rarely identify any specific regulations which they actually want to remove except things like the working time directive, which protect workers’ rights. On many progressive issues it is our Government which has obstructed progress.

Opinion polls suggest that the most important reason for people to vote leave was to control immigration. However, almost all the people living here who have come from other parts of the EU are either working, or are students. So our economy needs them. Since freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services is the fundamental principle of the Union, full access to the single market was never going to be compatible with controlling movement of people into and out of the UK. So we are throwing away our free trade with our biggest market (44% of all our exports go to other EU countries), and our vote on how the Europan ecoomy is managed,  in return for controlling immigration. But if we reduce it, labour shortages will severely damage our economy: if we don’t reduce it, we will have given up our political influence and economic strengths in return for nothing.

We are leaving on the basis of a referendum which was explicitly advisory, where a narrow majority voted leave, and the leave campaign claimed that leaving would not prevent us remaining members of the single market. The Government’s claim that “65 million people want us to get on with Brexit” is demonstrably untrue. 11 million are under 15 and have no vote. Of those eligible to vote in the referendum 37% voted to leave, 35% voted to remain, and 28% did not vote. It is reasonable to claim therefore that at the time of the referendum 63% of the electorate did not want to change the status quo and leave the EU. Opinion polls since show that few people have changed their minds in either direction. The Government, and the leave campaigners have consistently tried to maintain the myth that the referendum result was a clear and overwhelming decision.

As of March 2017, we have no idea what kind of settlement will emerge from the next two years.  The process has started, and no political party expects to reverse the decision until the position is much clearer. However, it is entrirely possible that the terms of our leaving will be much worse, economically, socially and politically than remaining members, and it is possible that the majority of the electorate will agree, when the picture becomes clear. This is particularly likely since most young people, and most people with higher education qualifications voted to remain and most old people, and people without qualifications voted to leave. Over two years the balance between these two groups will inevitably shift in favour of the former, as young people enter the electorate and older people die.

The Government has promised that at the end of the negotiation Parliament will have a vote on whether to accept the deal (just as the Parliaments of the EU and the other 27 member states will). However, this plan will be a binary choice, between the deal negotiated or leaving without a deal, in which case a mass of regulations will be left in limbo, and we will be trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, which will introduce tariffs and customs checks on many of our exports and imports.

This does not need to be the only choice. There will, in reality, be four options at the end of negotiations:

  1. Leave the EU on the terms negotiated. At present we have no idea what those terms might be. We know something of what our Government is asking for, but we cannot know what the other parties might be prepared to accept. There are strong political reasons why this may not be generous to the UK.
  2. Leave the EU but remain in the European Economic Area (like Norway). This is possible, since we are members of the EEA under a separate Treaty. EEA membership includes full membership of the single market, but not all the regulations (Norway opts out of the Fisheries policy). EEA members can restrict the free movement of people in specific circumstances.
  3. Leave the EU without agreement, reverting to World Trade Organisation rules. This would mean the immediate imposition of tariffs on British exports to the EU and to all other countries. The economic consequences would almost certainly be worse than the previous two options.
  4. Remain a member of the EU on the current terms. This might be achieved by our formally withdrawing our Article 50 notice. Whether this is possible is unclear, since the EU Treaty does not specify a right to withdraw Article 50 notice but neither does it prevent this. The draft response to our Article 50 letter from the European Parliament explicitly says that we can withdraw our notice, and this is currently under consideration in the Irish Courts. It would ultimately be a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide. Alternatively we could ask the other 27 states to agree to us withdrawing our Article 50 notice. They might wish to do this, and if they all agreed, they could legally allow this (members of the EU make the rules).

I believe that the final decision should rest with Parliament, considering all four options. Since the Brexit decision was made by referendum, it might be wise to undertake a referendum on the four options, to advise Parliament. This would avoid giving disproportionate weight to “the will of the people” as expressed at a particular moment in 2016.  Such a referendum would be less divisive than the 2016 one, since there would be four choices on offer.