Four years ago, most people in Britain never gave a thought to the European Union.
They could not name a European law which had made their lives more difficult, they were happy to be able to travel freely around Europe, and that there were enough people to run our NHS, to care for our old people, and pick our fruit and vegetables, they could not name a single European law which made their lives more difficult, and they were content that £1 a week of their taxes was spent on our membership of the EU.
Then, to try to end a long running quarrel in the Tory Party, David Cameron decided to crush the Europhobe minority of his Party by proving that the British people were happy with this situation.
The people were angry about a lot of things – austerity, cuts to public services, falling real wages, rising crime, homelessness, food banks, potholes, queues in the NHS. None of these had anything to do with the EU. In one or two cases, the EU was actually helping.
But people were told that these problems were the fault of the politicians, and that leaving the EU would make these things better. Politicians told them to vote remain, so they voted leave
Since then we have become a deeply divided society over something that almost nobody cared about, and most people didn’t understand. And our country, of which I used to be proud, has become a laughing stock around the world.
So it’s no wonder that the only thing we now agree about is that we want it all to be over. That is why so many people would vote for leaving with “no deal” as soon as possible.
But just as leaving the EU will not deal with potholes in Norfolk, so leaving with no deal will not stop the debate about our relationship with the EU.
No deal is an illusion. We cannot survive without working relationships with our nearest neighbours. So after a “no deal” exit our government would have to go back to Brussels to ask them to open negotiations: on cooperation on crime, on how to avoid civil war in Ireland, on how to maintain free trade and shared standards for food and medicines, on citizen’s rights, on licensing of air traffic and professional qualifications. And they will be happy to negotiate, provided we first sign up to the things which our government agreed to, and Parliament rejected.
So no deal is groundhog day. It means starting the whole awful process of the last three years again, just from a weaker position. We will spend billions on bailing out businesses damaged by Brexit. We will see the flow of businesses moving out of the UK grow as they despair of our ever reaching a solution. Every commentator (including the pro-leave economists, and the Government) agrees that we will be poorer. We will still have 14,000 civil servants working on Brexit rather than our real problems. Our politics and government will continue to have no time for the country’s real problems.
It is time to be honest with the people – no deal is not a solution, it is not “getting it over with”, it is restarting the whole awful mess.
There are really only two choices – a possible agreement on how to leave the EU, carefully negotiated over three painful years, or sticking with the deal we had four years ago, membership of the EU, on terms more generous than any other country has. Four years ago the overwhelming majority were content with the deal we have.
We need to ask the people – how will your life be better if we leave? Is that worth the price of more years of political division, and a government too busy with Brexit to be able work on our real problems.
No deal is no answer – its time to ask the people.