Richard North, 02/02/2018  
 


Months of ineptitude on the part of the "ultras" has gradually closed down the Brexit options available to the government – not that Mrs May needed any help in making a most inglorious mess on her own account.

The immediate effect of this ineptitude has been to sour in the public mind the only effective exit option, turning Efta/EEA membership from a worthwhile interim solution into what is wrongly perceived to be a proxy EU membership, garnering little popular support.

Potentially an even more serious effect of the failure to settle a workable Brexit solution is that it is opening the way for the unreconstructed remainers to mount a counter-attack which, day-by-day, seems to be gathering strength.

An earlier initiative was the so-called ABC group (Adonis, Blair, Clegg) but now we seem to have acquired another, the grassroots coordinating group (GCG) which is organising itself under the leadership of Chuka Umunna, Labour's former shadow business secretary.

This group comprises a coalition of pro-EU organisations and MPs and is said to represent more than 500,000 supporters. MPs in the group include Conservative MP Anna Soubry, Caroline Lucas and the Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson.

In terms of its components, the group takes in the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations, Open Britain, the European Movement, InFacts, Scientists for EU, Healthier IN the EU, Best for Britain, The New European and a string of others.

Overtly pro-EU, the Group is nailing its flag to the "soft" Brexit mast. As such, it is making itself out to be the voice of reason, pushing for the public's voice to be heard on the final deal – a thinly veiled call for another referendum at a time when opinion polls suggest the public's appetite for this option is growing.

One imagines that the Group's expects the public increasingly to turn away from Brexit – not an unsurprising expectation given the mess the government is making of it – whence the outcome of what will amount to a third referendum will lead to Article 50 being revoked and EU membership restored.

Even if that isn't the outcome, the Group is quite obviously working on the premise that a "soft" Brexit will keep us closer to the EU and eventually pave the way for rejoining at a later date.

Hitherto, pro-EU groups have been quiescent – disorganised and disillusioned after their referendum defeat, with fragmented aims ranging from staying in the single market to a second referendum or getting parliament to overturn the result. This activity, therefore, represents a resurgence of morale and a determination to take on the "ultras" on their own territory.

Chuka Umunna himself seems confident, telling the Guardian that: "There has not been a huge shift yet, but the tectonic plates are moving. And given the volatility of British politics, who knows where we will be in May and who knows where we will be in the autumn".

Late autumn is in fact that date set by Michel Barnier for the conclusion of the Article 50 talks yet, as we move into February, we still have no date fixed for the formal resumption of negotiations which haven't involved of meeting of the two sides since mid-December.

Given that the two months of July and August will be cover the holiday period, in effect we have seven months to conclude negotiations which must include a settlement of the transition agreement and a clear agreement on the outline for future UK-EU relationships.

With Mrs May in China seeking to limit freedom of movement rights for EU citizens during the transition period – which is not going to go down well in Brussels – and with her facing strong criticism from her own party about her lack of leadership on Brexit, the auguries are not good a satisfactory deal by March 2019.

It is this which is giving the GCG its opening. Fractures between the component groups remain but, "What unites everybody", says Chuka Umunna, "is they want the people to have a say on the form of Brexit".

"You could argue", he says, "there was a mandate from the 2016 referendum for us to leave the EU, a majority of people who participated voted that way. But what we don't know and the thing for which we have no mandate was how we leave the EU and the form of Brexit we end up with".

"All of the groups are united in their determination that the people have got to have a place at the table in this process and it should not be dictated by a ministerial elite in Westminster", he adds.

Ironically, therefore, in support of our membership of the anti-democratic EU, the group is playing the democracy card, with the people stepping in to vote is a divided parliament is unable to endorse Mrs May's final deal.

What we could thus we witnessing is a shift in the balance of power between remainers and leavers. Since the referendum, the leavers have had the best of it, and have been making the running.

To a very great extent, they have squandered their dominant position, pursuing their own selfish nostrums which clearly take no account of the "48". There has been no attempt to broker an inclusive solution.

Now, having polarised the debate, the opposite polarity is gaining strength while the "ultras" look weak and uncoordinated. The insistence of the "ultras" on their extreme "WTO option" leaves no room for moderates who embrace the Efta/EEA solution. The "leave" faction therefore is irreconcilably divided in the face of the remainers who are beginning to get their act together.

This was always a danger and, if we are not already at the turning point, this prospect has to be considered a clear and present danger – especially if the remainers are able to unite over issues in common while the remainers stay divided.

The obvious remedy would be to steal the ground from the GCG and unite around the Efta/EEA solution. But the "ultras" are no more likely to concede any ground on this that the "rationals" are likely to accept the WTO option. The leavers seem doomed to eternal disunity, just as they were before the referendum.

Sadly, the "ultras" seem to regard their "free trade" ideology as more important then a successful Brexit and appear to be willing to put the whole venture at risk rather than make any concessions. As regards the "rationals", there is no possibility that they can accept the economic disaster that is embodied in the "no deal" scenario that brings with it the WTO option.

So badly has the government handled the Brexit process, though, that we could end up with the "accidental Brexit" that gives us the WTO option by default, presenting us with a price to pay for withdrawal that the majority may consider unacceptable.

At that point, we may find that the "ultras" have destroyed our only chance of getting out of the EU. That much is at stake and, with the remainers organising their own rising, we should no longer take it for granted that Brexit is going to happen.






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