EU Referendum

Brexit: taking cover from a tsunami


Anyone who recalls the coverage of the 2004 tsunami will doubtless recollect the graphic testimony of survivors – those who recognised that the only way they were going to stay alive was to run for high ground.

In a way, metaphorically, we are in a similar situation with the media coverage of Brexit. The collective has decided that the issue of the moment is the High Court judgement, and nothing is going to stop the torrent of analysis and speculation. One can only run for high ground and wait for the surge to abate before returning to the scene and attempting to clear up the wreckage.

It really doesn't matter how often one says that the High Court judgement was only the first stage of the process, one which will have no lasting effect. All too soon, it will be replaced by the Supreme Court's judgement, which may or may not be completely different.

Nevertheless it was good to have an intervention from Prime Minister Theresa May, although I take a dim view of the Telegraph hiding a statement of such public importance behind its paywall. When the Prime Minister speaks, her words should be freely accessible.

This is even more the case when her "take" on the issue challenges the claim that the Government should not begin the process of withdrawing from the European Union without the permission of MPs and members of the House of Lords.

Says Mrs May: "This may appear to be a debate about process, and the legal argument is complex, but in reality there is an important principle at stake. Parliament voted to put the decision about our membership of the EU in the hands of the British people".

She goes on: "The people made their choice, and did so decisively. It is the responsibility of the government to get on with the job and to carry out their instruction in full. MPs and peers who regret the referendum result need to accept what the people decided".

That, of course, more than adequately summarises the issue. By agreeing to a referendum, parliament quite deliberately transferred the responsibility for deciding whether the UK stays in the EU to the people. As we have remarked before, even the dimmest of MPs must have understood that, if the people voted against continued membership, then the government would have no option but to react.

The sub-plot, however, is that MPs want to use the leverage afforded by a yes-no vote on whether to invoked Article 50 to demand information of the Government's negotiating stance, and thence to refuse permission unless there is a commitment to protect our continued membership of the Single Market.

Only by grossly misreading the signs, however, could anyone come to the conclusion that the Government was minded to do anything else, but it is a facet of recent media coverage that most of the pundits have been consistently wrong in predicting that the preference is for a "hard" Brexit.

From the Marr show, yesterday, though, we can see a variation on this theme, with Farage rejecting the idea of parliamentary intervention simply on the ground that the majority of MPs are likely to argue that Britain must stay part of the single market.

If we end up with that, Andrew Marr helpfully volunteers that that "that's not leaving", whence Farage decides that this is "half Brexit and that's not what we voted for".

I do dislike this presumption on the part of Farage and others. Personally, I voted very much with the idea that we should continue participation in the Single Market after leaving the EU – and am under no illusions that we can leave the EU and do this, by way of remaining in the EEA.

Thus, I am not particularly troubled by the idea that parliament should insist on this. What is of more concern is precisely the point that Mrs May makes, that MPs are seeking to interpose themselves between the people and the government, putting themselves in change of the decision-making process.

Hence, I also object to those pundits who claim that "leavers" were campaigning for a return of parliamentary sovereignty. Some may indeed have had that objective, but there are those of us who want to see more direct democracy – to which effect Phase Six of Flexcit quite explicitly called for implementation of The Harrogate Agenda, with referendums having binding effect on governments.

Only now is Farage beginning to wake up to the idea that a successful extraction from the EU will also require revisiting the constitutional settlement between the peoples of the UK and their government. No longer can we tolerate a situation where our representatives, without seeking our explicit permission, can hand over our power to an alien government.

But there again, Farage's position would be that much more credible if he had come up with a comprehensive exit plan during the referendum campaign – except that he would have rejected the idea of continued EEA membership.

By so doing though, Farage and all the other "antis" are putting themselves on the losing side. By some means or other, the UK will continue participating in the Single Market. The great danger is not that that should happened, but this should be regarded as a permanent solution for Brexit.

In rejecting the option entirely, the "antis" are losing the opportunity to make participation conditional on agreeing a more acceptable end game. Having failed to devise or buy into Flexcit, though, and not having their own end game in mind, they are failing to keep the issue on the agenda. Instead of being seen as just the first stage of the process, the Article 50 settlement could be presented as the final conclusion.

This lack of preparation – parodied in the cartoon we have used - has now become the dominant influence in the coming battle. With no ideas of where we should be going, and knowing only what they don't want, the Faragistas have lost the opportunity to shape events.

Small wonder that Farage is talking about his supporters taking to the streets, but I wonder if he really understands what he is calling for. Essentially, his idea of "leaving" is to wreck the UK economy, without in any way having a credible post-Brexit strategy. Barring the diehards, he is going to find it very difficult to get any support for his nihilistic creed.

Things may calm down once that Supreme Court has published its judgement, but that may not be until the New Year, so it looks as if we're in for another two months or more of tsunami-style coverage of Brexit, with the media getting ever more frenetic.

There are times when I have seriously thought of shutting down my entire operation and concentrating on something useful, rather than suffer this mindless torrent that the media is serving up. But somehow, we have to keep alert for the eventual outbreak of sanity – if it occurs – and keep the flag flying for a rational exit plan.