The European Union (EU) has been a successful experiment. It has helped to keep the peace in Europe after the horrors of two 20th century world wars; promoted democracy; established good governance standards; and expanded trade.
Recent years, however, have been unkind to the EU project due to bad decisions and bad luck. First, the EU admitted some new members that were probably unready to fully embrace democracy and anticorruption. The hope that membership would accelerate their positive evolution has not always ensued. Second, the EU created a single currency without a common fiscal policy which inevitably led to instability–the British and the Danes were wise to opt out. Third, when the consequences of the misguided Euro plan led to the sovereign debt crisis,
Germany the EU compounded the error by insisting on austerity, when every decent economist will tell you that you need to address weak aggregate demand with Keynesian stimulus. Greece plunged into poverty and is still suffering. Fourth, there has been slippage of some EU members towards pre-1989 authoritarianism.
Brexit, however, is the worst of the lot. Sold a bill of goods and supported by the Russian government, England and Wales carried Brexit to a miniscule majority. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. It is absurd that such a monumental decision, and one that did not entail individual elections to parliament, would not require the unanimous consent of all four UK nations. If Brexit goes through, Scottish independence cannot be too far behind. And many Northern Irish, nationalist and unionist, are being ejected from the EU against their will. There is no doubt that an implemented Brexit will cause irreparable damage.
Since the first referendum, Britain has experienced political chaos and economic damage. The agreement recently reached by British Prime Minister May and the EU has been panned by everyone, whether Brexiteer or Remainer or Jeremy Corbyn. Mrs. May was forced to remove her plan rather than risk a decisive defeat in a parliamentary vote on December 10. Fears of a no-deal Brexit have since grown.
Mrs. May has now rescheduled the parliamentary vote on her doomed Brexit plan for the week of January 14. Being that the EU has wisely stood its ground against renegotiation, Mrs. May’s objective apparently is that some opponents will wilt before the impending no-deal Brexit on March 29. Good luck with that.
Don’t tell them, but Mrs. May’s plan is admittedly not that bad if you are a Brexiteer. The plan ends the free movement of EU citizens to Britain, which was a key objective for those worried about Polish plumbers. Britain won’t immediately lose its tariff free trade with the EU as it will remain part of the customs union, at least for a while. The Irish backstop will preserve, for a time, frictionless border crossings, a key component of the Good Friday Agreement that put the Troubles on ice.
At any rate, the parliamentary vote on Mrs. May’s plan is likely to fail, with a coalition of Brexit Conservatives, the entire Labour Party, and the unionist Democratic Union Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland (which fears the Irish backstop as a first step in a slippery slope to Irish reunification). Moreover, none of the other options will be able to obtain a majority in the House of Commons. Not a no-deal Brexit, not the Norway model, not Remain. Since parliament cannot decide, the decision should revert to the people for a second referendum.
A second referendum will not be a rejection of democracy, it would be emblematic of democracy. In particular, the first referendum lacked clarity on the consequences of Brexit; the consequences have now been elucidated. The sunlight since the initial referendum has disinfected the Brexiteers’ scheme.
The second referendum should be binary not trinary. George W. Bush v. Al Gore v. Ralph Nader is the quintessential example where an option exists that has no chance but determines the outcome.
The binary choice here should be the Brexit option preferred by the Brexiteers (Brexit does not mean Brexit) and Remain (Remain means Remain). It appears the Brexiteers have chosen a no-deal Brexit over Mrs. May’s plan, but that is up to them to decide. The endgame, however, is clear: a people’s vote.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not of any institution he is or was affiliated with.