By Andy Maciver, Director, Message Matters
As the Conservative leadership contest continues apace this week, Brexit is omnipresent. Brexit has taken two Tory leaders and Prime Ministers out at the knees, and it is the focus of what is effectively a single-issue leadership campaign.
But, in truth, we are learning nothing, and the candidates appear to be failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. The assertion that, on October 31st, candidates will leave “come what may” (they won’t, because Parliament will prevent it), is no more deliverable than the assertion that candidates will create a new deal (they can’t, there’s not enough time), nor any more deliverable than the assertion that they will pass the existing May deal (they won’t, because Parliamentary maths don’t add up).
It seems clear that October will herald an almost immediate, potentially existential issue for the next Prime Minister as he inevitably lets down large swathes of his support through the old problem of overpromising and underdelivering.
But what else can they do? Is there another way out?
I would say yes, there is, but it takes a boldness and clarity of vision. The candidates may have that, but the nature of the contest and the rush to be the first to deliver Brexit appears to be precluding such thought.
I can envisage only one solution which has something for most people in it. There are some at either end - those who want to remain in the EU, and those whose first choice is to leave without a deal - who would not be able to be pacified, but for the rest there is a solution which can work.
It goes like this - revoke, referendum, resubmit.
The European court ruling - that a member state can unilaterally revoke its Article 50 submission - was generally regarded as a victory for the Remainers and a defeat for the Leavers. But that can be turned on its head and become an opportunity for a Leaver PM such as Boris Johnson.
This strategy involves accepting that: the May deal is not very good; in any case, it won’t pass Parliament; there is no time to create a better one; we do not want to leave without one.
Accepting that, there would be sufficient strength in a Prime Minister who committed to leaving but accepted that we need to start again in order to do it properly. That process starts with revoking Article 50.
The next step, following revocation, would be to go back to the people with a clarifying referendum. The most important characteristic of that referendum would be that it would not have a Remain option on it.
There would be an acceptance that we voted Leave. It was not a con; not an accident. People voted Leave and they meant it. This referendum, instead, would accept that we asked people if they wanted to leave, but we didn’t ask them how they wanted to leave.
This referendum would offer the only three options for how to leave - without a deal (i.e. WTO); with a free trade agreement (i.e. trade but no regulatory alignment, like Canada); by joining EFTA/EEA (i.e. trade and high regulatory alignment, like Norway).
With a clear, refreshed mandate from the people and the, I think, inevitable support of Parliament for the outcome (which would almost certainly be either Canada-style or Norway-style), the PM could resubmit Article 50 and have two years for the EU and the UK to negotiate sensibly and execute the mandate.
This is, of course, never going to happen because the electorate (which, in this case, is the Tory party membership) has no capacity for nuanced, balanced thought on this issue.
Come October, we might wish they did.
By Andy Maciver, Director, Message Matters
TRANSPORT IN SCOTLAND, WORK-PLACE PARKING, BREXIT AND REGULATION
Are consumers and law firms in Scotland being left behind? In October an independent review of legal regulation suggested that “the current complex regulatory framework was a serious, constraint on growth, investment and innovation”, and that this was having a negative impact on both consumers and the economic sustainability of the sector.
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