Unscrambling eggs

The Referendum was an instruction to make an omelette. Eggs were cracked. More will be. And scrambled. And when they are, they are.

Since the result became known I’ve written twice: this on how we might avoid leaving the EU and this on whether the decision to leave is one for our elected Parliament or an unelected Prime Minister. Those posts have been widely read. I have been asked by different groups to help them think through what happens next.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of their thinking – and some of my own – has focused on whether the electorate’s decision to Leave might be reversed. I have, since Friday, said that I think it between very possible and probable that, in some form or other, we will not Leave. That remains my view. But in working to achieve that goal it is important to keep ahold of what it is that we really seek.

The City is concerned about the impact of Leaving upon its health. The thoughtful among us should be concerned about that concern. Although many of us would agree that the City should not be so important to the public finances of the United Kingdom, still it is important. Reducing our exposure by generating other strengths is a gradual exercise which, properly conducted, would take decades. To reduce it by Leaving is like losing weight by severing a leg. And alongside the economic impact of Leaving on the City – and at least as important – will be the impact on the so-called ‘real’ economy.

Some worry about what Leaving means for an apparently – the data is unclear – growing class of people living economically marginal lives. On all objective analyses, Leaving will generate meaningful pain for those least well-placed to bear it. I’ve written elsewhere about what shape that pain takes. I shan’t repeat it here.

Others are concerned about what Leaving means for our cultural fabric. I spoke earlier this week to a Government minister who compared the campaign fought by members of the Leave team – and the subsequent upsurge in racial violence – to the ascension of Hitler in Nazi Germany. Some will say this is scare-mongering – but for others it is a profound worry.

Still others fear for the future of our democracy. What will happen when the truth about what Leaving means is revealed to those who were persuaded to vote for it?

There will be other concerns too. But in thinking about how to address them they must be separated out because they are different. And although their solutions overlap they are different too. And, and this is important to grasp, some eggs are scrambled already.

A reversal of the decision to Leave the EU might suture back on the leg. Not as good as it was – true – but much less bad than it could come to be. We might then ask seriously – not merely rhetorically as so often we hitherto have – what an industrial policy that generated growth in the real economy looked like.

A reversal should also help those living economically marginal lives. But the experience of many since the global financial crisis of 2008 is that there is a big difference between that “should” and “will.” Remaining might create the conditions within which more can be done. But Remaining won’t do it.

And if this is your concern your focus should be, alongside working to Remain, supporting those politicians whose commitment to the lives of working people is otherwise than synthetic. I am, for the moment, a member of the Labour Party so let me say this very clearly. Those politicians are to be found in all political parties: Labour is far from having a monopoly on morality or concern for the dispossessed. But the key point is this: even were we to step back from the precipice, Remaining will not automatically improve things for the poor.

As to the effects on the cultural fabric of our nation, this, egg is, I am afraid, already broken. Already, as Paul Lewis observed, the small minority of our country that is racist believes itself to have the express or tacit support of 52%. No doubt this was not the intention of those like Michael Gove who say, now, that they “shuddered” at the rhetoric of hate employed by their allies but said, then, nothing in case to do so cost a few votes. But even if the enormous upsurge in racial hatred was not Gove’s intention it was a predictable consequence and one he did nothing to stem. For him, it was a price worth paying to achieve the result he wanted. If you value our tolerance, you should oppose those prepared to sacrifice it to win a few votes.

Alongside opposing such politicians you should support the major public voices for pluralism in our society. You may find it hard to give money to the Guardian – there are personal reasons why it is extremely difficult for me – but without it a powerful, and positive, voice for tolerance is lost. Support it.

If you believe that fascism thrives when people feel ignored by ‘normal’ politics then the prospect of failing to deliver the result of the Referendum will rightly concern you. But lies were told about immigration and the NHS and jobs and public finances, and the lies will be discovered. Do we, do our politicians, wait until the victims discover that we knew of the lies all along and did nothing to tell them – do we kick the can down the road? Or do we confront the truth now for an environment where the underlying issues can better be addressed? The fight against what looked to that Government minister like fascism is only beginning. It is no time to opt for easy choices.

The concerns you may have about Leaving? Do not think that Remaining solves them. It is a necessary precondition. It is necessary but not sufficient.

30 thoughts on “Unscrambling eggs

  1. Yes, let’s see what opinion is like when the Euro can no longer be propped up, when Italy’s banks fail, when Greece defaults, and when other countries decide to stop paying the French to retire early. The eurozone can not have a single monetary policy but several fiscal policies, as Draghi has said repeatedly. So soon, in a couple of years, there will have to be a single EU fiscal budget. And that budget as the ECB says will have to cut spending and cut taxes in order to make printing money worthwhile. Let’s see how that goes down in Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy…

  2. I too am worried about the sudden loss of parts of the City. But I am far more worried about the damage to our science and IT bases which, if any sectors are important for the future, must be at or near the top. We have spent much of the last 20 years building these with many of the projects substantially funded by the EU, as well as welcoming EU and other scientists to the UK. I doubt that science and IT are anywhere near the top of Brexiter’s funding promises and the new racism and xenophobia makes immigrants understandably insecure.

    These are highly mobile, highly educated and well connected people who have already voted with their feet to come here. Losing them would be more important than some parts of the financial services industry which will become increasingly automated. Science requires critical masses of clever people working together over long periods of time. Leave may have have delivered UK science a fatal blow from which it will take a very long time to recover.

  3. The thought that a bunch of lawyers can overturn the will of the people is really disturbing and should send a shiver down the spine of the country. To go along with the narrative that the working folk of this great nation only voted for Brexit because they are racist, because they were misled, because they are simply too thick to make the right decisions is deeply offensive and simply wrong. The TV crews and media may have been successful in seeking out deranged individuals when they travel up to the markets of Bury or the semi derelict docks of Hull, but that’s not all northerners and you would do well not to underestimate us. The reality is that most who voted understood the risks and took everything Farage and Johnson said with a large sack full of salt. Its time to crack on and deal with what we have got. Unlike the financial institutions, governments, lawyers, and economic forecasters in 2007, maybe the man on the street got it right this time – only time will tell.

  4. Absolutely right. I keep hearing that the referendum was a ‘wake-up call’ to politicians who have ignored the voices of the millions of ordinary voters affected by mass immigration. But as far as I can see, most of the areas voting to Leave the EU have been areas with a relatively low number of immigrants, while areas with high numbers generally voted to stay (London, with the world’s second-largest immigrant population, being the most obvious example).

    The reality is that immigration is not the problem. Immigrants do not steal jobs; they create them, by adding demand to the economy. It is no coincidence that the last few years have seen both the country’s highest ever levels of immigration AND the highest rates of employment. And studies have shown that immigrants do not (overall) lower wages, either; where they do negatively impact wages (the bottom 5% of wage earners), it is almost exclusively the wages of other immigrants that are affected.

    The Tories made a grave mistake allowing Ukip to set the agenda when it comes to immigration. Instead of impossible-to-meet migrant targets, the Tories need to start helping people feel the benefits of immigration. That chiefly means more investment in poorer areas. When people feel uncomfortable, they cast around for people to blame for their discomfort, and often alight on those least able to defend themselves. The intolerance we are now witnessing is the true cost of inequality, the result of Osborne’s divisive austerity strategy. I was always on board with fiscal discipline, but not when it was at the expense of those who can least afford it. Now his strategy has backfired, spectacularly, and all because he prioritised fiscal discipline over social cohesion.

    Social cohesion may be a difficult thing to measure and quantify, but it is the most important job of government. It was nice to hear so many Tory leadership candidates yesterday putting that message front and centre, although of course actions speak louder than words, so we shall just have to wait and see what happens.

  5. Whilst I am sure that Jolyon has given such matters very careful and thorough consideration, here we have a wealthy London based specialist tax QC with a penchant for appearing in the media who is calling for

    i) the overturning of a free & fair referendum result that is only just a week old and
    ii) the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected by 60% of the appropriate constituency just months ago

    Would it be unfair to challenge his proclaimed commitment to democracy?

  6. Whilst I am sure that Jolyon has given such matters very careful and thorough consideration, here we have a wealthy London based specialist tax QC with a penchant for appearing in the media who is calling for

    i) the overturning of a free & fair referendum result that is only just a week old and
    ii) the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected by 60% of the appropriate constituency just months ago

    Would it be unfair to challenge his proclaimed commitment to democracy?

  7. Can I be as rude to you who voted remain, as you have been to me who voted leave? How would you and your peers react if I did? How have I and my peers reacted to your rudeness?

    I do find it strange that the group who virtue-signal their progressiveness and tolerance are the group most inclined to be ageist, classist, dismissive, patronising and, yes, rude to a majority of the population. Perhaps it is because you have never met us?

  8. The thought that the will of the people can overturn the rule of law is equally chilling, so if leaving the EU in this manner is found to be unlawful for whatever reason, then the referendum should be re-run in a manner that has a legally sound basis.

    Personally, I have my doubts that a simple majority – equivalent to 38% of the total electorate – has sufficient democratic weight to push through fundamental constitutional changes and massive restrictions on every citizen’s rights to move and live around Europe. Supermajorities are normally required in Parliament for such changes, in order to protect the rights of minority voters as best as possible.

    This is why EEA membership is likely the only option available for the government without encountering some severe legal obstacles. But as that will not address any of the Leavers’ complaints – indeed, it will only intensify them – this lose-lose solution really ought to be put to a second referendum: remain in the EU, or leave the EU but retain EEA membership.

  9. Re: ‘Eggs were cracked. More will be. And scrambled….’

    Let’s hope this whole shebang does NOT actually result in the equivalent of a diet of highly rationed …..Social, Industrial and Fiscal ‘dried eggs’ for the country a la 1942………… a tasty morsel which may well be ‘de riguer’ for the next THREE decades, or so!!!!

    I humbly ….. suggest!

  10. You’ve become one of my go-to’s for an incisive, straight talking perspective, so thanks.
    My approach is rather different (something to do with education and life-choices I suspect), but I would hope equally valid… or not, but here it is anyway:

  11. Theresa May said no Art 50 “until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear,”

    My guess is she will get the Brexiteers to try and agree a plan. That will take time because Gove, Grayling & Co will simultaneously be getting to grips with their new departments and may have different views on the way forward; I thought it striking that Vote Leave did not have a 60+ page blueprint, as the Scots did for their referendum.

    It seems to me that any plan that the Brexiteers do suggest is likely to have more problems that staying in the EU. While all this is going on the UK will have entered recession, rising unemployment etc. Hold a general election to get the mandate to remain in the EU.

  12. We seem to have entered an alarming post-democratic age where the voices of so-called progressives carry a greater presumptive weight than those of people they view as not just wrong but utterly evil. As Churchill said, the next wave of fascists will claim to be anti-fascists. Hence I will not be supporting the Guardian…..even though it has some good columnists.

    And the belief that this country can add every year a population the size of Liverpool without major social and economic turbulence is crazed dogma worthy of Stalin.

  13. Excellent as usual.

    An interesting point has come up. The Leave camp (and now seemingly most of the Conservative party) claim that the result of the referendum means there can be no freedom of movement of people. A position that seems to be making a viable solution impossible.

    But this is to confuse a general election with a referendum. The referendum was on whether the UK should stay or leave the EU, there was no vote on free movement of people. Can you hold the position that it was a free referendum vote on one subject to uphold another which was only a campaign tactic? There was no – leave the EU to become something else – vote, it was not specified what the something else would be. There is nothing in the Leave the EU result that precludes the “Norwegian” solution – that may have been the case if it had been in the manifesto of a Brexit Party but it wasn’t.

    The vote was for leaving the EU, there was no Vote for Less Immigration or come to that Vote for More Integration.

  14. Isn’t EEA membership very close to the Leave vision? A sovereign parliament. No ECJ. Free movement of goods, capital, and services. And free movement of employed people. What’s not to like?

  15. EEA membership is:

    – Free movement of goods, capital, and services;
    – Compliance with most EU regulations (but with no say in any of them), enforceable by the ECJ;
    – Contributions to the EU budget (about 90% of what we pay now);
    – Free movement of EEA citizens in and out of the country based on the same rules as today;
    – No veto rights on EU/EEA membership;
    – No participation in trade deal negotiation;
    – No political representation.

    In other words, it solves none of Leave campaigners’ concerns, but introduces the prospect of more immigration (through new member states we cannot veto) and less sovereignty, because our only say is whether we’re in or out.

    But that’s what it means to stay in the single market, and if we leave the single market, we are royally screwed. So EEA is the option we have. Hence my belief that there will be a second referendum.

  16. The result of the referendum is what it is. It would be wholly improper for it to be ignored or otherwise set aside no matter how ‘noble’ the intentions. My own view as to what is likely to happen is that – once the dust has settled and calmer counsels prevail – the EU will make sufficient new concessions to justify another referendum based on a different set of circumstances.

    This, of course, assumes that the EU ‘grandees’ understand that their ‘project’ does not have universal acceptance whether it be in the UK or other EU countries. One can hope that the Brexit vote will act as a wake-up call. There have, however, been numerous such calls in recent years, yet Brussels has appeared to be impervious to dissent. The EU is a good thing but it needs some serious reform. If, despite this vote and despite Euro-scepticism in other EU countries, it continues to be impervious to change then, perhaps, leaving is the right thing to do.

  17. We too are only subject to the ECJ because our sovereign parliament passed national legislation to that effect. The difference for us is that, as EU members, we get to help formulate the laws the ECJ enforces.

    South Korea’s relationship with the EU is not even close to comparable to our’s. For a start, most of South Korea’s exports to the EU are goods; a very large proportion (I want to say 30-40%?) of ours are services, particularly financial services. Without the unique passporting privileges offered by single market membership, a free trade agreement would do little to help that extremely important part of our economy.

  18. But the EU is planning its reform! The 5 Presidents have a plan for 2017-2020, and the EU committee of the Lords has examined it. It involves Treaty change to put the EuroGroup on a legal footing, with its own President. The Eurogroup will own the Eurozone fiscal policy – yes, a single tax and spend budget for the Eurozone countries. And all EU countries except Denmark are bound by the Treaty to adopt the Euro. A Euro Bond will then be created to mutualise the national Euro debts. This the EU institutions will totally control monetary, fiscal, trade, agriculture, and fisheries policy. And have dominant competence in almost everything else. This plan launched after the German and French elections, of course. They are not stupid.

  19. If, as now seems likely, Theresa May becomes Prime Minister on a promise to Conservative MPs that there won’t be an early election, we can then look forward to a period of negotiation over the terms of Brexit which will run until the next general election is due.

    If by then the Labour party has managed to organise itself into a credible alternative government the electorate could be faced with a choice between endorsing the Conservative government’s terms for Brexit and electing a Labour government committed to abandoning Brexit and remaining in the EU. The LibDems, SNP and Sinn Fein would probably align with Labour on this.

    If the electorate chose to reject the Conservatives, that would be an entirely proper exercise of their democratic rights. It would not be “taking a second bite at the cherry” to overturn the result of the referendum but would be the normal constitutional process of renewing or rejecting the mandate of a government.

    Perhaps Jolyon could advise whether the Article 50 process could be stopped in such an event?

  20. The problem with trying to stop an Article 50 notice is that you then hand overwhelming negotiation advantage back to the EU who could quite easily demand an end to the various opt-outs and adhesion to the ‘acquis’ including the Euro and Schengen. That would probably be deeply unpopular with the electorate.

    At this point in the process, the UK has negotiating opportunity through the political instability that Brexit without invoking Article 50 can cause EU countries having to deal with elections where there is a populist and Eurosceptic opposition. That, of course, is why various EU and national leaders are demanding that we invoke Article 50 immediately. It isn’t really about the UK, it is about their own political situation.

    For me, the ideal is a negotiated deal which can allow us to stay in the EU. However, whichever way it goes, the UK needs to get the best deal we can.

  21. @Jonathan Powell

    The referendum was not free and fair. Many people complained that they had insufficient information on which to make a decision between the two alternatives. Many of these people did not vote all; a reasonable and honourable response.

    It is not fair to act as though the non-voters and Remain voters do not count. It is not fair to call a vote by 37% an expression of the “will of the people”. It might be the will of a minority of the people, but not all of them.

    The referendum has neither legal nor moral force: (1) is it not binding because under our laws, Parliament is sovereign and referendums do not bind Parliament; (2) There is no moral virtue in depriving 63% of the population of its say in the future of the country, or of its acquired rights and benefits, just because it is the will of 37%.

    As for any political force, that will evaporate as the true effect of Leaving becomes clear to the electorate.

  22. You are quite right about the lack of information. If the 5 Presidents Report had been explained, with its programme for a fiscal Union where national budgets are to be controlled by a new set of regulations and, yes, yet another President, then the vote leave count would have been even higher.

    As for you bleat about some percentage of the population being affected by a smaller percentage, has that ever been different in any democratic structure? And why should an even smaller voting minority (the remainers) get their way? Who knows how those who didn’t vote feel? Under mandatory voting and a 100% turnout, perhaps the leave proportion would be even higher?

  23. Hi Jolyon – is anyone pursuing the constitutional implications of the two-year deadline in Article 50?

    “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

    So, even absent an agreement, or in the face of Parliamentary rejection of a draft agreement, the UK would be automatically ejected from the EU at the end of the two year period, with no democratic or legal recourse. Is the Article 50 process intrinsically in conflict with the constitutional requirements of this country?

  24. Can EU referendum be counted as a democratic vote when it seems that many votes have been taken / stolen with mistruths / half-truths / damn lies. However, a legal case would take an age to bring and decide and would not heal divisions in society and likely just cause greater resentment.

    Nothing is going to happen prior to the Tory leadership contest., so why can’t we have a Brexit debate in Parliament – so that positions are stated on the record and politicians brought to account for statements made during the referendum.

    During this period, we remain in a state of indecision – this is a good thing – in that we get to see some of the effects and feel some of the Brexit pain prior to pulling the trigger on ourselves.

    Once the Tories have selected their leader – they then have to present the Brexit plan that delivers the VoteLeave agenda of £350M a week for NHS, controlled EU immigration – so no single market access – and full sovereignty (with stated positions on workers’ and human rights).

    Take the Brexit option and our old EU deal and have expert opinion applied to both on the effects since EU referendum and in future with regards to the economy (single market access), immigration and sovereignty (workers’ & human rights).

    Present both options to the country via a referendum or let the parties align themselves to one or the other and have a general election to decide it.

  25. One needs to be mindful of the political consequences of ignoring, setting aside or otherwise fudging the decision of the majority of the electorate. For this, the aftermath of the Scottish Independence referendum is instructive. In Scotland, the disgruntled losers voted en-masse for the SNP at the General Election and, due to the first-past-the-post system, won 56 out of 59 seats. The Labour Party in Scotland was effectively rendered useless as an electoral force for the foreseeable future. We could imagine a disgruntled ‘leave’ electorate voting en-masse for UKIP and decimating both Labour and Conservative parties at the polls.

  26. If the UK stays in the EU (as it should) I don’t think there will be an SNP style exodus from the mainstream Parties to UKIP for one reason: the counterfactual Brexit scanario is being played out as we speak: with a crashing pound, investment drying up and the very real prospect of long and deep recession.

    Scotland had none of that – the status quo held and life went on. Hence it was easy to switch your vote to the insurgents with nothing to compare your current status against. UKIP are not going to be so lucky. They’ll maintain their current vote share though, no doubt.

  27. The referendum was not democratic. It denied the vote to some three million UK citizens living overseas. To confine voting for MPs to residents may be justifiable given that elections most revolve around issue of direct concern to residents — tax, the NHS etc. However, this referendum was about the international status of ALL citizens of the UK. This was a breach of their human and democratic rights and needs to be included in efforts to halt the Brexit process and bring it back to parliament, the sovreign power.

  28. Oliver Letwin, who heads Whitehall’s Brexit unit to prepare the way for negotiations, has said that the legal advice the Government has received is that article 50 of the Lisbon treaty can be invoked under the royal prerogative, which does not require parliamentary approval. What precisely does this mean? How does this work in practice? Would the Queen need to be involved?

  29. So when Boris compares the EU to Hitler that is a bad thing, but when a QC compares a political campaign to the rise of Nazis that’s just informed comment? Please explain how you reconcile this.

    The Referendum result was bad. However it was an exercise in democracy and you have to accept the result. Otherwise we have anarchy. It’s irrelevant that you believe the Leavers were”misled” (which is patronising to the 52% of people who voted Leave). Remainers did not make a positive case for the EU and therefore lost as it’s easier to dismiss scaremongering (which continues).

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