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Friday, 30 June 2017

Textures of Brexit

I am deeply suspicious of whether the three 'Brexit Ministers' - Fox, Davis and Johnson - have a shared view as to what a 'soft' or a 'hard Brexit' means; or even implies. I am certain that even if the three were to be agreed on this, their mental picture does not match that of Mrs May or of Philip Hammond. Just looking at what those five individuals have said, and trying to discern what they have not said, it is apparent that not all of them want Britain to make a 'hard Brexit', were that term to acquire a reasonably precise definition.

There is clearly open debate within the Parliamentary Labour Party, where the Corbyn-McDonnell line appears to be in favour of some sort of 'hard Brexit', characterised by formal departure from all the European institutions [but somehow staying attached to them] and a group of at least 40 MPs who favour a 'soft Brexit' that would leave Britain within the institutional framework of the 'European Economic Area' but not in the political structures of the European Union [the Commission and the Parliament and all their subsidiary bodies]. The 'hard' and the 'soft' supporters are left high-and-dry on the question of the European Court of Justice, for which a residual role would probably remain under any form of Brexit at least in respect of EU citizens in the UK and vice-versa.

In the nineteenth century there was much debate, much of it of a frivolous nature, about the 'Schleswig-Holstein Question'. Schleswig-Holstein was the southernmost region of Denmark, which Prussia took over in the same sort of way as Putin recently took over the Crimea; though the Danes made more of a fight over the issue than did the present corrupt Ukrainian state over the Crimea. There was endless debate about the historical veracity of Prussia's claim to the territory and [as with Crimea today] in the end the argument that 'might is right' won the day. Lord Palmerston, the British prime minister dismissed a discussion of the rights and wrongs of the case with the remark on the lines that "Only three people have ever understood the answer to the question: the Prince Consort, who is dead; a German professor, who has gone mad; and me: and I've forgotten the answer."

Would that any of us could be so flippant about the texture of Brexit that Britain needs, or can afford!

It is quite clear that a government of highly fallible people has no settled idea of how 'hard' or 'soft' a Brexit the British people wants, what sort of Brexit parliament would accept [after how many more elections]; or what sort of Brexit the European Union will let us have. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to the two-year deadline in March 2019.

Whilst ignoring the nuances summarised above, the glorious Tim Martin the creator of JD Wetherspoon and his pub chain uses the forward of his Summer Magazine to make a simple, true and alarming point. The majority of Brits voted to leave the EU, but the remoaners don't want it to happen. The opponents of any Brexit are Oxbridge graduates and other categories of citizens who separate themselves from the 'real' ethnically-sound British people. Martin does not use the term, but he refers to 'the Establishment'.

There is a widespread fear that if the discussion haver on for two years without any conclusion and with a hung parliament that is heavily weighted towards a 'soft' Brexit, the 'Establishment' - a term that has not much been used for the past generation - will stitch the nation into a sort of relationship of helotry to the European Union: like the Helots in ancient Athens, we will be a subject people of the EU without the rights of full, free citizens of the EU. You just watch!

It will suit the 'softies' to prevent any conclusions being reached within the time frame, in the hope that the EU will then close down the discussion with an offer of terms that the UK will not be able to refuse. Meanwhile, uncomprehending quibbling politicians will take us nowhere.

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