by Derek Morrison
Come What May now creates new fable
Of making ‘U’ turns so strong and stable
And Ulster alliances to ensure her votes
By conjuring a billion of the people’s notes.
As the Brexit fire slowly builds its flame
The people will eventually apportion blame
For fantasy expectations that can’t be met
Dangled as shiny bait for the Brexit bet.
The Kingdom’s unity now starts to bleed
Cut by false prophets spreading poison seed
Nurturing visions of glorious crops gone by
And a sun always shining in an azure blue sky.
The people hope, or pray, for an exit clear
Finding much to fill their lives with fear
But if EU exit actually increases the load
Their fulminating fury will soon explode.
The architects will then seek refuges to fade
Spinning weasel explanations already made
But the spotlight lens should be burnished bright
Keeping their names in focus, and clear in sight.
Cameron for using people’s votes as party fix
Farage for injecting his venomous divisive mix
Johnson for going with ‘whatever’ flow
Gove for treachery, in striking Johnson blow
And Come What May for being so wrong
In confusing silence with being strong
And Corbyn for riding a youthful wave
In feeling their pain at Glastonbury rave
New names will undoubtedly join this list
For generating noise and obscuring mist.
As our leaders shuffle us towards the exit gate
Perhaps the people should still contemplate
For they did not vote to become more poor
They were sold improvement as the voter lure.
So instead of leaders pontificating ‘soft’ or ‘hard’
Should we actually surrender our member card?
But could our politicos now sink their pride?
For a dragon’s back they would surely ride.
They, however, will never admit they are in a hole
So digging deeper becomes their only goal
And so the people are shuffled to their fate
For a reversal now would, some, humiliate.
But perhaps when the people see the deal
And the abstract becomes ‘hard’ concrete real
Then asking the people again to speak
Charts a safer course for parties weak
For while EU exit will make some glad
Other loud voices will soon ask
Exactly, how is this better, than what we had?
[To listen to this verse select below]
The poem ‘Dramatis Personae’ reflects the frustration with – and lack of confidence in – the decision-making abilities and leadership qualities of our current generation of UK politicians. Many appear to have degraded to the level of populists of one form or another. The author’s view on whether the UK should ever leave the European Union is, however, more nuanced than is, perhaps, conveyed in the verse.
The UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum was held for all the wrong reasons, mainly because the votes of the British public were being employed in an attempt to ameliorate the chronic internal conflicts deeply embedded in the soul of the British Conservative Party. Under normal circumstances, any political party using the population’s votes in this way deserves to be punished at the ballot box in the next general election. That, however, assumes there are healthy political alternatives not riven by their own internal struggles and – or – loss of public confidence, i.e. the UK’s Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats.
David Cameron, the then Conservative Prime Minister, however, grossly miscalculated by viewing his 2016 Brexit referendum as a solution rather than a problem. The unexpected result, plus his speedy exit from the public stage as a consequence, succeeded only in undermining the overall political stability of the country. Instability reinforced by the unseemly Conservative leadership competition that followed. The problems were amplified further by the results of the 8 June 2017 general election when the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority and were forced into a de facto arrangement with the ten member far-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. This ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement cost £1 billion to the public purse and added further unnecessary complexity to the tortuous politics of Northern Ireland. So far from ameliorating the problems of the UK Conservative Party, the 2016 Brexit referendum has now made its issues everyone’s problem.
It is perhaps worthwhile pondering on the results of an alternative EU referendum scenario that could have been considerably less divisive. UK political leaders (of all parties) could have embarked on a long-term campaign with the explicit intention being real reform and realignment of the EU. So rather than the brutal exit engineered by the radical right wing of the Conservatives plus the breakaway faction called UKIP (to which add the rather inept remain campaign by Cameron et al), a clearer majority may have emerged than did so in the 2016 referendum. The government would then have had a genuine mandate rather than the rather fragile negotiating position they find themselves in now. That would have been a referendum based on issues free of the taint of the internal problems of any one political party. David Cameron’s rather pathetic – but much trumpeted – February 2016 ‘renegotiation’ of the UK’s relationship with the EU prior to the Brexit referendum appeared to be an exercise in ‘spin’ rather than an exemplar of negotiation prowess. Again, this seemed to be driven more by the desperate need to see off his opponents within his own party and UKIP rather than part of a long-term strategic plan that would have benefited the UK (and the whole EU).
Also, by trying to stay within the EU club – but seriously confronting the need for reform – sympathetic voices and support from other EU member states could actually have reinforced the UK position within the EU. Had such reform been rejected or subverted, however, then a genuine cross-party EU exit referendum held on that basis would have resulted in a decision where at least a clearer majority was likely to emerge within the UK. Instead, the UK has totally lost any influence it had within the EU and a significant part of the UK population now feels as though they are being ‘bounced’ into a completely uncertain future. There are those within the EU who will be delighted to see the back of the UK from the Union since it removes a troublesome obstacle to their federal ambitions, and that in itself should give us pause for thought. The federal ideology is not new. It emerged from the crucible of the Second World War and began to take concrete form with the creation, in 1950, of the current EU’s ancestor, the European Coal and Steel Community whose explicit purpose was to unite European countries economically and politically and so make future wars impossible. The presence of the UK and a some other northern European countries have always mitigated the impact of the explicit federalists or negotiated national opt-outs, e.g. from the Euro-zone. Our exit from the community, therefore, risks considerably weakening both ourselves, but also the EU since the federalists will surely be tempted to move quickly to consolidate their position and, as happened with the much too early introduction of the Euro-zone, be tempted into over-reach. The introduction of a common currency across different countries with misaligned: cultures; legal oversight and enforcement; economic cycles; economic robustness; and fiscal policies was always going to disadvantage the economically weak, e.g. Greece, and benefit the strong, e.g. Germany.
The turbulence created post the Brexit referendum continues to lead to greater political, financial, social, and environmental unpredictability. Meanwhile our transient leaders attempt to convey calmness and calculation. UK politicians and the media appear now to have marshalled the discourse onto questions of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. But let us consider what these terms actually mean?
The EU has three pillars:
- the free trade area
- the customs union
- the single market
Each of these elements carry a portfolio of associated rules, benefits, and constraints, e.g. free movement of peoples within EU, EU only trade agreements (no bilateral side arrangements), accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice .
A ‘hard’ Brexit means that the UK walks away from all three elements. ‘Soft’ means buying into one or more of the elements and accepting the conditions and oversight that, therefore, will apply, e.g. like Norway. There is, therefore, a potentially explosive tension in opting for either a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. Let us assume that the purpose of the UK leaving the EU is to
- end free movement of peoples (note, not free movement of labour)
- reinstate the UK’s right to negotiate independent trade agreements with whatever nation it likes
- eschew the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
So unless the EU proves willing to reform their own portfolio of conditions applying to each element – which a sensible UK should have started work on years before opting for a referendum – then only a hard ‘Brexit’ will meet the objectives of those who authored or bought into the ‘leave’ narrative. But the latest twist to the political narrative is of an “economy and jobs first” Brexit. That, however, will require staying close to our biggest trading bloc, i.e the EU. And as it currently stands ‘staying close’ means one or more of: the free trade area; the customs union; and the single market.
Which brings us to the final line of the poem, unless there is some unforeseeable major turn of events (either within the UK, the broader EU, or on the global stage) we could easily end up asking “Exactly, how is this better than what we had?” with both the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ sides of the Brexit narrative feeling even more aggrieved.
What is most sad is that the UK now risks being perceived as a hapless victim of events rather than a skillful and ethical engineer of them. Some protagonists proclaim this to be an exemplar of democracy at work. Others, however, may perceive an exemplar of hubris, misconceived personal ambition, and misuse of the political system.