2nd June 2017
–By Keith Nieland-
Isn’t this supposed to be the Brexit Election?
It seems an age since Theresa May announced the snap, surprise general election. If I recall correctly it was necessary because of Brexit. She feared those dastardly Labour, LibDem and SNP MPs would gang up on her and bring the workings of government to a halt if they did not get their own way.
Her second reason was that she believed having a large majority in the Commons would strengthen her hand in the negotiations with EU leaders.
If that is the case why are we not all talking about the types of Brexit on offer? Why are options not being identified and debated? Why are politicians not setting out the pros and cons of these options for us all to consider?
A One Way Ticket to Ride
Now, I am not suggesting we re-run the referendum. We voted to leave and leave we will. What nobody voted for was a model of the economy post-Brexit. No doubt some people think they did but the reality is there has been little debate about the new model for our economy. Do we pursue the Canadian, Norwegian or Swiss models or resort to WTO rules and have no agreements with the EU?
People did not specifically vote to leave the Single Market and certainly did not vote to leave the Customs Union. I doubt many voters had ever heard of the Customs Union or knew what its function was. People did not vote for their jobs to be potentially moved to Dublin, Paris or Frankfurt.
I live near Oxford and if BMW decide not to build the new electric Mini at Cowley it will cause job losses, hardship and undermine the local economy. Nobody voted for that either. Nobody voted for a 20% drop in the value of the pound, higher inflation and an end to the Open Skies agreement or compensation for flight delays (very topical of course). Nobody voted to surrender their EHIC card.
Different political parties should be championing different models so voters can debate and decide how they wish to go forward. This is why it is quite scandalous that May and Corbyn are basically singing from the same Brexit song sheet.
The Elephant on the Table
I would suggest Brexit has become the elephant in the room because, for different reasons, it is not in either Theresa May’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s interests to venture into the murky world of Brexit.
First, May’s reasons for calling the election are quite spurious. There is no cross-party plan to bring government to a halt. The opposition parties do not have the numbers to do that and in any case Corbyn’s Brexit position is much nearer May’s than Tim Farron’s. Remember, Corbyn marched as many of his troops as he could into the lobbies in support of the Tories when the House of Commons voted.
Secondly, the size of May’s majority is of no significance to the EU negotiating team. They have already laid out publicly their negotiating position and for them there are agreements to be reached on the status of Northern Ireland and EU nationals living and working in the UK plus the size of the divorce bill. These will have to be settled before anything else is considered and May will not be able to link these issues across to trade etc. For the EU there is nothing to negotiate just agreements to be reached.
Those Damned Experts
The conspiracy theorist in me thinks the Treasury economists have warned May about the damage to the economy immediately post-Brexit and she does not want to have to handle an election in 2020, the year after the full impact of our EU departure begins to hit home.
Assuming May wins next week she could hold off having another election until 2022 in the hope the economy might be on the up again.
There is no doubt the terrible events in Manchester have affected the election but the debate on security, terrorism, integration and alienation has not knocked Brexit off the front page as it was not there in the first place. Apart from a controversial venture into foreign policy Corbyn continues to talk about the NHS, education and public services and May continues to talk about nothing very much no doubt hoping exposing Corbyn to public scrutiny will deliver her a victory.
Strength and Stability for the Many and not the Few
So May has been mouthing “strong and stable” at every opportunity and promoting the Tories’ reputation for economic competency which was severely undermined by her dementia tax gaff. I know Twitter is alive with charts of the Tories’ cuts to public services, reductions in police numbers and the size of the national debt etc but we need to remember a little over 2 years ago 11 million people voted for a continuation of austerity and prioritised reducing the debt and deficit over everything else. Ed Miliband offered a different route but by 2 million votes it was rejected.
So “strong and stable” May plus economic record plus red meat for UKIP voters is May’s strategy. The polls appear to indicate that UKIP is imploding and its voters going to the Conservatives by a sizeable majority. It’s here we find May’s reasons for not wanting to talk Brexit. The hard line Brexit supporters are to be found in the UKIP vote. Farage and co are watching the Tories like hawks and anything that smells of the slightest weakness towards our EU partners will be pounced on. Hence hints about walking out of the negotiations if we don’t get our own way plus tough measures on immigration. Any hint of remaining in the Customs Union or Single Market will also be pounced on. The UKIP doctrine is to cut ourselves off completely from Europe, have nothing to do with its institutions and create a new world role for ourselves. May needs their votes and will, therefore, say nothing to put that at risk.
Debating Brexit during the Brexit election is just too risky for May.
Corbyn’s reasons for not debating Brexit are different. Prior to his lacklustre efforts during the referendum (remember him going on holiday!) he has traditionally voted against all things EU and given where he lies on the political spectrum he probably see it as a capitalist club operating for the benefit of corporate business. Turning to this election he will be aware of the complex Single Market rules about state intervention and subsidy and would see this as a risk to his nationalisation plans.
The Size of One Side of the Coin Decides the Other
I have had Corbyn fans on Twitter (ah yes the wonderful world of Twitter) say to me that while they are unhappy with Corbyn’s Brexit position as they had voted to remain, they love his other policies. I have pointed out to them that Brexit and our public services are two sides of the same coin. If post-Brexit the economy shrinks and confidence falls, as is already beginning to happen, the amount of money available to invest in the NHS, education, police etc also diminishes as the tax take falls. A Chancellor McDonnell, instead of going on a £49b tax raising and spending spree, could find himself struggling to keep services at their current level while keeping borrowing down and the debt and deficit under control. I doubt Keynes would have endorsed raising taxes when profits and wages and the pound were falling and inflation rising.
So there you have it – May does not want to talk Brexit for fear of alienating UKIP voters on a journey to the Tories and Corbyn does not want to because it will expose the risk to his state interventionist and nationalisation plans.
It’s the Economy Stupid!
The Brexit model we end up with will affect us all for decades to come. It will determine how the economy will perform. The 48% who voted to remain have been largely marginalised and ignored during the campaign.
Our future economic model will now be determined by politicians in secret meetings more concerned with the fortunes of their parties rather than the wider interests of the whole population. Nobody will have a say over the chosen model going forward – not even Parliament who will get a ‘take it or leave it’ offer. This cannot be good for democracy and will possibly alienate large sections of the electorate for years to come.