Saturday 1 July 2017

The Brexit debate continues to be plagued by glib over-simplified rubbish

When it comes to non-apathetic Brexit opinions, there are two main types.

There are those of people who know enough about the EU, politics, diplomacy and international trade to recognise that it's immensely complicated and confusing, and then there are those who insist on talking about it in glib sound bites as if the whole thing can be explained in a couple of simplistic generalisations.

Interestingly those who err towards the extreme ends of the spectrum (Brexit obsessives and die-hard "Remainiacs") tend to be the people who are most likely to talk about the subject in glib over-simplifications, while those who lie somewhere in the middle are more likely to accept that the whole thing is an incredibly complex maelstrom of potential consequences (both negative and positive).

A desperately inadequate lexicon

One of the main problems with discussing Brexit is the appalling inadequacy of the Brexit-vocabulary.

Ask a dozen people to give more detail on what Brexit means beyond "Britain leaving the EU", and you'll likely get a dozen different answers.

This is hardly surprising given that the Leave campaign was based on selling a load of totally undeliverable (and often mutually exclusive) promises of a wonderful future fantasy land in order to dupe people into signing a blank contract with the hard-right faction of the Tory party to make the whole thing up as they go along.

When the hard-right of the Tory party actually won, they had no idea what they were going to do, so Theresa May further muddied the waters of what Brexit actually means by repeating her tautological platitude that "Brexit means Brexit" for six tedious months as the government scrabbled around trying to come up with some kind of actual plan.

Only the most simple-minded of people ever bought into Theresa May's "Brexit means Brexit" gibberish, because it's obvious that there are all different ways of quitting the EU, and obvious that the UK government should have taken steps to calm uncertainty by explaining which they were going to pursue rather than hiding behind empty platitudes.

The problem of course is that political language is so often divided into binary choices (left vs right, libetarian vs authoritarian, austerity vs investment, Leave vs Remain ...) but a binary "hard" vs "soft" dichotomy simply isn't sufficient to explain the numerous potential forms Brexit could take.

Here are just a few of the potential ways Brexit could go:

  • A very limited Brexit where certain core issues are agreed (security co-operation) but no trade deal or travel rights are established.
  • A trade deal is agreed, allowing the UK cartain access to the EU Single Market in a similar way to other non-EU states like the FTA deal with South Korea, or the CETA deal that's just been struck with Canada.
  • The UK remains in the Customs Union, but leaves the Single Market.
  • The UK remains in the Customs Union and the Single Market.
  • The UK decides to revoke Article 50 and actually remain in the European Union.
These aren't even all of the options, and then there's the choice of whether the final settlement (whatever it is) is subjected to another public referendum, which is an idea that increasing numbers of people seem to support.

The idea that a simplistic binary division between "hard Brexit" and "soft Brexit" is even remotely sufficient to cover all of these choices and potential outcomes is absurd.

What is "hard Brexit"?

So if "hard Brexit" is woefully inadequate to describe what's going on, what do people actually mean when they use it?

Hard-line Remainers have been trying to lump Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May together as "hard Brexit" even though there are significant differences between the two approaches.

Theresa May has made the threat of a nuclear "no deal" strop the absolute centrepiece of her so-called negotiating strategy, while Jeremy Corbyn says that a economy-wrecking, job-destroying, trade-freezing nuclear Brexit is not an option.

Lumping two very different approaches to the negotiations together as "hard Brexit" simply because both involve ending membership of the Single Market is clearly misleading, so why do they do it?

The reason people keep using "hard Brexit" is that it's actually little more than a pejorative term used by Europhiles to attack any form of Brexit that doesn't suit their objective of either remaining in the EU, or remaining in all but name by keeping membership of the Single Market, Customs Union and free movement zone.


I have to admit that during the EU referendum campaign I considered the left-wing Brexit movement delusional because I saw no way that the Tories would be daft enough to release their grip on political power before the next scheduled election in 2020, which meant that they could impose a savagely right-wing Brexit with no way of stopping them

But then Theresa May decided to call her vanity election and the idea of a progressive left-wing exit from the EU suddenly looks a heck of a lot more likely now than it did during the EU referendum debate.

The reason Jeremy Corbyn wants to leave the Single Market is that the rules of membership make several of his core manifesto pledges impossible.

If the UK remains in the Single Market the EU would be able to impose economic sanctions on the UK if Corbyn ever tried to deliver his pledges to repatriate the UK rail system, water companies and National Grid from the assortment of profiteering corporations and foreign governments that operate them now.

The notorious Twitter bore Ian Dunt recently claimed that "there is no left-wing case for Brexit" which is both utterly wrong, and exactly the kind of glib over-simplified platitude that has plagued the Brexit debate from the beginning.

A Tory administered Brexit was always going to result in more pro-corporate, austerity-fixated, neoliberal, hard-right dogma than the EU could ever have forced onto the UK, but a progressive left-wing Brexit could actually free the UK from the hard-right economic dogma that has infested the EU over the years.

The idea that "there is no left-wing case for Brexit" couldn't actually be more wrong.

A left-wing Brexit definitely looked like an absurd fantasy when the Tories had a majority government and the ability to maintain their grip on power until 2020, but now that Theresa May has thrown that advantage away, the left-wing case for Brexit is actually way stronger than it's ever been.

More confusion

The problem with Brexit is that the subject is highly complex, and partisan forces on both sides are intent on sowing confusion through the use of spectacularly over-simplified, and often desperately misleading terms and phrases (like "Brexit means Brexit", "no deal is better than a bad deal""hard Brexit", and "there is no left-wing case for Brexit") because they see promotion of their own personal agendas as very much more important than keeping the public informed and actually providing us with a lexicon of terms and phrases that is fit for the purpose of discussing the subject in a coherent manner.

Calling it out

The only way to stop people spreading confusion is to call them up on it.

If they're ranting about "hard Brexit" ask them whether they're referring to leaving the EU with no deal whatever (Theresa May's threat), leaving the Single Market to allow for the repatriation of UK infrastructure and services (Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto commitment) or all forms of Brexit beyond actually remaining in the EU in all but name.

If you hear somebody saying "no deal is better than a bad deal", ask them to explain in terms of the economy and jobs how a "no deal" strop away from the negotiating table would be better than a negotiated settlement. Ask them to provide facts and statistics to back up any economic or employment claims they make.

If you hear someone repeating the absurdity that "there is no left-wing case for Brexit" ask them to explain the left-wing case for remaining in the Single Market and ensuring that the UK is subjected to neoliberal rules that would prohibit Labour from carrying out their manifesto commitments to repatriate vital national infrastructure and services.

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