Brexit isn’t a done deal, but we’ve only a year to stop it

by Hugo Dixon | 29.03.2018

For Brexit to work, it should be good for the “three Ps” – our public services, prosperity and power. But it is going to fail on all counts.

The idea that Brexit will be good for the NHS is a bad joke. There won’t be an extra £350 million a week for the health service because the economy will get clobbered, meaning less money for public services. What’s more, the notion that we’ll get faster treatment in accident and emergency departments if we kick out foreigners is 180 degrees wrong. We’re already suffering an exodus of EU nurses and doctors – and treatment is suffering.

The Brexiters promised a glorious sunlit upland where we cut free trade deals across the world. This is hogwash. Not only are we going to get less access to the EU market, which accounts for half our trade. We’ll struggle to do deals with the rest of the world too. When America and China see our desperation, they’ll bully us – forcing us to open our markets to chlorine-washed chicken, subsidised steel and the like. Brexit will be bad for our prosperity, economy and jobs.

Another one of the Brexiters’ bad jokes is “take back control”. As Theresa May makes one climbdown after another in the Brexit talks, it’s clear we are losing control. We are currently one of Europe’s big powers, making the rules. But because the prime minister is desperate to hang onto at least some of the EU’s benefits, we’ll end up as a rule-taker. This tail-between-our-legs Brexit is not just bad for our power; it’s bad for our pride.

But it’s even worse than that. We’ll have less power on the global stage too. At a time when Russia is flexing its muscles, is it really sensible to burn our bridges with Europe and suck up to Donald Trump, a racist, sexist bigot who is also an unreliable ally?

We need a people’s vote

Once the prime minister has finished her Brexit talks, the people should get a vote on whether this miserable Brexit is good enough – and, if they don’t like it, they should have the chance to stay in the EU.

Many people who are unhappy with Brexit think it’s a done deal. But it’s not. Theresa May triggered Article 50 exactly a year ago, telling the EU we intend to quit. But we can still change our minds – provided we do so by this time next year.

If the people decide they don’t want Brexit, the argument that we have to charge like lemmings over the cliff because that’s the “people’s will” falls apart.

… and a positive vision

To win this battle, pro-Europeans certainly need to point out the defects of whatever deal May clinches. But we also need to set out a positive vision for the UK. We can’t just defend the status quo. Many people voted to leave the EU because they are not happy with the way things are now. We have to address those concerns.

We need a fairer and more successful country, where people not politicians are in control. We need better public services, more homes, investment in run-down communities, more meaningful jobs and better opportunities for young people.

To build such a country, we need to do the heavy lifting here at home. But staying in the EU can help us achieve this vision because so many of the problems of the 21st Century cross borders. Globalisation. Global warming. Global terrorism. Global mass migration. We are better able to tackle the threats and grasp the opportunities by working with 27 other European countries with whom we share so many values and interests than by going solo.

Equally, if we do quit the EU, we will be in such a mess that our chance of delivering a fairer society will be virtually nil. Recriminations and scapegoating could tear our country to pieces.

Chicken and egg

To get a people’s vote on the Brexit deal, Parliament will first have to authorise one. But most MPs won’t have the guts to do what so many of them in their hearts know is in the national interest unless public opinion shifts against Brexit. On the other hand, many people won’t change their minds unless politicians speak up and tell them it’s worth fighting.

Some pro-Europeans throw up their hands in despair when they confront this chicken-and-egg problem. But look around the world, and you’ll see lots of chickens and lots of eggs. So the problem can be solved.

We need to do it bit by bit. Public opinion changes a little. Some MPs then have the courage to stick their heads above the parapet. The message gets out that it’s not a lost cause. Public opinion changes some more. Another wave of MPs speaks out. The public moods shifts again in our favour. More politicians jump on the bandwagon – and eventually we have an unstoppable force.

The good news is that this process is starting. Despite the fact that both the government and Labour say that Brexit is a done deal – and despite the fact that much of the media including the BBC agrees – popular support for quitting the EU is falling. The best guess is that it’s now something like 52/48 in favour of staying compared to 52/48 for leaving at the time of the referendum.

That’s not enough to stop the madness. But it has been enough to get some brave politicians to speak out. A key moment was before Christmas when a group of Tory “mutineers” led by Dominic Grieve forced through an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill requiring a “meaningful vote” in Parliament at the end of the Brexit talks.

Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party backed this meaningful vote. A similar coalition seems to be emerging to require the UK to stay in a customs union post Brexit – a battle that is likely to come to a head after the local elections in May.

These are important skirmishes. But the big battle will come in the late autumn when the government seeks parliamentary approval for its Brexit deal. MPs need to say then that the deal is a miserable one and that the people must decide whether they still want to quit the EU.

We’re getting our act together

Pro-Europeans have been frustrated that we haven’t had a proper campaign. We haven’t amassed our forces to fight Brexit. As a result, the Brexiters have got away with blue murder.

The good news is that we are getting our act together. MPs have been organising themselves via the All-Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations, chaired by Labour’s Chuka Umunna and the Tory’s Anna Soubry.

The non-parliamentary groups have been organising themselves too. Six groups – InFacts, Open Britain, the European Movement, Britain for Europe, Scientists for EU and Healthier In the EU – are now in the same building in central London. It’s now much easier to coordinate activities on a daily basis.

What’s more, the parliamentary and non-parliamentary forces get together each week in the Grassroots Coordinating Group, chaired by Umunna. A joined-up campaign is coming together.

We obviously don’t have much time. There’s only a year to Brexit day. Maybe only 6 to 8 months for public opinion to shift enough so MPs give the people a vote.

But we can stop Brexit if everybody who cares does their bit. You can donate money. You can give your time to one of the groups named above. You can also write to your MP and demand a people’s vote on the Brexit deal.

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    This article was updated on March 29 to remove references to an InFacts tool helping people contact their MP.

    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    9 Responses to “Brexit isn’t a done deal, but we’ve only a year to stop it”

    • What is Corbyn playing at? Unless he is a complete moron he should be able to see what will happen when we exit and see the advantages of staying in. Just a few of the unanswered problems like the Irish border mess and cross border supply routes along with plenty of others should be enough to make him change his tune. Why does he not listen to Starmer on this subject?

    • There isn’t a year to stop Brexit.

      There’s absolutely no chance that the UK could saunter into Berlaymont on March 29, 2019 at 22.59 and withdraw Article 50 after a withdrawal treaty had been ratified – as you quite rightly state.

      It’s taken the disparate Remain groups 21 months just to get their groups into the same building.

      As much as the Brexit campaign deserves lampooning, at every opportunity the Remain campaign has been outwitted, outfought, and outplayed by them.

      If Chuka Umunna, a man who not only labelled his fellow Londoners trash but also chickened out of standing against Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the party, is the best hope for Remain then we all might as well start queueing up for our blue passports now.

      Instead of pursuing time-wasting gimmicks like Parliamentary vote on Article 50 (which not only backfired massively, but will hurt the credibility of any Remain supporting MPs who backed the bill trying to campaign in any second referendum) or simply hoping that ‘events’ like enough old people dying would be enough stop Brexit, the official campaign should have been coming up with a Roosevelt-esque ‘New Deal’ for the UK and reaching out to persuadable Brexit supporting MPs, particularly the Labour MPs like John Mann, to switch sides.

      The one lesson that Remain has failed, abjectly, to learn from the Brexiters is that never having to implement your promises frees you with regards to what you can promise. That may well be cynical but only as cynical as spending 9 million quid on leaflets for every household just before Purdah or George Osborne warning of an emergency budget he knew he’d never be able to get through Parliament.

      Likewise, the Remain side should have been much bolder much more robust on their strategy to reform to the EU – you might disagree with their politics, as I do, but Hungary (and before them France) have shown how to push the EU into a corner and come out better for it.

      There were howls of outrage across Brussels over the Hungarian border fence, now there is a grudging respect, and Austria even followed suit without barely a groan in response. Likewise, Eastern European countries, not all of them, simply ignored their refugee quotas and now they’ve been quietly shelved. The reform argument failed to cut through because of Blair’s failure over the CAP reforms, and Cameron’s ludicrous over-promising over his renegotiations. The voters also saw through both Blair and Cameron and knew that they weren’t going to push as far as is sometimes necessary.

      But rather than the development of a coherent strategy and argument, we’ve seen nearly two years of the loonies on both sides flinging their sh*t at each other, getting absolutely nowhere and achieving absolutely nothing beyond boring the already disinterested masses even further.

      The time to stop Brexit is nearly over, and Remain risks not even presenting their case – and I fear that too many people have already switched off and stopped listening.

    • I am a remainer and am very perturbed by the prospect of Brexit. I wish it wasn’t happening.

      However, a polish friend – who definitively has the wellbeing of the country at heart – put it to me that it may well be the médecine that the country needs. His argument went something like this: uk suffers illusions of grandeur, has a superiority complex, is a class society, does not train its people properly, still has a landed aristocracy and a strange system of private schools and has a crude political system of first past the post. It is these features that cause millions of Brits to be alienated from the mainstream of the country. When they see the mainstream doing well, and they are stuck in a rut, they feel resentful. Brexit came along at a moment when lots of people happened to be feeling resentful (about globalisation).

      What the country needs is to shake off all its imperial and military baggage and become a ‘more normal’ mid-sized country: with proper schools for all, a seriously downsized royal family, proportional representation, etc – all the features that most continental countries have adopted over the last 100 years or so but which we have resisted.

      According to my friend, painful though brexit will be, in the long run, it could be that indispensable dose of reality that starts a serious process of self-examination and reform.

      Maybe not politically correct, but plausible? After all, every dark cloud has a silver lining.

    • I wish PB was not correct but what he says has the ring of truth. What is needed is someone with charisma to energise and lead the Remain troops. The rallying call must be positive and show that staying in is a no brainer and that reforming the EU is possible.
      The immediate objective has to be break the logjam of MPs who are Remainers but seem to be happy to be Whipped. The first duty of an MP in Parliament is to do what they believe is right for their country. It is not to play party politics. If Brexit happens large number of remain MPs will not survive in office especially if they represent remain constituencies.

    • “What the country needs is to shake off all its imperial and military baggage and become a ‘more normal’ mid-sized country: with proper schools for all, a seriously downsized royal family, proportional representation, etc – all the features that most continental countries have adopted over the last 100 years or so but which we have resisted.

      According to my friend, painful though brexit will be, in the long run, it could be that indispensable dose of reality that starts a serious process of self-examination and reform.”


      This nationalism has appeared out of of almost nothing or actually out of the popular press. It is pro monarchy, it voted against a very minimal electoral reform and while PR voting is needed more than anything to be the bearer of reform, the very minimal odd electoral reform on offer, the non Proportional AV was soundly rejected. The Tories are viscerally opposed to electoral reform as the rotten borough system holds them up and freezes the status quo with them in charge with monopoly power 2/3 or more of the time.

      Labour are also mainly against electoral reform having offered it ( AV+) in ’97, achieved their largest ever majority, then dropped it once the votes were in.

      Unless a progressive coalition takes power on the back of an economic collapse post brexit, reform will have to wait and years of extreme austerity beckons.

    • I am one who voted remain and continue to see no advatage to the nation in leaving the EU although I have many criticisms of the EU, it’s institutions and how it operates. The Leave vote was a protest but much of what it protested about appears to me to be nothing to do with the EU. It was a protest against the austerity measures of the government, the disconnect of most Parliamentarians and global commercial interests from the public.

      An obvious disconnect came for me when MPs voted for their own pay increase but denied a fair increase for public sector workers. MPs with any moral fibre would have agreed to their own pay increase to be limited to the lowest for any public sector worker.

      After all they do get subsidised food, drinks accomodation and pensions and severance payments even if they only work one day after taking their seat (talk about public benefit scroungers – you would be hard pressed to find any benefit claimant with greater unjustifiable benefits) – even if you discount their 79k per year.

      The declaration of MP’s interests also deserves further scrutiny. Please look and continue to publicise the Health Secretary’s interest in private health companies and in privatising public health institutions. (And other government Ministers personal interests in their areas of responsibility)

      Nearly all the communities in the UK who have benefitted most from EU funding have voted leave and will suffer the most from the withdrawal. The remain campaign need to point up the benefits that such areas have received from the EU and the general lack of funding by our government..

      One issue I have some sympathy for is the fishing industry but with reducing naval strength how will we enforce new fishing areas and how will any government defend itself against the multinational fishing industry’s lobbing on quotas – much harder outside than inside the EU. Remember the EU did recognise the problem of wastage, not that Nigel Farage seems to have noticed, but then he didn’t bother to attend the meetings.

      The deterioration of the NHS we know is due to the lack of funding and increasing demographic demand (this latter was well known at least 20 years ago) but it is also due to the overfunding of the private sector by the public sector. Whatever the pay of University Vice-Chancellors compare it with the pay of the ‘consultants’ brought in to ‘improve’ the public services. Consider the costs of PFI’s with what would have been the cost for the state to re/build new schools and hospitals without paying shareholder profits and ‘supermanager’ costs. The concept of what constitutes public borrowing needs to be rethought with due consideration for long term social cost benefit analysis, and certainly challenged. The proposed new tax for the NHS already exists it’s called National Insurance.

      The press appear to have managed to kill some of the Levenson recommendations and the farce of press complaint procedures needs radical reform.

      However much of the Europhobic press (nearly all right wing, but these days regrettably including the BBC) continue to run stories that divert from any critical report on Brexit or bias or wrongdoing during the Referendun campaign and give far more ‘airtime’ to Eurosceptics.

      If we are to leave the EU why should any UK politician expect them to give us any ‘nice’ trade deal. Why would any other foreign country give the UK a better trade deal than the EU?

      Why do Liam Fox and David Davis think that the UK would be in a better position to charge Google, Facebook or Amazon any better taxes on our own than with the backing of the EU. Or better privacy rules.

      In your dreams and in my nightmares!
      We have the weekest and most inept, incompetant government in probably 150 years but we also seem to have the most inept opposition for quite some time, probably since 1951.

    • A hopeful and well considered article. Britain stands on the brink today like it did in 1939, all we lack is a Churchill among the Remainers.