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Time for a national consensus on Brexit

by Alex Spillius | 12.06.2017

Having called the two most reckless elections in recent memory the Conservatives can no longer claim to be the party of stable and responsible leadership.

Those qualities are, after all, the party’s fundamental pitch to voters. They are implied in the name on the Conservative tin – trust us with the economy, with defence, with national security, because the other lot, particularly when led by a left-winger like Jeremy Corbyn, simply aren’t up to the job.

But look how irresponsible Tory leaders have been. David Cameron took us into an unnecessary referendum, and Theresa May, with the support of her cabinet, called a general election we didn’t need. On both occasions the party and/or personal position were put well before country.

In unexpected numbers, voters saw through May. Going back on her word not to hold an election was not her first deceit. As home secretary, she had promised to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands but failed utterly. For six years she was part of a government that promised to balance the books within five years, and missed its targets. She took office promising to govern for all, only to make capturing UKIP voters her overriding goal.

Notwithstanding the weakness of her prospective agreement with the DUP, whatever shape it takes, how can we trust such an unreliable leader, and such an unreliable party, to lead the Brexit talks that will decide our country’s future for several generations? The referendum and this election were rooted in Tory divisions over Europe. It is time the country stopped paying the price for that disagreement.   

If she remains prime minister for the next few months, May must begin the process of delivering a Brexit for all. A Brexit that honours the referendum result, but sticks to the letter of the question on the ballot paper – which was to leave the European Union. A Brexit that explores the options of not leaving the single market, the customs union and shared security arrangements. That will involve, at the very least, fully consulting other parties, and at best, formalising a consensual negotiating position.

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For pro-Europeans, there has been encouragement over the weekend that the hung parliament will turn out positively.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative’s newly empowered leader in Scotland, is talking of the need for a more “open Brexit” with cross-party support. Philip Hammond has reportedly told May that his continued support is conditional on a moderated approach to Brexit, one that puts British business and jobs first. This echoes the type of Brexit, vague though it may be, that Corbyn advocated during his campaign. Two prominent Remain Tories, Nicky Morgan and Alistair Burt, have urged the prime minister to find a consensus in parliament for Brexit.

“The new composition of parliament knocks on the head the idea that the negotiations should solely be in the hands of the Conservative party,” Burt told the Observer.

Former Labour front bencher Yvette Cooper has gone further, calling for a cross-party commission to run the negotiations. Nicola Sturgeon has this morning joined her. That may seem far-fetched right now, but within a year maybe less so. Who knows in British politics these days.

Edited by Geert Linnebank

6 Responses to “Time for a national consensus on Brexit”

  • I cannot understand why so many commentators insist that we have to respect the result of the referendum. It was not legally binding. It was basically a giant opinion poll with result affected by the web of lies and deceit spread by those on the Leave Campaign.

    It is becoming ever clearer that leaving the EU will damage the UK politically and economically. The “will of the people” of the people is a bogus phrase designed oppress legitimate opposition to an act of obvious self-harm. You would not let someone commit suicide just because they said they wanted to.

    • Politicians​, have trumpeted, the “will of the people”mantra; by what possible, logic can the advice of substantially, less than half, the electorate constitute, the will of the people. Not only was calling the referendum, done , in the interests of the Tory Party, but,it was not thought through, properly, The denial of the vote to expats, was wrong, ,the vote should, probably, have, included​ 16 year olds, as it is their futures​ at stake. A matter of such constitutional, import, should have required a super majority and there should have been 3 choices, leave at any cost, negotiate, a Norway type arrangement, within the single market, or remain, and probably voting should have been compulsory, we are where we are, in a mess. The mood in the country is palpably, shifting. A petition, for a new, referendum, giving, 3 choices, could well gain overwhelming, support, if so Lt could gain an overwhelming, momentum. If one was held, it would be much more honest, at the lies and deceit have bee. Exposed. To do so would Lance tis festering boil, , which, otherwise, will disfigure this country, for generations.

  • As previously noted on this site:

    “Our opponents, the enemy, are as usual moaning, complaining and agitating against us and our plans. This is impermissible. We cannot let these saboteurs shipwreck us and the will of the people.”

    – Lenin

  • I entirely agree with Mr Cavanagh comment’s and the article by Mr Spillius. The question nevertheless arises just what an acceptable Brexit would involve. This has not been spelt out at any time and I believe the concept of a soft or acceptable Brexit is an illusion. The choice is Brexit or no Brexit. If this conclusion is considered wrong then I should like to hear what an acceptable or soft Brexit would contain.

  • I agree with much of Alex Spillius’ analysis. It does not have to be an all or nothing outcome, much as I’d like us to stay completly inside the EU. We have to respect the outcome of the Referendum, but there is absolutely no mandate to go any further than the question on the ballot paper, much as a whole range of pro Brexit commentators have tried to convince that leaving the EU, means cutting all ties. As I have said many times, if membership of the EU and the Single Market was one and the same, it would make interesting news for the peoples of Norway and Iceland that they were actually in the EU!

    There must be a majority across Parliament for a Brexit which includes tarrif free and unbureaucratic access to the Single Market. This majority must somehow start working together, much as that will upset certain tribal party loyalties. However, this is now in the national interest. Both main parties are being held back by their respective leaderships, so a way must be found for a moderate pro-Europe solution to be found. If the party leaderships are not prepared to offer such a route, then MPs must have the courage to defy party whips. Otherwise they must ask themselves what they are doing in Parliament.