No-Dealers persistent in lies and self-delusion
As was foreseeable the end-game about Brexit gets nasty. The agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom was so comfortable for the British Leavers that even the most fanatic Brexiteers did not critizise 99% of the deal. They were not happy that there were obligations to be met, but they focused all their anger on one and only one element: the Irish backstop. After the House of Commons rejected the deal for a first time, hard Brexiteers from the European Research Group (ERG) indicated that they could reluctantly vote for it if the Prime Minister goes back to Brussels with the backstop eliminated. They would have voted for more than 500 pages of the agreement without further debate.
In fact the withdrawal agreement left open which kind of relationship would be negotiated after the exit from the EU. Brexiteers and the DUP only thought that a customs union – a red line of Theresa May – should not happen under any circumstances even it it would mean a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The British Remainers had much more to remoan about the deal. The 48% who voted for Remain were brushed off with a winner-takes-all attitude that could never have helped to reconcile a divided country. After a campaign of lies and delusions they were told, that they were now trapped in a once-in-a-lifetime vote. This is a deeply undemocratic attitude towards voters: most dictators came to power if not with a vote then with considerable support from voters who then were never asked again. Chavez and Maduro once had a majority, based on hopes and illusions and a lot of lies – and now they insist to continue their nasty regime based on that „people’s will“ expressed once-in-a-lifetime.
Parliament lost control when both main parties declared the result of a non-obligatory referendum as the holy grail of democracy. Only when the dire consequences of the vote became clear the House of Commons tried to take back control – it did so at the very latest stage, days before the planned date for the Exit from the EU. In a desperate frenzy of trying to get a majority for any alternative Parliament mirrored what is typical for each referendum: it is easy to combine very different motivations to one powerful NO, it is very difficult to combine very different views into a constructive YES. That is one more reason why I always insist that referenda are „democracy without safeguards“ – they are destructive but unable to construct.
The last days of the debate showed that now the no-deal-scenario becomes very likely to happen. And again the Leavers argue with lies and persist in self-delusion. If the pollsters from You-Gov conclude that a majority in England outside London would prefer a no-deal exit, this result is based on the continued campaign of fake news from Brexiteers: they lie at the people telling them that Britain would be free of obligations towards the EU in case of no deal. This is not the case. The withdrawal agreement gives the UK an orderly transition towards a new relationship – whatever the British government wants to negotiate. The UK keeps important privileges in trade with the EU until a more permanent regime will be estabilshed. But obligations incurred by Britain when being a member state do not just go away. Breaking with financial obligations would mean that the UK is defaulting on its debt, breaking with obligations towards citizens from the EU would break British law and be subject to retaliation towards British citizens in the EU, and furthermore breaking the obligations of the Friday Peace agreement on Northern Ireland would offend international law and break peace. Some extremists would not care about all of this. This is mainstream in most of the tabloids. It is still not fought vigorously enough by those who may want Brexit but not political extremism to prevail.
Many in the EU now believe that the still huge number of British voters who believe the lies and persist in delusion should be taken into account. Many think that the United Kingdom would not be able to be a constructive member state for some time in the future – so it is better to let them go. But this does not take care of the 48% who voted Remain and it does not take care of those possibly 6% who changed their mind or did not vote in 2016 but would now prefer to stay in the European Project.
As a referendum-sceptic I would be happy if in the end the application of Article 50 of the EU Treaty would just be revoked. But this would leave the country bitterly divided. The poison of a divisive referendum may only be remedied by the serum of another referendum. Some people say that another referendum would be even more divisive. But that is not true: sure, those who loose then will be as angry as they would be about loosing an election. But that is normal in any democracy. A new election always overrides the last election, a new referendum overrides the last referendum and takes away the mysticism about the „people’s will“ as something immovable. By such a referendum Brexiteers would have a second chance. However the people would vote then with much more information available and many fake news exhibited as lies. Hopefully they vote differently – but the vote should this time be obligatory (and framed by some minimum standards on participation – by the way those standards were met in 2016). If the vote means Leave so be it, if not, to remain could end a nightmare paralyzing Britain for three years now.