This is an article I wrote for the News Statesman on the inevitability (or otherwise) of Brexit.
You can also read the article on the New Statesman website.
How often is it that Nigel Farage, Jean-Claude Juncker, Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk agree on something? Such unity across the political divide should surely be welcomed. So, what is responsible for this sudden outbreak of bonhomie between supposed foes? The answer is simple: they all agree that Brexit is not an inevitability. They all agree that the matter is still far from settled. Nigel Farage admits another referendum is possible, Boris Johnson reportedly thinks Brexit may still not happen, whilst Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker said today that the door remains open to the UK if the British people change their minds.
There should no longer be any doubt: until we’ve officially left the EU, Brexit is a reversible process. We have heard from legal experts, EU leaders, politicians across the spectrum, as well as the architect of Article 50, Lord Kerr. All say that the public have the right to change their minds on Brexit if they want to and the invoking of Article 50 can be reversed.
Whilst this might seem an obvious point to many people, it’s worth repeatedly emphasising. One of the key successes of some of the most fanatical Brexit-supporting politicians has been their ability to create the impression that Brexit is now inevitable, no matter what. That no matter how damaging it is to our economy and our NHS, to jobs and living standards, we voted for it, so we’ve just got to suck it up.
But they’re wrong. People did vote for Brexit, that’s true. But what form of Brexit they were voting for, what their reasons were for doing so, was far from clear. Remember: we were told voting for Brexit would mean hundreds of millions of pounds extra for the NHS. Instead we’ve got a downgraded economy, a Brexit divorce bill of at least £35bn, an NHS in crisis and no sign of any extra money.
We were told voting for Brexit would mean lots of fancy new trade deals to replace the trade lost by leaving the single market and the customs union. Instead, we now know there’ll be no new trade agreements for years, and that securing new deals with an “America First” President Trump, or any other major economy, will involve huge trade-offs. The government can’t even guarantee it’ll be able to roll over the trade deals we currently enjoy with 65 countries as an EU member. And it won’t tell us what sectors it is willing to sacrifice in order to get those new trade deals.
We were told voting for Brexit would mean leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but the government now admits it will continue to have influence in this country for the foreseeable future. The reality is this – if the government really wants to diverge from the EU’s high standards and regulations, the result will be both a weaker economy and public services, and less protection for British workers, consumers, food standards and the environment.
New facts about Brexit are coming to light every day, and clearly the whole process is much more complicated than anyone could have known during the referendum.
And whilst I’m talking about unlikely bedfellows, I admit that I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said “nobody voted to be poorer”. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the vision of Brexit sold to the British people is undeliverable, everyone has the right to keep an open mind about whether or not it’s really the right path for the country. And as the last week has proved, if the public do decide to change their minds, the door remains firmly open.