Brexit: voters deserve honesty

by Tom Miller

The worst line on the Brexit negotiating strategy is one shared by most Tories (including their front bench) and many lexiters.

This is the idea that we can have everything we want whilst accepting nothing our negotiating partners want.

We are in a process with at least two points of view involved, in which we have fewer cards to play because of our smaller economy and its level of dependency on trade and selling services.

1) Like us, the EU will act in their material interests rather than to give us a hand for no reason.

2) This means only mutually acceptable solutions or situations which come close can avoid us (or potentially both parties) ending up worse off.

3) The main difference is the power imbalance, as the EU economy is far larger and more diverse than ours, so we are down on leverage. It is in our interest therefore to lead the negotiation with constructive suggestions. Which means we need a model they may accept. Which probably means the four freedoms, in one form or another. This doesn’t have to mean losing all political influence, as it would potentially mean a new treaty.

If you want to honour the vote and this is not the strategy you prefer, it is better to just say you want out in all ways and will accept the costs imposed to industry as supply lines are broken, or trade becomes uncertain, and employment gaps begin to emerge.

If you want to honour the vote but aren’t happy with big costs and competitive disadvantage to British industry, it is much more honest to say you want out of the EU but will take a realistic economic solution than it is to make one up yourself which we all know is unlikely to succeed.

It’s high time people in Labour were more honest about this. The public get that we face a choice if we go ahead.

Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool...

Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool…

Enough voters are persuadable over soft Brexit models, especially with working examples, and it’s by far more likely to be better for Britain and industrial workers in particular. Like Labour’s struggle with the Thatcherite consensus, we also know that it will be impossible to win people over without making the argument. And if we were being more honest about what’s acceptable to both parties, it’s the argument we would have to make.

If leaving the EU, the ballot paper question, means Turkey or Norway are out as examples, those countries should by all rights be sending MEPs to Brussels. They are self-evidently not EU members and have a purely economic and cultural relationship. The fact this simple point is not made is also because of a vacuum left where Labour should be – at the front.

On a side note, the approach Labour are taking of mandating a government negotiating strategy by statute is a very strange one. It reminds me of the Brown years and the push at the time to simply make climate change and child poverty illegal. Again, we all know that this is not how negotiations work. As a party we are at risk of being seen to piss people about. In my mind at least, always better to just tell a difficult truth.

Right now looking at all of the major political parties I’m reminded of a story about the Cynic philosopher Diogenes. When asked why he was stalking Athens in an agitated fashion, never putting down his lamp despite the abundant sunlight, he replied that he was looking for something perhaps impossible to find: an honest man. Read anyone of note discussing Brexit strategy, and awareness sets in; the disillusion washes over. Soon, the lamp will run out of oil.