“None of the Brexiteers had a plan. Do you?”
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked this question on social media, I’d be a rich woman. In a very recent experience, a Facebook friend demanded I present him with my plan for Brexit, after I commented on a post he’d shared about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s company not paying any corporation tax. That’s right, the post wasn’t even about Brexit but for those suffering from Brexit Derangement Syndome, I guess everything is about Brexit.
Now, I’ve fallen too many times into the trap of trying to argue the benefits of Brexit with ardent Remainers, and I’ve learned that it’s a bad idea. When they ask what my plan is, or why I believe so strongly in leaving, they are not asking out of any genuine curiosity. The question is always posed in a tone of anger and frustration, and whatever answer one gives is instantly derided as fantasy. The question is a clear opener for a protracted argument, and the longer one tries to defend one’s position, the more acrimonious the conversation becomes, and the more pointless.
So this time, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to waste my time presenting my ‘plan’ for Brexit as my interlocutor clearly wasn’t interested in reading it. Only it turned out this was also not the right response – I was then derided by him and a select few of his ‘friends’ as yet another dishonest Brexiteer who runs away when the situation becomes difficult. Insults were exchanged and the conversation went from bad to so much worse.
At the time, in the heat of the argument, I couldn’t think clearly enough to see how ridiculous this whole situation was. But think about it for a minute. When did we start holding individual voters accountable for the failure of politicians? At what point did we decide that once you vote for someone or something, you are personally responsible for everything that follows, whether or not it was what you expected? When last did you hear somebody angrily demand, for example, that any individual Labour voter should justify the Blair government’s decision to lead us into the Iraq war? When last did we ask Labour voters to tell us what their plan was, for fixing the mess that ensued?
If Remainers are angry about the mess that the British government is making of Brexit, it is nothing to what many Leavers feel. Those of us who voted for Leave, did so in the honest belief that the government would fulfill its promise to implement the decision of the referendum. We didn’t each have our own individual plans as to how the process would work – we trusted the government to do their jobs and get on with it. What we certainly didn’t plan on was Gina Miller suing the government to allow Parliament to have the final say over Brexit. Nor did we plan on ministers going behind the government’s back to hold talks with the EU on how to stop Brexit. We didn’t plan on two and a half years of ministers, ex-ministers and Lords claiming to accept the result of the referendum while using every trick in the book to try to overturn it. And we didn’t plan on the government’s absolute refusal to prepare for a no-deal scenario, effectively crippling our negotiating position with the EU.
If anything, it should be Leavers angrily demanding of Remainers, what their plan is. What do they honestly think is going to happen if they manage to secure their second referendum and, despite all the evidence that shows almost nobody has changed their minds, the result miraculously swings to Remain? Do they honestly believe that we will simply continue as members of the EU and that that will be the end of it? Personally, I think it’s far more likely that come the next general election, we will see a huge swing to UKIP and the Brexit party as voters, fed-up of being ignored by the current crop of MPs, seek to install a new Parliament that is more willing to do what the electorate asks of them. And if that happens, then we will simply end up starting the whole process all over again once the new Parliament is installed.
Even if, as many Remainers probably secretly hope, article 50 is revoked and Brexiteers find themselves so disillusioned that they simply give up on voting, do Remainers really believe that Britain’s membership of the EU will continue as it has in the past? Are they honestly so blind and deaf to the repeated messages from Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt, making it clear that the EU is intent on further federalism and that the only options available will be full membership (including membership of the Euro) and associate membership with no voting rights (something which sounds very similar to Mrs May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement)? If Remainers really still wish to block our exit from the EU, surely it should be time we start asking them which of the two available EU membership options they wish us to pursue in future, along with a full economic analysis of what they believe the benefits of their chosen option to be.
It is naïve in the extreme to think that we can go back to where we were before the referendum. And the height of arrogance to still cling to the notion that we ever had the power to influence EU decisions unless those decisions had the express approval of France and Germany. We may like to believe we have always been a rule-maker within the EU but the reality is we have always been largely a rule-taker, our opinions amplified when they accord with the general direction the EU wishes to take, and ignored when they don’t.
And where are we now? It is hard to comprehend the unholy mess that the British government has made of negotiations with the EU – it may be true that Brexiters never had a plan but neither, clearly, did the government. Even after the vote went to Leave, the government still failed to do the one thing that it should have been doing right from the start, and plan for a no-deal scenario. While most of us are familiar with the refrain “hope for the best but plan for the worst”, Mrs May and her advisors have chosen instead to beg for scraps.
So there’s no point, now, asking me what my plan is. Any hopes I may have had as to how Brexit could be handled, have been thoroughly dashed by a combination of treachery and incompetence that have made a complete mockery of what I actually voted for. I voted to leave based on promises (and threats) that to do so would mean leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. I voted with a wish that, free from the constraints of EU membership, we would be able to set our own immigration policy that would judge applicants not based on where they come from but on what they can offer our country, and that we would be able to focus on trade not just with the declining markets of the EU but with the rapidly-growing markets in the rest of the world. And I voted in the full knowledge that leaving would be a major disruption to the UK economy, which would cause uncertainty and potential short-term economic harm – something I felt was worth enduring for the long-term benefits I still believe leaving would allow.
I don’t know what is going to happen next. At the moment, it’s looking like MPs are steeling themselves to cave in and accept Mrs May’s deal, telling themselves that it’s either this deal or no Brexit. And I am hoping and praying that they hold firm and refuse to accept the deal. Despite my initial efforts to convince myself that this deal was the best compromise available given almost half the country don’t wish to leave, I can’t now see this deal as anything other than a permanent surrender to associate EU membership, with no option to leave in future. And while that may yet prove to be the best option available to us in the long term, I really would prefer to see us either leave on 12 April without a deal and continue to try to negotiate a free trade deal, or ask for a long extension to article 50 to enable a new government to be installed – one that would prepare, right from the start, for a no-deal exit and that would be willing to negotiate on that basis.
But to those who ask me on social media what my plan is, I have a very simple answer. Walk away. I see your attempt to start an argument and I’m tired of it. You may think “what’s your plan” is a great way to get a debate going but I now recognise it as a clear indication that you are simply spoiling for a fight. Not to mention a little bit soft in the head in thinking any plan I may have would make the slightest difference to our government. When you find that your opponent is no longer interested in discussion, and instead just wants to punish you, the only option is to walk away. Something Mrs May sadly doesn’t appear to have learned yet.