Many comparisons were made when Britain voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016. A nation heading for an iceberg, storm clouds on the horizon, even a full-on apocalypse was envisaged in the distance. Despite these comparisons, what Britain has witnessed in the two years since has shocked even the most ardent Remainer.
Long gone are the days of George Osborne’s spuriously specific figures booming out of the treasury, in which households would supposedly be £4,300 worse off by 2030. Indeed, even David Cameron has said that the economic fallout directly after the vote has “turned out less badly than we first thought”. But today, the horrific chaos that Brexit is going to bring isn’t the direct result of leaving itself, but the result of our Conservative government’s incompetence and incomprehensible leadership.
Since Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017, 65 negotiating weeks and 455 days have passed. 29 March was a day many swooned over with rampant triumphalism: Nigel Farage coined it “the day the impossible dream came true”. Yet almost a year and a half later, Remainers and Brexiteers alike must question if we have moved at all.
Article 50 was triggered without a coherent plan for the negotiations, and with complete ambiguity about our future relationship with the EU. However, with Brexiteers fearing that their dream could be snatched away from them if the process didn’t begin quickly, Theresa devotedly fulfilled their fantasies. This was one of the most calamitous decisions of the entire negotiating period. The accumulation of fear from Brexiteers, incompetence from the government, and the final touch of legitimacy from a Labour party refusing to oppose began the negotiations as they would continue to go on: with a complete lack of plan, lack of a viable alternative, and an EU that has no idea what the UK wants. (Not to mention the utter ignorance that Article 50 started a time-limited process, in which every feud, internal crisis, and election triggered by a walking holiday wasted precious negotiating time.)
Since Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017, 65 negotiating weeks and 455 days have passed. Yet almost a year and a half later, Remainers and Brexiteers alike must question if we have moved at all.
Article 50 was triggered without scrutiny from the opposition and large parts of the media. Perhaps the pragmatists amongst us were still filled with post-Brexit stress disorder, unable to realise just how catastrophic it would be allow the government to start the clock when it did. Astonishingly, this eyes-closed, think later leadership from Theresa May’s government hasn’t only continued, but it’s got worse. With six weeks of negotiations left, the UK still hasn’t been able to agree amongst itself, let alone with the EU, what it wants from negotiations.
This begs the question: how on earth did we get into this position? And why isn’t there more uproar amongst the British public?
The simple answer to the former is that we have a government so hopelessly divided and lacking in leadership that it is unable to govern, let alone partake in any meaningful way in the most important set of negotiations Britain has ever faced. Over the past month alone we have seen a government jumping from crisis to feud, to public outburst to civil war. Whether it be David Davis threatening to resign for the fifth time, or Michael Gove physically ripping up the latest customs suggestion, this is a government so intent on quarreling that it appears blind to the cliff that it’s approaching. People have every right to be furious about this, but they shouldn’t be shocked. After all, for the best part of forty years, the Conservative party has been a coalition of pro-Europeans and anti-Europeans, trapped in an unhappy and dysfunctional marriage. The difference is that in the past this had only a limited effect on UK-wide policy. Today, their sheer hatred of each other isn’t just disrupting the marriage: it’s misdirecting government policy.
The weight of this meandering muddle must fall wholeheartedly on the shoulders of Theresa May. Throughout her leadership, we have witnessed extreme hubris, extreme awkwardness and exceeding incompetence. I never expect myself to agree completely with a Conservative government, but I have always expected them to govern with a certain level of competence. But seemingly the person and government steering our great nation through this incredibly turbulent period are only there in fear of the alternative; whether that be a Corbyn-led Labour government or a Conservative party led by Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The very purpose of a government is to lead, control, and direct our nation, but it is frankly impossible to suggest that May is capable of these when she is unable to manage her own cabinet, let alone the wider country. To quote a well-worn phrase, I think it is cretinous to have a government that has flunked all responsibility to govern in our hour of need, and an abomination to the 52% and 48% alike. To govern simply for the sake of governing isn’t governing at all — it creates a limp and lifeless leader in even in the most normal political period. But the period we are currently in is far from that. We need leadership to seize the Brexit mantle and clearly convey what our country needs, rather than what it wants, in a coherent and meaningful manner. Rather, we have been left at every stage of the Brexit negotiations with the EU simply calling for more ‘clarity’, and less posturing from the UK. It is a disgrace that this is going on two years after the referendum. There should be uproar on the streets, clenched fists in pubs and ferocious fury in articles because we are currently heading for catastrophe. But this isn’t happening.
Currently, polling suggests that 42% of the voting population would vote Conservative at the next election, compared to 40% for Labour. The Liberal Democrats languish on 9% despite promising local elections. Perhaps this showcases how far our political debate has deteriorated, whereby people cannot see beyond ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ soundbites as a classification of good governance.
Something must change. With six weeks of negotiations left, our nation cannot sleepwalk into legitimising a no-deal, no benefits Brexit. We must face the hard cutting reality that there will be no trade deals with America or Australia or any of our former colonies. There will be no glorious deal with the European Union that allows continued free trade, nor will there be continued cooperation over defence and security, with precious things such as the European Arrest Warrant and our access to the Galileo programme simply slipping away from our grasp. Yet the reason for this isn’t because Brexit is some pipe-dream that cannot be delivered within a damage-limitation mindset. Rather, it is because our “Full British Brexit” is being undertaken by incompetent idiots, who stride towards this shambolic and disgraceful mess.
The Tories’ sheer hatred of each other isn’t just disrupting the marriage: it’s misdirecting government policy.
I’m writing this article because I am furious at the state of our government. The path (or lack thereof) that our country is about to take fills me with anxiety. Two years and eight days ago our country made a choice that I believed was a horrific mistake and one that would overshadow the entirety of my life. But today, our real mistake would be allowing this government to undertake a complete miscarriage of governance and finish a job they never really started.
When the no-deal Brexit occurs and the only thing on the British horizon is WTO trading rules and a heavy dose of Brexiteer bullshit that ‘everything is okay’, the British public will be faced with a historic choice. We can either rubber stamp the supposed ‘job’ our government has undertaken, or we can oppose it and call upon our parliamentarians to reject the deal. We should march and echo the referendum promises of ‘taking back control’, and demand that parliament takes control of the chaos this government is about to make. Whilst rejecting a deal and forcing the government to think again would be a historic crisis, I urge people to consider whether we have an alternative. Rejecting a deal would not mean preventing Brexit, nor would I want it to. It would mean either another general election — in which we could elect new leadership — or a truly sovereign parliament, in which the sensible middle-ground on Brexit demands that we maintain close trading and customs relations and ensure that the ideologically driven Tory right are shut up, whilst those who aim to thwart democracy are helplessly outnumbered. This is of course what should have occurred from the off, but this government’s incompetence has denied it. However, the game isn’t completely up, and when our government does fail in its objective (which it will), it is down to every single member of the British public — Remainer, Abstainer, and Brexiteer alike — to prevent our nation’s future from being stolen from within our grasp. I urge and pray that you heed my call.