There’s nothing super-democratic or virtuous about triggering Article 50 and starting the clock on our EU secession negotiation before we are ready
I like Spiked magazine a lot. Despite technically being a left-wing outfit, you wouldn’t know it from reading much of their output – they are certainly nothing like the morally bankrupt and ideologically rootless centrist politicos who infest much of the Labour, LibDem and Green parties. And on key issues like democracy and freedom of speech, their instincts are generally sound, while many of their writers argue with eloquent and forceful conviction.
That being said, Spiked’s new campaign to force the British government to immediately invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the clock on our two (minimum) years of secession talks with the EU is rash and unusually ill-considered.
Editor Brendan O’Neill (whom again, I respect enormously) thunders:
Right now, today, the government must invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The people voted for it. More Brits voted to leave the EU than for anything else in history. So for officialdom, experts and agitators to demand that we hold off from triggering Article 50 – the clause that sets in motion a nation’s rupture with Brussels – is a straight-up denial of the democratic will. It’s an attempt to stymie, weaken, make meaningless the political demand of 17.5million people. Invoking Article 50 ought to be the great democratic cry of our times. Anyone who takes the franchise seriously, who cherishes the hard-won right of a people to shape their nation’s politics, must insist that Article 50 is invoked now.
The political and media elites are devoting an incredible amount of energy to ensuring Article 50 is not triggered. They have formed a protective ring around it, shielding it from being enacted on what they view as the reckless, ill-informed say-so of the public. From the legal realm, the political world, the media elite and the agitating leftist set, various actors have come together to say: ‘Don’t touch Article 50.’ And it’s no mystery why: they know Article 50 will make the people’s will a reality, and while they can just about handle the people expressing their will, they’re determined it should not form the basis of politics.
O’Neill then goes on to rightly criticise some of the delaying tactics we have seen orchestrated by the law firm Mishcon de Reya, attempting (on behalf of wealthy anonymous clients) to make invocation of Article 50 contingent on the will of Parliament rather than the outcome of the referendum.
We can all agree that any such delaying tactics borne out of a desire to overturn the result of the EU referendum are utterly abhorrent and toxic to democracy. But it does not follow, as Spiked seem to think, that maximal democracy is achieved by doing the exact opposite, by invoking Article 50 yesterday in a fit of pique.
The EU referendum question asked voters whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union, and the electorate gave a clear instruction that Britain should leave. But it is the government’s duty to do so in a responsible manner, extricating the UK from a rejected political union while maintaining economic stability and limiting extraneous harm.
If the most “democratic” response to the EU referendum result is to leave the EU as quickly as possible, then Britain should immediately repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and walk away from all of our diplomatic and treaty obligations, consequences be damned. But what consequences they would be. Britain would rightly become a pariah nation, our word distrusted for many decades to come. And of course there is nothing amazingly democratic about such an act of self-harm.
Spiked love to take an maximalist stance on issues. When it comes to things like free speech, this is admirable. But applying the same uncompromising stance to the delicate issue of negotiating a departure from the EU on good terms is not wise.
Pete North agrees:
Ok kids, let me put this Article 50 nonsense to bed. Article 50 is a notification to the EU that we intend to leave. It triggers a two year period in which to negotiate our new relationship. Before that can happen we need to know from each member state what their position is likely to be on our position. This is called a scoping exercise so that we can create a timeline for events and an agenda whereby anything that was not agreed beforehand is not opened up for discussion unless the rest agree.
Before we do this we first have to know what our own objectives are and whether we wish to keep full membership of the single market and what we are prepared to compromise on and what we are not prepared to compromise on. That will require hearings of select committees, expert panels, public consultations and referrals to professional bodies, unions and trade guilds. I expect academia will want their say as well.
If we have even half a clue inside a year it will be a miracle. Scoping and testing the water with out position will take anywhere up to six months or more, also keeping in mind there are French and German elections which may see a change of position. So we would be quite reckless to even consider any rushed moves.
Some of this can happen concurrently but Article 50 invocation would be most ill advised until the process is complete. Keep in mind not a single strata of policy making is not affected somehow by EU laws. And at best after those two years of official talks all we will come out with is a roadmap for gradual divergence. To say this is complex doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Some have asked if I gave concerns that Article 50 may never be triggered. There is always a danger of that. It has yet to dawn on most politicians just how big this is and they may seek a pause when it does dawn on them. The only politicians who has thus far given us a hint of a clue that they know how big this is is David Cameron. That is ideally why we need someone from his camp leading the proceedings. They will have been given the same briefings. Gove will still be clinging on to childish fantasies about knocking up a free trade deal over beer and sandwiches followed by a slash and burn of red tape.
It is natural to want to see immediate, dramatic action following the referendum decision (not that we have been short of drama this past week), but even in the most reckless scenario, forty years of incessant and stealthy political integration cannot be unpicked in one quick move, as Pete North emphasises. And nor should it be attempted.
If there is some kind of coup to take place against Brexit, orchestrated by shadowy businessmen and lawyers over their cups of tea, I would be the first to march on Westminster with a flaming torch in hand. But in his admirable determination to defend democracy, Brendan O’Neill is making the mistake of conflating the absolute necessity of proceeding with initial scoping discussions to get an informal outline of a deal in place before invoking Article 50 with the more insidious attempts by vested interests and scorned left-wingers to unduly delay the Brexit process or thwart it entirely.
It’s understandable – like most of the Westminster media, O’Neill likely hasn’t heard of Flexcit. But if he were to familiarise himself with the only comprehensive, robust Brexit plan in existence, he might appreciate the narrow but crucial difference separating those who want an unhurried approach to Article 50 in order to plot out the smoothest and most economically non-disruptive secession and those who want to kick Brexit into the long grass altogether.
Spiked’s commitment to democracy and free speech is admirable, and a frequent source of inspiration to this blog. But in this case, by seeing the world in such black and white terms, divided between democracy-loving good guys who want to invoke Article 50 yesterday and the evil conspirators who want to delay it forever, Spiked is not serving the best interests of the country.
And sadly, this is one Spiked campaign which this blog can not support.
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