Why Should Brexiteers Be Magnanimous Toward Defeated Remainers? They Deserve No Such Goodwill

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Brexiteers should be magnanimous toward defeated Remainers? No, sorry. Remainers have behaved like deceitful, duplicitous, spoiled children both before and after the EU referendum, and have done nothing to deserve anyone’s goodwill

Peter Hitchens is both right and wrong in his latest Mail on Sunday column, in which he urges Brexiteers to show magnanimity toward defeated Remainers by swinging their support behind an interim Norway/EEA option for leaving the EU.

Hitchens writes:

Do you really think anyone in this deeply divided country has a mandate to go hell-for-leather for full immediate exit from the EU, regardless of costs and consequences?

I don’t. I think we might be very wise to settle for a Norway-style arrangement, and leave the rest for some other time.

A mandate is a mandate, but only because of the strange, rather illogical magic which says that a majority of one vote decides the issue. So it does.

But it doesn’t sweep away any duty to consider the defeated minority, our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, our neighbours, friends, colleagues, even relatives.

It may be that if the other side had won, they might have behaved badly towards us.

I have been in enough minorities in my time to have experienced that. But they would have been wrong to do so. And precisely because our cause is so good, we can afford to be generous in victory.

I get tired of the overblown shouting on both sides here. Anyone, even I, could see that a referendum was only the first step, and that lawyers, judges, civil servants, diplomats and the BBC would seek to frustrate a vote to leave.

That’s why I always wanted to take another, longer route out. I wasn’t surprised by the High Court decision that Parliament must be consulted, and I will be even less shocked if the so-called ‘Supreme Court’ takes the same view.

Hitchens is absolutely correct to endorse a Brexit model in which Britain retains our current level of access to the single market by continuing to participate in the EEA after our initial departure. One may not realise from listening to overzealous, hard Brexiteers, but this is nothing more than an acknowledgement of basic truth – that Brexit is inevitably going to be a process rather than an event, and that for this to work we need to find effective ways of tying the hundreds of loose ends created by severing ourselves from the EU in a way which minimises economic and diplomatic disruption while fulfilling the primary objective of leaving the political union.

But Hitchens is wrong to suggest that there should be any additional magnanimity toward Remainers, besides that which is absolutely essential for the interests of our cause. Lest everybody forget, Remainers have had their way exclusively for 40 years straight, with Britain participating as a paid-up member of the EU against the wishes of eurosceptics. During all this time there has been absolutely no magnanimity shown or generosity extended to those with doubts about the euro-federalist project, or concerns about the EU’s impact on democracy.

Brexiteers have been called “fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” by none other than the former prime minister David Cameron, then leader of the party which by all rights should be most sympathetic to the eurosceptic cause. And Cameron was being positively polite in comparison to others. Furious Remainers, angry that their incompetent and small-minded campaign somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory despite having the overwhelming support of the government, civil service and establishment, have been openly complaining that Brexiteers are the racist beneficiaries of a “post-factual” world where dark propaganda overshadows the EU’s inherent goodness (I debunked that lazy theory here and here).

And worse, Remainers have acted as though a nation state seeking to escape from a failing and spectacularly unloved supranational political union and reassert control over its democracy is not the result of genuine and valid political conviction but rather somehow the first step toward fascist tyranny.

I genuinely don’t know whether I have been more insulted by Remainers before the referendum or since it took place. During the campaign we had wall-to-wall Remainer scaremongering and the deliberate encouragement of public ignorance (with the false insistence that the EU is just about “friendly trade ‘n cooperation” and nothing more, that sure it has problems but the Magical EU Reform Unicorn will easily take care of them, and that anyone who disagrees is an Evil Uneducated Xenophobe).

And since the surprise victory for Leave, we have seen a parade of Remainer catastophising and hysterical garment-rending the likes of which have not been seen in my lifetime. Some of it has been dispiriting, coming from people whose opinions I used to respect. Some of it has been whimsical and borderline hilarious. But all of it has been wrong, and all of it has been offensive to Brexiteers, who have nonetheless fought the good fight despite the insults.

Hitchens goes on to sling some further insults at David Cameron, which this blog always enjoys:

People are already beginning to forget Mr Cameron. They shouldn’t. First, because so many who should have known better – Tory activists and then voters – fell for his marketing.

Second, because he is mainly responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves. Try not to be fooled by this kind of person again.

And in the meantime, realise that, in these difficult times, we risk the sort of unforgiving, dangerous and destabilising divisions which are even now ripping through the USA. In such conditions, you may well get what you want, but only at a hard and bitter cost. Is that worth it?

Halfway out of the EU, which we can achieve now, may turn out to be a whole lot better than being halfway in.

But Hitchens mis-sells the EEA option, which is much better than being “halfway out” of the EU, as he describes it. Freedom from the EU’s political union, the “ever-closer union” ratchet, the ECJ and any future common taxation or military policies alone would be worth the effort. But as an EEA member (by rejoining EFTA and trading with the single market under that organisation’s EEA agreement) we would be subject to only around one third of current EU laws, many of which we would need to accept anyway in one form or another, in order to conform with global standards which the EU merely receives and rubber stamps. This is a lot more than some dismal halfway house, as Pete North eloquently explains.

This is political independence and breathing room for us to then consider how best to work with other like-minded countries and organisations to bring about the kind of non-parochial, global single market which could benefit Britain so greatly. By contrast, pushing for so-called “hard” Brexit not only glosses over innumerable complications, the ignorance of which could do profound economic and political harm to Britain were we to leave the EU without resolving them, it also makes Brexit less likely by alarming sufficient numbers of people that those who seek to stop Brexit altogether receive additional support.

Agitating for the hardest of hard Brexits is spectacularly unwise, inasmuch as that it would be an unnecessary act of deliberate economic self-harm – unnecessary because secession from the EU is eminently achievable without trying to undo 40 years of stealthy political integration in a fevered two-year bonfire of laws. And if recognising this basic reality seems like extending magnanimity toward Remainers, then let it be the only magnanimity they ever receive.

By now agitating for “soft Brexit” and Britain’s continued participation in the EU, Remainers are essentially exposing the fact that they lied continually throughout the referendum campaign. As this blog previously noted, during the referendum we were always told that leaving the EU would trigger all of these negative economic consequences. But now that Britain’s secession from the EU seems inevitable, Remainers have fallen back on the argument that it is leaving the single market which will cause us doom. This is actually much closer to the truth, but every day that they make this case shines a spotlight on the steaming lies and deceptions they told the British public during the referendum.

Therefore, if giving Remainers what they now want (continued single market access) still gets us out of the European Union in the most optimal way and exposes them as the shameless liars that they are, then I am more than happy to make that concession. But that is the only magnanimity that they will get from me.

Remainers have had things their way for forty years, never caring about the millions of Britons who dissented from the pro-EU political consensus, and often being actively hostile to us. Now that something has not gone their way for the first time in many of their pampered lives, I fail to understand why I am expected to sit beside their sick beds, holding their hands and reassuring them that I am not secretly part of a plot to bring fascism or splendid isolation back to the UK.

If that is what some Remainers seriously believe, then let them continue to think it. I hope that the gnawing concern gives them ulcers. I am done trying to reason with them. I am done placating them. I am done responding with reason when I am accused of ushering in the apocalypse, either through ignorance or malevolence. I am done extending the hand of friendship. No Brexiteer should feel compelled to defer to the delicate emotions of these selfish adult babies.

They had their way for forty years. Now we get to do things our way for a change.

Life is tough like that. Suck it up, Remainers. Enjoy the political wilderness – we knew it well ourselves, once.

 

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Picking Through The Wreckage Of Defeat: The Electoral Reform Society’s Report On The EU Referendum

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You don’t commission an urgent post-mortem report to look into something wonderful that has just happened. So the mere existence of the Electoral Reform Society’s tremulous report warning about the danger of future referendums tells us all we need to know about their attitude to Brexit and the people who voted for it

“The people have spoken. Or have they?”

So begins the Electoral Reform Society‘s autopsy report of the EU referendum and Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union. The simpering “or have they?” tells you everything that you probably already suspect about this report – that despite whatever other good work the ERS might do, this is a metro leftist, superficially and uncritically EU-loving effort to come to grips with what they evidently view as a political disaster.

If something bad like a plane crash happens, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch will pick over the wreckage and file a report outlining the chain of events leading up to the tragedy. It is the kind of report which damns by its very existence – nobody commissions a sober post mortem report about something delightful that has just happened. The ERS’s perspective on Brexit is established in the first seven words, and even before then by its very existence.

That’s not to say that the report is worthless – despite its clear bias (I’ll eat my hat if author Will Brett or any of the other major contributors actually voted to leave the EU) there are some thoughtful deliberations on how to get citizens involved in any future referendum planning process so that the procedure feels less like something which was suddenly foisted on the people, the rules being made entirely by shadowy people in Parliament.

Nor can I argue with the report’s recommendation to extend citizenship lessons in primary and secondary school. This blog has long stood for mandatory civics classes thoughout the duration of secondary education, not only as a way of developing good future citizens in place of self-entitled little snowflakes, but also as a means of celebrating, transmitting and reinforcing core British values on classes which may be very ethnically and culturally mixed, thus helping to end self-enforced apartheid.

Read the whole thing here – it touches on more areas than this single blog post can feasibly analyse.

But soon the wheels start to come off the report. This first happens when the ERS make egregiously misleading use of the “factoid” that there was a large spike in Google searches of the phrase “What is the EU?” in the immediate aftermath of the result. This was immediately taken by the stunned Remainiac establishment to be proof that we bovine Brits had voted for something which we did not even understand.

But this scandalous interpretation is wrong, as the Telegraph patiently explained:

Google Trends data isn’t actually representative of the number of total searches for a term, but a proportion of all searches at a given time. The company highlights spikes in searches based on what else is being Googled at a given moment in a geographical area.

So in the early hours of Friday morning searches for “What is the EU” briefly spiked compared to what else was being asked. To put it in context, the search only outstripped that for “weather forecast” between 01:30 and 04:30 in the morning, but by 05:00 that had changed.

Data from AdWords, which offers more specific numbers for search terms, shows that the 250 per cent increase in searches actually correlated to about 1,000 people asking the question.

In other words, bitter Remainers called into question the intelligence of half the country based on the Google search activity of no more than a thousand late night stoners who didn’t know what the European Union is but who were also far too moronic to find their polling station, let alone put an X in a box. Yet the ERS still considered this deceptive factoid worthy of inclusion at the beginning of their report.

But here’s where it really goes wrong:

At the start of the regulated period the Electoral Commission, or a specially commissioned independent body, should publish a website with a ‘minimum data set’ containing the basic data relevant to the vote in one convenient place . A major source of complaint about the conduct of the referendum was the supposed lack of independent information available about the vote. While there are real difficulties in separating out fact from political argument in these cases, a minimum data set ought to be possible.

In other words, rather than assuming that the British people are mature and capable enough to frame the debate in the terms which matter most to them, the Electoral Reform Society would have some shadowy committee decide in advance the terms on which the referendum should be fought, and then produce a “minimum data set” of presumably quantitative data to guide decision-making.

This is a truly terrible idea. The EU referendum probably meant something slightly different to every single one of the millions of Britons who voted. Even assuming that an approximate minimum data set could be hammered out, what was included and what was left out would inevitably reflect the biases or interests of those involved. We have enough trouble trying to come up with a referendum question which both sides feel eliminates bias or inappropriate suggestion. What makes the ERS think that producing a commonly agreed “minimum data set” would be anything but fraught, contentious and ultimately impossible?

Besides which, the key issue of the EU referendum was intangible: do we think that British democracy is best preserved inside the EU or without? One can come up with endless (often contradictory) statistics debating the economic benefits, but what could one possibly collate to form the “minimum data set” to vote based on democracy?

As political blogger I have read scores of history and politics books including some of the definitive critiques and praises for the EU, and the more I learned the less I realised I knew. In fact, as referendum day inched closer and closer and I saw other, established journalists and politicians make continual fools of themselves with their superficial and misleading analyses, I found it harder, not easier, to write. There is so much that I don’t know about how the EU works in practice and how international trade functions that I’m loathe to write much at all, and I actually spend spare moments reading some of this stuff and trying to learn. So what would be the Electoral Reform Society’s ideal minimum reading list for the country?

But of course they are not suggesting a reading list at all. When the ERS propose a minimum standards set, what they really mean is a short list of bullet points emphasising all the ways that Brexit could harm the economy in the short term, assuming a worst case scenario. They want a beefed up version of the government’s already utterly immoral £9 million propaganda leaflet sent to voters before the EU referendum. Just to altruistically ensure that people are “better informed”, of course. Right-o.

Is the current system perfect? No. Many Britons did complain that they felt they lacked sufficient information, or that they could not trust the information they were given. One could scarcely escape these modern-day Hamlets bleating their confusion on BBC Question Time. But in fact, while the status quo may be far from perfect, the giant flaws in more activist approaches like that proposed by the ERS are far worse.

Will people sometimes make their referendum decision judgements based on poorly chosen criteria? Yes, of course they will. Would seeking to prevent this by artificially restricting the terms of the debate be any better? No, it would be a thousand times worse. Rather that power sits with sometimes-confused citizens than with politicians or civil servants with very fixed ambitions of their own.

Besides, the awkward fact remains that while many voters may have liked to complain about not having all of the required information handed to them on a silver platter, a proportion of them were simply covering for their own laziness. As an ardent Brexit supporter I know I’m supposed to be waxing lyrical about the deep wisdom of the British people right now, but the fact is that there are a lot of stupid people out there, on both sides of the debate – people whose bovine cries of “but nobody is giving information” belies the fact that they haven’t watched the news in years because the TV remote got buried under a pile of pizza delivery boxes.

But the worst recommendation from the ERS report is yet to come:

An official body – either the Electoral Commission or an appropriate alternative – should be empowered to intervene when overtly misleading information is disseminated by the official campaigns. Misleading claims by the official campaigns in the EU referendum were widely seen as disrupting people’s ability to make informed and deliberate choices. Other countries including New Zealand have successfully regulated campaign claims – the UK should follow suit.

Again, this reeks of mistrusting the electorate – of course, we already know that the ERS does so, it is the very reason for this report in the first place. But to see it spelled out quite so blatantly is remarkable indeed. For in the opinion of the ERS, citizens are not mentally equipped – even in the Age of Google, when everybody has a smartphone in their pocket capable of accessing the accumulated knowledge of mankind – to analyse political messages and determine truth or untruth, validity or invalidity. Rather, we are apparently in need of some external authority to pre-screen our reality for us.

How on earth this is supposed to work is beyond comprehension. Set 100 top-tier university students the essay question “The EU brought peace to Europe. Discuss” and you will get 100 different subjective arguments, each with a unique perspective and most drawing from at least some unique sources. Say the Leave campaign takes a dislike to such a claim by the pro-EU side: what threshold would they have to meet to bring a complaint, and who has the final say as to whether the statement is misleading or not? And if a statement is found to be misleading, what should be the remedy? Front-page advertisements by the Electoral Commission in every national newspaper? Another propaganda leaflet through everyone’s door? Interrupting Coronation Street with some breaking news?

As a policy prescription it is entirely unworkable, but as a middle class, metro-leftist sulk at the supposed lies and deceit of the Bad Man Nigel Farage and the Evil Tor-eees it makes perfect sense. And sadly, that is precisely why the idea of a Referendum Censor entered the Electoral Reform Society’s report.

And shockingly, this leads the Electoral Reform Society to conclude that given the nature and outcome of the EU referendum campaign, maybe we would all be better off eschewing future freewheeling referendums for the safety and security of “parliamentary democracy”, preferring this to even their recommendations for more pre-determined, moderated, government-mediated future referendum campaigns:

Given the frequency of party-political imperatives behind the calling of referendums, it is worth asking: what are the conditions where a referendum is really the best way of settling a political question? Perhaps parties and politicians should make a habit of reflecting on some of the difficulties around calling and then responding to referendums, and – where possible – seek to find a way through the thicket of representative democracy instead.

Douglas Carswell sees many of the same flaws in the ERS report that this blog also identifies:

How do you give people more control over government? I’ve always believed the answer is direct democracy: more decisions made by voters, fewer by politicians and officials. But the Electoral Reform Society seems to think the opposite. They want to give officialdom more control over direct democracy. Why?

The ERS’s latest recommendations come from its scathing report on the referendum campaign. I also thought some of the conduct in the campaign was disgraceful. But much of their critique is misplaced.

There is, for example, barely any criticism of the Remain propaganda issued by Downing Street at taxpayers’ expense. And no mention of the use of the civil service as an extension of the Remain campaign. Apparently, co-opting the organs of the State to gain an unfair edge is no big deal.

The report also says people felt ill-informed, and the campaigns provided disinformation. Yet there is no admission that many of the outlandish claims came from supposedly independent “experts” – many of whose warnings, especially on the economy, have already been proven wrong.

And concludes:

But the big problem with the idea of official arbiters for campaign information is not the practical execution, but the premise behind it. In a democracy, we already have an arbiter: it’s called the people. The whole point of democracy is that voters analyse what they are told by the opposing sides, and make their own decision.

Underlying the ERS’s report is the sense that people can’t really be trusted to know what they are voting on, so instead we should let unelected technocrats decide for them. That’s not the kind of electoral reform Britain needs.

And yet the report makes some worthwhile observations despite its inherent biases. The information made available to the general public through the media was indeed shockingly bad, as the ERS complain, with MPs and household name journalists alike vying with one another for the title of Most Ignorant on a daily basis. More galling for sites such as this, those of us who strove to deepen our knowledge were routinely shut out of the discussion.

I doubt there is a better-researched and thoroughly produced political blog in the whole country than eureferendum.com, and Dr. Richard North’s “Flexcit” Brexit plan, yet few have ever heard of it thanks partly to the establishment closing ranks against somebody they view as an outsider but also to the fact that the Westminster political/media establishment are lazy, and don’t like putting in the hours of work it takes to speak confidently and knowledgeably on the real intricacies of Brexit and international trade.

But whatever the individual merits of each point in the report, it still ultimately comes back to the question of why the report was produced in the first place. Had the EU referendum result been inverted and the Remain side triumphed in a 52-48 victory, would the Electoral Reform Society still have produced a report, albeit one streaked with fewer Remainer tear stains? I’ll be generous and say yes, they probably would.

But would the content of the report and the ensuing recommendations be identical to the current version, with its overt worries about misinformation and an ill-informed population? I very much doubt it.

And that tells you everything you need to know about the political bias of the Electoral Reform Society.

 

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Andrea Leadsom vs Theresa May – An Impossible Choice, On Which The Fate Of The Conservative Party Rests

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At this difficult time we can take inspiration from our recent history and our last successful effort at national renewal

So it’s Theresa May versus Andrea Leadsom – the final two candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race whose names will now go forward to the wider Tory Party membership in September.

I’m delighted that the Conservatives will soon have given Britain her first two female prime ministers, I really am. When it comes to equality of opportunity the Tories deliver, while Labour bang on endlessly and fruitlessly about equality of outcome, peddle in tawdry identity politics and choose one white male after another to lead them onwards.

But does the successor to Ted Heath Mark II David Cameron really have to be one of these two women? When she entered 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher already had the “Stepping Stones” report in her pocket and on her mind. By contrast, Andrea Leadsom brandishes an overhyped yet still rather thin CV, while Theresa May has your entire internet browsing history and the paranoia to use it against you.

And so, when deciding who to support in this battle to be the next British prime minister I find myself faced with an impossible choice – one may as well flip a coin.

This blog will inevitably write more about the Conservative Party leadership race in the coming days and weeks as I try to make a decision – right now I see pitifully few upsides to either candidacy, and great risk behind either option.

But for now I content myself with re-reading the seminal “Stepping Stones Report” authored by the late John Hoskyns, that masterful diagnosis of everything which ailed Britain in the late 1970s when the state socialist cure had almost succeeded in killing the British patient.

This report – and the solutions contained within it – quite literally saved this country when Margaret Thatcher, who had studied it, came to power in 1979. Without Stepping Stones, Britain would quite likely be a colder, more populous but equally poor and dysfunctional version of Greece. I say this to underline the amazing good which the Conservative Party can do when under the right leadership, and the thread by which such hopes often hang (Margaret Thatcher was considered a rank outsider when she first declared her candidacy for the Tory leadership in 1975).

At this time I am drawn to this passage in particular:

We must know what a Tory government will have to achieve, before thinking about the way in which it must win office, because simply “winning a majority” on the wrong terms may not give it the authority it needs for success.

In normal times a majority is enough. The task of government is to steer a basically healthy socio-economic system past hazards which are primarily external, while ensuring that the system’s fabric is maintained and making improvements to it here and there.

But once the system itself starts to show signs of fatigue, instability, disintegration, then we start to talk of discontinuity. In discontinuity, solutions can only be found by breaking constraints which we had assumed were unbreakable. It is not enough to settle for policies which cannot save us, on the grounds that they are the only ones which are politically possible or administratively convenient.

It is safe to say that the Conservative government of David Cameron and George Osborne has been in office but not really in power since being re-elected with a tiny outright majority in 2015. And aside from their creepy manifesto pledge about having “a plan for every stage of your life” it has been almost impossible to discern what the Tories actually stand for, besides staying in power.

Winning a majority has not been enough because the majority was won on the wrong terms – by a prime minister who often pitched himself to the left of Tony Blair in the tawdry hunt for centrist votes. And these are far from ordinary times. As this blog recently pointed out, quoting Lincoln, the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

Theresa May is an accomplished technocrat, but also a fierce and implacable authoritarian. Even her more restrained actions – such as denying the former London mayor Boris Johnson the power to use his expensively purchased second hand German water cannon for crowd control – smack more of political chicanery rather than any shred of liberal principle.

On civil liberties, May is utterly monstrous. But more to the point, Theresa May came down on the wrong side of the most fundamental, existential question to face this country since the end of the Second World War.Worse, she supported the Remain campaign with a calculated half-heartedness, refusing to boldly commit and make the public case for her position. What kind of leadership is this?

Andrea Leadsom is no better. She has publicly and irresponsibly spoken about triggering Article 50 almost immediately, well before any initial scoping discussions have even had the opportunity to commence and well before the British government has had the proper chance to decide how best to implement Brexit, and seems intent on taking us out of the EEA as we secede from the European Union. Her haste is not evidence of super-virtuous commitment to democracy or an uncommon respect for the will of the people, but is the conclusion reached by what seems to be a rather glib and uncurious mind.

But whether you are less repulsed by the flinty-eyed authoritarianism of Theresa May or the oversimplifying, CV-padding antics of Andrea Leadsom, it seems reasonable to say that neither of the two remaining candidates have anything approaching a latter-day Stepping Stones report waiting in their pockets for immediate unveiling as soon as the Queen has invited one of them to become prime minister. And that is what we need most of all right now.

Theresa May’s authoritarian streak, contempt for civil liberties and belief in wielding the coercive power of the state is incredibly objectionable to this blog – yet as by far the more experienced candidate, May is best placed to negotiate good secession terms for Britain with the EU (assuming that she doesn’t double-cross us and effectively condemn Britian to “associate membership” on the margins).

Andrea Leadsom has precious little track record in government or politics in general, and has distinguished herself by saying some downright irresponsible things about Brexit. As a result, she could potentially overshadow the democratic dividend of Brexit through unnecessary self-inflicted economic wounds (e.g. by taking Britain out of the EEA). Yet she is superficially more Thatcher-like (I won’t say Thatcherite), and has the potential, however small, to grow into a far more radical Conservative leader than the soul-sappingly ideology-free Theresa May could ever be.

Choose May and you risk turning Britain into a dystopian police state while rewarding yet another ideology-free, politics-by-numbers technocrat, the kind of person whose unambitious, managerial approach to the great issues of the day turns millions of people off politics altogether.

Choose Leadsom and you risk a tumultuous and highly suboptimal form of Brexit while taking an enormous leap of faith that an untested neophyte will successfully get to grips with one of the steepest learning curves in the world, and that they will be advised well in the process.

Who can choose between these two flawed options with any degree of certainty?

 

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Dynamite Poll Shows Overwhelming Support For Interim EEA Brexit Option

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An explosive new poll has showed overwhelming support for a staged EFTA/EEA (Norway Option) Brexit approach in the event of a Leave vote in the EU referendum, extricating us from political union while maintaining the all-important short term economic stability. All serious Brexiteers must now coalesce around this plan

The Brexit blogosphere is reporting early warning of a new dynamite poll – far more interesting, I think, than the Independent poll showing Leave implausibly ahead by 10 points – which shows significant public support for Britain leaving the EU via a staged process maintaining access to the EEA (single market) in the same way as Norway.

The poll was commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute, who helped to shift the debate onto this ground by adopting the “Flexcit” plan developed by Dr. Richard North and readers of the eureferendum.com blog, promoting it in an essay “The Liberal Case For Leave” (authored by Roland Smith).

The purpose of the poll is quite clear – to show  that these is an as yet unmet public appetite for a staged approach to Brexit which extricates Britain from undemocratic and unwanted political union while also minimising risk.

As Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog reminds us:

Norway’s position is that it is in EFTA, and is a participant in the single market via the EEA agreement. It retains freedom of movement for workers, and enacts single market law (not all EU law, but about 25% of the total number of legislative measures in the EU acquis). It is not subject to the ECJ, or party to the CAP/CFP policies. It does not apply the common EU position on global bodies, it has sole competence for trade negotiations (despite making joint agreements with EFTA partners), and is not subject Justice of Home Affairs policies or collective foreign policy.

It has been the view of Flexcit advocates and The Leave Alliance that this is not only by far the most attractive approach in terms of allaying public fears and winning the referendum (without which any other differences between Brexiteers are rather academic), but that it is also the most practical and responsible way to extricate Britain from a complex political union at a minimum of risk. This poll would now seem to strongly vindicate that belief.

The key question posed by the poll was the following:

And thinking just about the shorter term, the five or ten years immediately following Britain leaving the EU, would you support or oppose Britain having a relationship like Norway has, allowing citizens of other EU countries to live and work in Britain in exchange for keeping full access to the single market?

And the headline results are overwhelmingly in favour of just such an approach:

ASI poll - EU Referendum - Adam Smith Institute - Chart

ASI poll - EU Referendum - Adam Smith Institute - Headline Results

This shows overall support for the interim EFTA/EEA (Norway) Option of 54 percent, against just 25 percent opposed, with 21 percent unsure. And among those currently intending to vote Remain, 79 percent are in favour of such a staged Brexit approach, while only 5 percent are opposed.

Ben Kelly of The Sceptic Isle blog breaks it down:

The YouGov poll, commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute, shows that British voters would overwhelmingly support the “Norway option” in the event of a vote to leave. Support for this arrangement outweighs opposition by two-to-one. This poll destroys the arguments of extremist Brexiteers and those stubborn remainers who believe a market based solution would be unacceptable to the public.

And:

Reality is sinking in; if there is a vote to leave we will commence leaving political and judicial union but remain in the Single Market.

This is the one subject on which extremist Brexiteers and ardent remainers have agreed on. Both have made exactly the same dubious counter argument; that if the British government were to remain in the Single Market it would be un-democratic and the public would simply not accept it. They have long maintained that a “leave the European Union” vote must also mean leaving the Single Market. Both have regrettably attempted to frame this referendum as a vote on immigration which it clearly is not. Both make ridiculous assertions that the public will “revolt” against a market based solution.

We have said for some time that this was nonsense; that the economy is the number one concern and the public would support an economically safe exit. Now we have the data to prove it.

Since the Norway Option (and the incredibly thorough and detailed Brexit plan resting behind it) have become more prominent in the national debate, its opponents – Remainers and a stubborn but vocal subset of Brexiteers – have been doing everything in their power to mock, discredit and otherwise slander the plan.

The Remainers’ motivation is obvious – if it can be shown that Britain can leave the unloved political union of the EU while maintaining full access to the single market, nearly all of their apocalyptic fearmongering arguments about economic ruin are immediately blown apart, leaving the Remain campaign entirely without a case.

(Even now, some Remainers are attempting to cause mischief and cast doubt on the interim EFTA/EEA route wherever they can – because Britain’s continued participation in the single market is the Achilles heel of their case for Britain to stay locked in political union.)

The Norway Option’s opponents among Brexiteers tend to be the ignorant (including those who do not understand that it is an interim step designed to ensure economic stability while 40 years of political union are unpicked) and those who want to campaign on a platform of vastly slashing immigration and doing it yesterday, even if it means losing the referendum because moderate voters recoil.

However, this new poll suggests that the interim EFTA/EEA approach to Brexit is an idea whose time has come. With so much garbage being spewed by the official campaigns on both sides of the debate, more and more people are turning in desperation to alternative news sources and alternative scenarios not being discussed by Boris Johnson or the establishment pin-ups of the Remain campaign.

With less than two weeks to go until Referendum Day, we are finally arriving at a consensus – and we have done so despite, rather than because of the official Vote Leave campaign which has been barking about immigration and the NHS to the extent that people are tuning it out.

There is a hunger out there for somebody to present a more grown-up plan for Brexit, one which acknowledges political realities and constraints that even low-information voters perceive to exist. And now we have that plan. What’s more, as the ASI/YouGov poll shows, when the outline of the plan is explained to voters they respond very favourably.

This poll is dynamite. It shows that the scaremongering, falsehoods and outright dismissals poured on the Norway Option by Remainers and short-sighted Brexiteers have had no effect. It shows that a majority of Britons are sensible enough to realise that undoing 40 years’ worth of political integration with the EU may not be advisable to attempt in one short sharp burst, and that a plan which gets us out of the political union (and free from any future attempts at further integration) while maintaining economic stability – the top issue for voters – is potentially very popular.

The only ones who now do not accept this are the blinkered leaders of the official Leave campaign. But the EFTA/EEA route has momentum now – it will not go away just because its existence is inconvenient for Boris Johnson or the other big names of Vote Leave.

At last, Britain is starting to coalesce around a politically viable (and physically deliberable) Brexit plan. The single

This is no time for triumphalism, as Tony Edwards warns (his emphasis):

For those who have seen the polls of the last week and think that Leave has this referendum in the bag, I suggest a moment of reflection. Even if they are correct, there is every chance that the government will be able to scare people in the coming days, that there will be a resurgence for Remain. Polls are never the whole story.

But polls can help to suggest to us in broad strokes what we think the public will accept, and we should begin by offering that option to them, explicitly and clearly, before the Referendum. When the margins are as large as the ones that You Gov have reported in this particular survey, I think it is safe to say that the Staged Brexit approach via EEA/EFTA, is the only option that is likely to receive sufficient support in the country and in Parliament to be able to bring together the opposing sides if we vote to leave.

But with many moderates still undecided as to how they vote, there are clearly a significant number of Britons who may be very receptive to this new information. And hopefully the Adam Smith Institute / YouGov poll will inspire more influential pro-Brexit voices to begin making that pitch to voters.

We could yet win this thing.

 

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Flexcit And The Interim EFTA/EEA Brexit Approach Reported On Newsnight

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Having finally analysed every possible facile, gossipy and shallow angle on the EU referendum in breathtaking detail, finally the media get round to examining the ideas laid out long ago in the only existing comprehensive Brexit plan

Well, it had to happen eventually. Tired of adjudicating shrill and pointless contests in unsupported assertions and lying by omission from Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe, some in the media have finally started paying attention to the safe, stable Brexit option which was there all along.

Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog marks the occasion:

The Liberal Case for Leave, written by Roland Smith for the Adam Smith Institute, is based on the Flexcit plan. Roland is one of a number of us who have coalesced around this idea, proposed by Flexcit author Dr Richard North of the EU Referendum Blog, that Brexit should be a multi stage project. To avoid shocks, and to escape diplomatic impasse, we must take each stage in a safe and ordered manner. This not only avoids economic pitfalls, but reassures the people that will not vote to leave the EU, or would like to but are risk averse, that they are not being forced into some great leap of faith, that there is a sensible route to full democratic freedom.

And now, in the last week, Flexcit as a plan has finally broken cover and its first stage is being discussed openly by members of Parliament, Talk radio, the BBC, the Telegraph and today the rest of the print media  (although sometimes not by name).

Tony goes on to point out an important point which is overlooked by many detractors on the Brexit side – that the EEA/EFTA arrangement is transitional, the departure lounge from the EU rather than the ultimate destination:

What is not always being heard in the public domain, and what Roland Smith explained last night, is that the EEA stage of Flexcit is transitory. It will last for a number of years for several reasons, but will not be the end point for a post EU membership UK.

Firstly, while we will want to build trade links with the rest of the world, we will also want to preserve our current markets while we do this. EFTA has been very good at negotiating FTAs, and while in EFTA there is no impediment for the UK in seeking deals within and without the group. We lose no competence in this area to EFTA as we do to the EU – that’s a massive difference in the level of freedom of action the UK will gain immediately.

While Pete North celebrates:

Thanks to Roland “White Wednesday” Smith, our comprehensive Brexit plan made a bit of a splash these evening having been announced on Newsnight as the plan under consideration by the civil service. As ever Newsnight managed to make a pigs ear of it without expanding on the critical details but it’s free publicity.

Lost Leonardo of the excellent Independent Britain blog is pleased, but unimpressed by cynical efforts underway by assorted Remainers to slander the interim EEA/EFTA (Norway) Option as some kind of betrayal of a vote to leave the EU, when it is no such thing:

With the legacy media finally turning its attention to the realities of Brexit—even Newsnight is now name-checking Flexcit—now seems like a good time to look again at the great vistas of opportunity that await a post-exit Britain.

First of all though, one has to address the “criticism”—if one can really call shouting, stamping of feet and pulling of hair critique—that adopting a phased approach to EU exit has elicited from a portion of the legacy media and the oh-so-tedious legacy campaigns.

It scarcely needs saying, but the Remainers’ feigned concern for the most belligerent voices in the “leave” camp is beyond cynical. The same people who have spent weeks, months, even years, verbally abusing anybody who has expressed the view that immigration is a bit high are now saying that it would be a “betrayal” for the UK government, supported by the House of Commons, to insist upon using the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement as a staging post for disengaging from the EU’s political and judicial union without any of the economic after effects that David Cameron and George Osborne have so irresponsibly exaggerated. Give me a break.

The hysterical reaction of Vote Leave and its associated sycophants is particularly loathsome. That organisation has done everything in its power to prevent the idea of a pragmatic, practical and non-hostile Brexit plan, which addresses the political realities as we find them not as we might like them to be, from taking hold in the public imagination.

This is a point which this blog also hammered home:

There is nothing on the paper whatsoever about the European Economic Area or “single market”. A vote to leave the EU is a vote for Britain to do exactly that – to leave an explicitly political, ever-tightening union of European countries all embarked on a journey to one day become a common state (as the EU’s founders and current leaders happily admit).

Many people are rightly now coming to the conclusion that the best way to achieve Brexit with the minimum of political and economic disruption is to exit to an “off the shelf” interim solution which already exists in the form of the EFTA/EEA membership enjoyed by Norway. This is why David Cameron has suddenly started talking about “a vote to leave the single market” over the past few days – it is a tacit admission that if we vote to leave the EU but remain in the EEA, every single one of the Remain campaign’s arguments are instantly negated.

Hence the [eagerness of Remainers] to do everything possible to slander the interim EFTA/EEA option, painting it as some kind of unconscionable scam when in fact it is an utterly pragmatic and realistic way of leaving the European Union while completely avoiding all of the apocalyptic economic scenarios which the Remain camp love to throw around.

The official Leave Alliance blog takes a deserved mini victory lap, while warning of the newfound hostility to the plan among Remain supporters and some unreconstructed Leavers. Proclaiming that reality is finally sinking in, Ben Kelly writes:

One of the most crucial elements of The Market Solution [..] is its aim of de-risking Brexit and neutralising the economic uncertainty associated with a vote to leave. We offer several scenarios that would minimise disruption and protect the economy and the most optimal of those is the EFTA/EEA route a.k.a the “EEA option” a.k.a the “Norway option”.

Leaving the EU will be a staged process; the EFTA/EEA route facilitates our transition from an EU Member State to an independent nation by protecting the economy, simplifying secession negotiations and providing us with a soft landing and a decent perspective of what “out” looks like for the near future. One of the key aims of The Leave Alliance was to disseminate this Brexit scenario amongst influential opinion formers; we were rebuffed by Vote Leave and Leave.eu, but we are now having great success late in the day as the EEA option is becoming potentially pivotal.

Due to the fact that it means leaving the EU in an economically secure way it has been the source of much fear for remainers, hence why they do everything they can to smear it. Many on the Leave side can’t get past the fact it means retaining freedom of movement, but their folly is to assume that controlling our borders is simple and abolishing free movement is a silver bullet. They are unreasonably uncompromising in refusing to accept the necessity of a transitional arrangement; we cannot leave the EU in one fell swoop.

Overall, a positive development, though we may wish to recall the words of Winston Churchill: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”.

Suddenly, at long last the interim EFTA/EEA option is being discussed seriously at the highest levels in politics and the media. It took an extraordinary effort to make it happen – involving the tireless work of many of my Leave Alliance colleagues, and more than a little subterfuge here and there to ensure that the Great And The Good of British political life actually took it seriously rather than summarily rejecting it as the work of mere citizens, but here we are.

But with little more than two weeks to go until we cast our votes, is there enough time to establish the right narratives about the Norway Option and rebut the desperate smears of the Remain campaign? Or will it be too little, too late?

 

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