Surrealism was a word that emerged quite recently to describe art forms that seek to represent the subconscious. We now come to use surreal in relation to the bizarre or irrational behaviour of individuals and institutions. When applied to institutions, surreal often implies a short-lasting uncharacteristic aberration from what we would expect to be their normal ways of operation.
The Brexit process has spawned an epidemic of surreal institutional behaviour because there is no rational explanation for continuing to pursue a process which our own government tell us will make our country – and many of us – less well off; that will rob Britain of the fiscal resources required to make badly needed public investments in the better services and infrastructure that voters want; that already puts at risk the unity of our Kingdom, and that wounds the institutions that have successfully nurtured the longest period of peace that Europe has enjoyed for centuries.
Why is it that, rather than face up to reality – to call a spade a spade – both of Britain’s major parties engage in a phony battle, indulging in endless fantasies, fudges and ambiguities? This is because the leave/remain divide slices through their parties and so their leaders cannot afford to alienate either remainers or leavers as this would endanger their chances of winning the next election.
While this behaviour might make sense from a narrow electoral perspective, it is a dangerous game that is bound to eventually betray voters and MPs on one side or the other within each party when negotiations on our future relationship with Europe move tardily into a decisive phase.
The call for a People’s Vote is a strong expression of voters’ lack of confidence in the Tory and Labour parties’ capacity to reach a deal with Europe that is in the best interests of people in all corners of the Realm. It is also an admission that what was the will of the people in June 2016 may no longer be so, now that we have got to know the scale of the problems to which we would be exposed by leaving the EU, especially in the case of a “no deal”.
Both May and Corbyn know that all the evidence accumulated since the June 2016 referendum tells them and us that the disengagement process has already made the country poorer than it would otherwise have been and that any Brexit, soft or hard, will compromise our long-term growth. It is abundantly clear that there is no way that either party could negotiate a deal that would be better than the present arrangement, even if this is not perfect. There is an urgent need to break the stale-mate and to put an end to pervasive uncertainty.
The only honest way out of this surreal situation is for Corbyn and May to grasp the nettle and jointly admit that, even if their hard-liners will scream and punch the air like spoilt children, they agree that the only realistic option now facing us is to revoke Article 50. This requires great courage on their part but to do anything different seems bound to lead us into the disaster of either a bad deal or no deal, no matter which main party would be in charge.
To endow it with legitimacy, this move could be made subject to confirmation by a People’s vote which seems bound to be favourable if the “revoke” option is championed by the leaders of all parties except for UKIP. And May and Corbyn would be able to live with a clear conscience, having acted bravely in the public interest rather than given in to the ceaseless bullying of party extremists.