Approving May’s plan will prolong the uncertainty and divisiveness that has mucked up our lives since 2016 for at least another 3 years, and a “no-deal” would probably be worse. The only way of letting our lives return to normal and having the government focus on Britain’s pressing domestic problems is to immediately stop the withdrawal process.
Our Prime Minister claims she has done her duty. This may be true in the sense that, with great tenacity, she has secured EU approval of a Withdrawal Agreement.
Normally, however, a Prime Minister’s duty is to lead a country in directions that are clearly in the interests of its citizens. Instead of addressing the social, economic and environmental crises that all parties admit must be the top priority of any British government, she has invested all her energies in pursuing an elusive goal of “taking back control” of our affairs from the European Union. She has pushed ahead stubbornly with her deal although she knows full-well, from her own government’s analyses, that this will leave us poorer and less able to afford badly needed domestics reforms.
For the past two years, she has propagated uncertainty; deepened the cracks in society opened by the 2016 referendum; presided over a collapse in the value of the pound; induced massive capital flight; undermined business confidence; weakened the ties that bind the UK together, and subverted our cooperation with our neighbours on security and crime prevention. In her dutiful pursuit of the fantasy that Britain can “have its cake and eat it” relationship with the EU, she has neglected all other essential duties of government.
There is nothing concrete to show for her efforts except an expensive divorce agreement that abdicates our having a meaningful say in how Europe is run and fobs us off with a non-committal statement of intent on the nature of our future relationship with our 27 neighbours.
Sadly, the opposition has neglected its responsibility to offer a better strategy.
Now Mrs May is asking us – MPs and the general public – to endorse her, literally, half-baked deal. If we give her our approval, she will put her plan back into the negotiating oven for at least another dreadful 3 years of self-harming uncertainty before we know the final outcome. The only thing that we can be sure about is that, as a “third country”, Britain will be in a still weaker negotiating position than it has been since it invoked Article 50 and, after more prolonged wrangling, is bound to be worse off than it is now or was in 2016.
What we all need now is an early end to uncertainty so that we can get on with our own lives; put behind us the artificial divisions that have split families, communities and political parties apart; and work together to make our country truly great. The only option that offers this is to extend our EU membership.
There may be things that we don’t much like about the European Union but, if we look back to before the referendum campaign, we weren’t passionate “leavers” or “remainers”, largely because the European institutions and their policies did not intrude negatively on how, as individuals, we led our daily lives. For most people our membership of the EU was a not an issue of much concern.
Over the past two years lots of us have come to appreciate how successfully we are working with our neighbouring countries in addressing issues with trans-boundary implications. This goes far beyond the “frictionless” trading arrangements of the single market. It covers human and livestock diseases; food safety and access to health services across Europe; environmental and climate change policies; air, rail and sea safety; crime prevention and security; scientific research, and aspects of foreign policy where, speaking with a single voice, we carry more weight.
The greatest flaw in Theresa May’s plan is that it is founded on the false assumption that we have to leave the EU to be able to control our borders, fund the NHS, get fair justice, reform our agricultural and fisheries policies, protect citizens’ rights, maintain the integrity of the UK and keep an open border in Ireland. There is ample room for doing all of this while still being an EU member.
There is absolutely no reason, as May claims in her letter to all of us, that Brexit has to be “settled” before we can focus on “keeping our economy strong, and making sure that every community shares in prosperity; securing our NHS for the future, giving every child a great start in life, and building the homes that families need; tackling the burning injustices that hold too many people back, and building a country that truly works for everyone”. This is a red herring: whether we are in or out of the EU is immaterial to the achievement of these aspirations.
The only way to create the certainty that we badly need for our lives to return quickly to normal is for us to call on the government to admit in all honesty that they have driven us up a dead-end road and to immediately stop the withdrawal process, thereby leaving the UK to stay as an influential member of the EU.