British politics is messed up. Brexit shows it.
The previous PM Cameron promised an in-or-out of the EU referendum back in 2013 if the Conservatives won the General Election, despite the fact that EU matters were considered rather unimportant by voters at that time.
He promised this would happen by 2017 – an arbitrary date set to appease his party, not with any attention what was happening in the EU (where reform would happen by 2019 at the earliest).
A dog whistle campaign and the inherent unfairness of First Past the Post won Cameron the election in 2015, and suddenly he had to deliver on the referendum he never wanted but gave his party to keep them happy.
Rather than realise the timetable he had set was foolish, or examine who had the right to vote in the referendum, in haste Cameron went for the referendum as swiftly as he could – after a measly thin deal negotiated with the EU that was promptly forgotten in the referendum campaign, and conceding to his headbanger backbenchers on the matter of the who could vote (keeping away many Brits overseas and all non-British EU citizens in the UK).
Cameron wondered out loud which side he would back in the referendum, in the end backing Remain, but having sounded so bitter and negative about the EU throughout his premiership he came across as nowhere near as compelling as the Remain campaign had hoped.
Having never expected to win an election outright, and then having called the referendum in haste, the Leave side had an organisational head start over the Remain side, and the latter mounted and uninspiring and mediocre campaign in which Labour politicians did not feature due to the tensions at the top of that party.
The British Government meanwhile had prepared no plan for how Brexit were to actually work or be enacted, meaning legal cases were required after the referendum to even determine how Article 50 could be triggered. There was no agreed approach as to what sort of Brexit (from Soft to Hard) the UK would want to aim for.
The Bill to make the referendum happen made it clear the vote was consultative and not binding, but contained nothing about turnout or any sort of special majority, or anything to do with majorities in the constituent parts of the UK.
The UK having voted to leave meant Cameron resigned (having said he would not) and he did not trigger Article 50 on 24th June (having said he would).
Leaders of the Leave side ran for the hills, mostly withdrawing from front line politics, and abandoned all the pledges they had made in the referendum as hastily as they could. £350 million for… no, do not even go there.
The Tory Party then coronated its new leader and she made it clear she would not go for an early election, and the newspapers backed her, despite having done the opposite when a similar circumstance came to pass years previously when Brown took over from Blair.
Having been in favour of Remain herself, May became a hard Brexiteer and appointed three more fanatics as the Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Johnson), Brexit (Davis) and Trade (Fox).
Having been anti-immigration in her previous role as Home Secretary, May made immigration control central to her Brexit plans and disregarded the economic consequences of Brexit. This was outlined in a populist right wing speech at Tory Party Conference in autumn 2016.
Meanwhile the government battled every way it could to avoid any Brexit debate in Parliament, fighting in the courts to try to prevent Parliament having a vote on the Brexit trigger, and then when Gina Miller won her case and Parliament did have to vote, a huge majority of MPs all just gave May what she wanted anyway and did not amend the Bill. So much for Parliamentary Sovereignty.
Initially May said no Brexit plan was needed, but then Labour made her commit to one. The result was a White Paper so vague and full of waffle it was barely worth the paper it was written on. A Lancaster House speech by May was lauded by the media but also – 6 months after the Brexit referendum – was thin on detail.
Davis’s Brexit Ministry struggled to recruit staff and in March 2017 he appeared before a select committee in Parliament to answer Brexit questions and was chronically badly prepared.
May set herself the deadline of the end of March to trigger Article 50 to begin the Brexit process. Like Cameron’s timetable errors before her this was an arbitrary date set to keep her backbenchers happy.
Three weeks after sending the Article 50 letter, and still no better prepared as to how to approach Brexit, Theresa May changed her mind and said she did indeed want to call an election – on 8th June, thereby knocking 6 further weeks out of the already tight Brexit timetable.
Having stated that the election was to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, the Conservative Manifesto gave very little detail on Brexit, and May kept on saying she had a Brexit plan but no plan is to be found. This is supposed to be the Brexit election but no-one is really talking about Brexit.
Meanwhile the Labour Party, fearing its core voter base, has committed itself to a Brexit variant almost as hard line as May’s.
So that’s where we are folks. Happy now?
When the sons of my sons will ask me “Granpa, why at school are we studing English literature? Why this small and periferic country is so important for literature?” I will translate to them this article, telling them about the big British suicide.
I’m afraid that I haven’t got anything else to add to this excellent post but you did ask the question …
No, I’m absolutely furious!
What I don’t understand with people like Liam Fox and David Davis and even May herself is that believing the UK will just resort to its WTO membership and everything will be plain sailing. They sneer at Remainers claiming that the U.S. and a number of other countries have trade deals with the EU without single market access such as Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), unaware that those only apply to WTO. Apparently, they don’t. The EU has 15+ MRA deals with other non EU countries which has taken up to 12 years to negotiate. What makes this Brexit regime at No. 10 think it will be different and easier for the UK? Do they not realize the UK would also have to untangle itself with those in addition to all the other agreements with the EU before it could embark on negotiating WTO deals? I just don’t get it. Why is nobody talking about this?