Owen Jones has a piece in The Guardian about the language of Brexit. We should not use the term “Hard Brexit”, he argues, because actually what a “Hard Brexit” means is a “Chaotic Brexit”. Jones is right to talk about the vocabulary, and he is right that framing matters, and right that Labour has often got it wrong. But on this one he’s not right. I’m happy to stick with the term “Hard Brexit”, and indeed I stated as much in a tweet:
I like the “there’s no such thing as hard and soft #brexit” complaint from raging Brexiteers. So you lost that framing battle, eh?
— Jon Worth (@jonworth) October 10, 2016
Hard might sound tough, but it also sounds nasty. And voters before the referendum – even those who did vote Leave – were not marching into the polling booths with unbridled confidence. Soft sounds pleasant and nice and fluffy. Hard matches the line Labour has used that no-one voted to wreck the UK economy when they voted for Brexit, soft matches the idea that Labour would help make sure the worst of the economic consequences were avoided.
The opposite of “Chaotic Brexit” would be “Orderly Brexit” which, as far as I can tell, neither sounds very appealing nor is it actually really possible. Even the path towards a sort of Norway arrangement (and even were the three Brexiteers not in charge of it) is going to be messy and probably pretty chaotic.
Jones, and proponents of a less damaging, “Soft Brexit”, ought to also be content that the hard vs. soft frame seems to have stuck. Because it could actually be far worse. A logical extension of the Leave campaign’s Take Back Control line would be that the only way to do so were to leave completely. What we’re now calling “Hard Brexit” they could instead call “Real Brexit”, and refer to “Soft Brexit” as “Fake Brexit”. That framing would be a damned sight worse than what we have at the moment.
So think about the vocabulary, sure, but keep referring to the dangers of Hard Brexit. It’s the best framing we’ve got.
The British people were not asked to vote on whether they want to ‘take back control’. They were asked to vote on whether they want to ‘leave the European Union’. Those are two different things.
A country can ‘leave the European Union’ without ‘taking back control’. For example, if Britain leaves the EU but remains a member of the single market, then Britain leaves the European Union without taking back control.
Also, a country such as Norway can ‘take back control’ by joining the European Union as the country then regains some of the control which is handled by the European Union (as part of the European Economic Area rules).
Plus; an EEA-type deal or even a WTO-type deal would not be ‘taking back control’ in the way that it was meant by the Leavers during the campaign.
“Hard exit” is harder still.