Complacency and the ‘Re-Leaver’

We pro-EU campaigners have probably all talked to them. The Re-Leavers. Those who voted to remain in the EU, but now say the referendum vote should be accepted and the government left to get on with the job of leaving the EU. We can repeat ad nauseam the arguments against this: the flawed referendum and its misinformation, its non-binding legal status and the lack of any definition or plan as to what leaving meant. But seared on the mind of the Re-Leaver is the 51.9%-48.1% result and a simplistic understanding of the democratic rules as a game of win or lose. They lost, but unlike us staunch Remainers, they got over it.

According to a YouGov poll of 12-13 June, Re-Leavers represent 26% of the 70% of the overall population who think that the government should go ahead with Brexit. However, since March, the percentage of people who had confidence in the Prime Minister’s ability to negotiate her vision of Brexit has fallen from 48% to 37%. At the same time, the proportion of people who think that the government is doing a good job on Brexit has decreased from 40% in April to 22%. The results of the general election have taken their toll: just over a third of people (36%) think that it is more likely that Britain will get a poor deal from Brexit.[1]

So, what do Re-Leavers want? They certainly haven’t developed the visceral hatred of all things European of the hard Brexiters. They want good and close relations with our European neighbours to continue. But how? Probe Re-Leavers on this and what emerges is a picture of complacency – an unrealistic view of the kind of Brexit deal that can be achieved.

While accepting departure from the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, they seem to think that we can get a ‘good deal’ which retains many positives of the EU. Central to that deal would be a trading arrangement not too far from membership of the single market. The deal would also include rights for EU citizens in Britain, immigration into Britain where required, an open Irish border, and close cooperative relations on many other things of importance in the interconnected world we live in – security, environmental protection, education and research, agriculture, and regional support programmes to mention just a few.

All of this while regaining control of migration and without paying much in a divorce settlement or very much in subsequent annual payments to the EU for a new trading arrangement.

Of course, some Re-Leavers understand that difficult compromises will be required. They know we can’t have it all. But for them good old British pragmatism will win out. We’ll muddle our way through and workable solutions will be found.

It is true that we don’t know what may emerge from the negotiations. Some surprising compromise possibilities may arise, perhaps involving a transition deal of several years.

But investing high hopes in all this seems complacency of the highest order. It’s barely credible that a good deal can be reached. Close to four months after Article 50 was triggered, and over a year since the referendum, we still have little idea what such a deal might look like. There’s no hint of how to square the circle of good access to the single market while leaving the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and controlling immigration.

Theresa May’s Conservative government has taken a cavalier and antagonist approach and made the achievement of a good deal very difficult. Her refrain that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is surely transparent ‘vainglorious posturing’.[2] No deal would result in a ‘climate of acrimony, frozen trade, travel gridlock and financial meltdown’ and would amount to a very bad deal.[3] There are reports that her approach has left civil service morale at rock bottom. May’s government has no credible negotiating position for the many complex technical challenges that civil servants have raised.

Labour’s softer approach leaves many unanswered questions. Tariff free access to the single market, maintaining regulatory standards, and adopting a more cooperative tone with the EU sounds much better than the Conservative message. But the election campaign shed little light on how this can be achieved while regaining control of immigration and leaving the single market and Court of Justice.

The election result has left May’s hard Brexit strategy badly wounded, quite possibly fatally. Can we hope that Re-Leavers wake up from their complacency and fully examine what a softer deal might look like: the difficult compromises, the price to be paid, and how it might be achieved?

This might involve some kind of EU associate member arrangement, which could keep many of the positives of European cooperation. Or perhaps, before we press the final leave button, we might stand back and think – wouldn’t it be simpler and far better just to remain a full member of this club? Shaking Re-Leavers out of their complacency and getting them fired up to fight Brexit is one of our biggest challenges.

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/06/15/majority-favour-pushing-brexit-many-are-tempted-so/

[2] Will Hutton, 3/6/17. ‘We are being led to an epic act of national self harm’. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/03/britain-being-led-to-epic-act-self-harm-brexit

[3] Rafael Behr, 31/5/`17. ‘Admit it, Mrs May: there’s no such thing as ‘no deal’. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/30/theresa-may-no-deal-brexit-talks-eu

Ian Bartle