Backstop an instructive example of EU overreach and UK miscalculation

1. Remain has never accepted the legitimacy or outcome of the vote. Leave would be no different had it lost.

2. Question was clear, result was decisive, and polling evidence since points clearly that voters knew (or believed they knew) very well or quite well what they were doing. Other UK referenda won by narrower margins and/or lower turnout – neither results nor legitimacy challenged. Problem is, though, Parliament is heavily Remain – most MPs want the UK to stay in the EU even if their electors voted to leave.

3. Calling for a ‘People’s Vote’ or a re-run of the referendum is like arguing that abortion or same-sex marriage should be illegal because Donegal and Roscommon respectively voted no. Ireland voted yes to both – the UK yes to Brexit – and that settles it.

4. That Channel 4 poll, which seemed to suggest that the UK had changed its mind …

Referendum Result, 2016
Leave 52
Remain 48

Channel 4 Poll, 2018
Leave 46
Remain 54

… is not quite as clear cut as first appears. Which makes a re-run of the referendum problematic.

5. According to Professor John Curtice:

a) What does not underline the swing to Remain is a change of mind among the electorate.

b) Of the 6% swing, only one-fifth is Leave voters saying they are more likely to vote Remain.

6. Much of the rest has to do with turnout. 57% of those who didn’t vote in 2016 are < 35 – they split 2:1 for Remain in the 2018 poll. In short, the swing to Remain is strongest among young voters, and weakest among older voters.

7. But – and this is a big but – only 48% of voters aged 18-24 say they would definitely vote in another referendum. Exactly the same proportion as actually voted in 2016.

8. So, you could ask the same question again and have the original result confirmed. Or, given that Mrs May has a ‘deal’, ask a different question and get the original decision overturned. Either way, millions of people are left deeply unhappy.

9. For better or worse, and for different reasons, the two big parties have set their face against a second in/out referendum. Moreover, neither has shown any inclination or enthusiasm for putting it in a general election manifesto.

10. Parliament is deadlocked. It is almost certain to veto the ‘deal’ (the backstop in particular is an instructive example of EU overreach and UK miscalculation) or anything that looks like it. But turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, and Tories will surely stick together, so the likelihood of a general election is remote.

11. Which narrows the space, either to Mrs May’s ‘deal’ with an exit mechanism and/or an end date for the backstop – or to a managed ‘no deal’ i.e. ‘Norway in name only’, as opposed to ‘Norway for now’. Remember, Brexit is a process rather than an event – there is no EU doomsday machine that cranks up on March 30, 2019. And ‘Norway in name only’ is possibly the best opportunity for a pragmatic truce, in the UK and with the EU.

12. Maybe things will continue much like now in April 2019? Maybe just more uncertainty rather than debilitating chaos? UK has the petrol and matches but has the EU tested the fire extinguishers? Will the EU starve the UK? Will it refuse medicines? Will planeloads put up with being told, you’re grounded?

13. Nobody in the EU, UK or IE is ready for chaos. Yes, there’s plenty of paper floating around but could/would plans be put into effect at a moment’s notice? There’s only so much change that people and systems can handle and the scale and scope of what’s needed is not feasible as of now. It may end up like the Icelandic ash cloud – all engines stop for a few days and after that, people say, ‘enough, we’re getting on with things. Stop us – if you dare.’

14. After 18 months, all both sides have produced is a ream of paper that assures all of the EU’s red lines but which hasn’t a hope in hell of getting through the House of Commons. At some point, pragmatism has to take over, at least in the short term. But the exercise serves a purpose.

15. If it’s voted down in the Commons, the EU can say, we never gave on a red line, and the UK can retort, we went along with the process and the backstop to get to trade talks. And both quietly edge towards a managed ‘no deal’. Eventually the largest trading bloc and fifth largest economy have to settle. Democracy may be awkward but when the people have spoken, they have spoken.

16. It all ends up in what James Joyce would call a ‘commodius vicus of recirculation’, where EU ‘wins’ all its red lines, UK ‘leaves’ all objectionable elements of EU (esp. CU, CAP, CFP, ECJ) but applies rules of (rather than applies to join) EEA/EFTA through not diverging too far or too soon.

17. Channel 4 News did an impact of Brexit report on Anguilla (UK) and St Martin (FRA and NED). There’s a long history of cooperation on everyday stuff between the two islands but they’re worried. An old boy said at the end, no matter what the UK and EU decide, the people will do their own thing. Which is what our border communities will do.

18. There is no solution to the Border that does not upset the delicate constitutional balance of the last 20 years. In the end, it will have to remain as invisible as it is now, as to reinstate it visibly would be unacceptable – socially, politically and economically.

And they all lived …