In June, 2016, Britain (though not the Scottish and Irish parts of it) voted in a referendum by a very narrow margin to leave the European Union. An extremely important aspect of this vote was that the majority was won because the over-65s voted decisively to leave while the younger generation voted to remain, meaning that the future of the nation’s young people was compromised by their elders. How can it be right that an older generation binds a younger generation to a future the younger generation does not want?
The evidence is mounting every day that the outcome of Brexit will be a Britain which is poorer, weaker, smaller, less influential, more inward-looking, more-divided – less ‘Great’ in every sense of the word. And it is already clear that in the negotiations over exit terms the EU has the upper hand. The talks will proceed along lines suggested by the EU. And Britain has already conceded that it will pay an exit bill – contrary to Britain’s Foreign Secretary’s embarrassing claim at first that Eurocrats could “go whistle” for their money. The Economist recently described the prospect of how much Britain will be on the back foot in the negotiations: “There are many ways to leave the EU, and none is free of problems. The more Britain aims to preserve its economic relationship with the continent, the more it will have to follow rules set by foreign politicians and enforced by foreign judges (including the sensitive issue of freedom of movement). The more control it demands over its borders and laws, the harder it will find it to do business with its biggest market.”
As far as I know, the British government has not published any estimates of the impact of the various types of Brexit. However, the Economist points out that academic studies even the “safest” option – Norwegian-style membership of the European Economic Area – would cut trade by at least 20% over ten years, whereas the “hardest” exit – reverting to trade on World Trade Organisation terms – would reduce trade by 40% and cut annual income per person by 2.6%. Cumulatively a huge economic loss is in prospect.
I have received a note from a good friend in Britain which gives details of a recent lecture on the subject ‘Brexit One Year On’ on the BBC Parliamentary Channel by Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Political History at Oxford. Here is a synopsis of what my friend reports:
“It seems clear that a ‘soft’ Brexit simply isn’t an option for a number of reasons, one important one being that the UK would be in the position of a client state, bound by decisions made by the European Union but with no say whatsoever in those decisions. Remaining in the EU free trade zone would also mean that Britain would not be able to negotiate with nations outside the EU.
Regarding the Norwegian model and the Swiss model of associate membership – while this might work for a small nation and small economy, it would not work for a comparatively large economy like the UK.
“At the end of the day there are two stark choices – to leave the EU entirely or cancel withdrawal and not leave. To leave would place Britain under the rules and conditions of the WTO and this would create a number of problems in itself, while trade with the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner, would be fraught with difficulties, and mean negotiations that would probably last for years. A ‘clean’ Brexit would have untold negative consequences over many years.”
So there you are. That seems crystal clear to me. Going ahead with Brexit makes no sense for Britain. The referendum has led to a disaster waiting to unfold. Surely, therefore, Britain’s proposed withdrawal from the EU must be cancelled. In a democracy it is the people’s right to change their mind. This can be done, perfectly legally and constitutionally, through Parliament. There will be howls of rage from the anti-immigrant lobby in particular. Let them howl. The much larger good of the nation is at stake.
And if Brexit is not cancelled, so will Great Britain gradually recede from centre stage and find a new role among lesser nations in the nooks and crannies of history, bequeathing at last only one great legacy – the English language.
I am expecting that the British High Commission will respond by supplying a convincing refutation of this column’s analysis. I will be very interested to see this response if it is forthcoming and to judge its merits.