I’ve tried not to give a blow by blow account of the Brexit negotiations. But with riots against Macron in their fourth week in France, our negotiations at an impasse and our government (perhaps) on the brink of collapse, it seems appropriate to draw some of these strands together.
Why talk of the riots though? Well, for the simply reason that Macron is the darling of the Establishment, that same coalition of multinational business, highly educated metropolitans, academia, big NGOs and many (though by no means all) in politics and the media who for the last three years have thrown everything they could at stopping Brexit. How often have we heard a prominent Remain supporter speak approvingly of Macron, or wistfully remark how much better things would be if the UK had its own Macron as they lament the drift of the Conservatives and Labour to the supposed extremes (actually to positions that are well within the parameters of the last fifty years). The calls for a new centrist party, or a government of national unity, reflect the same underlying desire.
But what does this so-called centrism give you? I do not in any way endorse or condone the violence that has taken place in France. But even if it is being expressed inappropriately, the level of unpopularity that sees hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets for weeks on end is hardly a ringing endorsement of good governance. It also reflects a deeper discontent with Macron and, in this vein, it is salutary to compare Macron’s approval ratings to those of Trump, who is regularly (and accurately) depicted as a controversial President. Trump’s approval ratings have typically fluctuated between a net disapproval of 10-20%, with approval ratings rarely much above 40% – far from good. On the other hand, Macron, so often lauded, has typically had a net disapproval of over 40%, with approval ratings rarely much above 30%! If this is the best that the Establishment can do, it’s no wonder some people vote for demagogues.
This, then, is what those lining up to block Brexit want. The people in France are no doubt very inconvenient to them, just as the 17.4 million people in the UK who voted for Brexit are – the largest number ever to have voted for something in the UK. Whether it is the Establishment in the UK, France or any other country, or the ultimate Establishment of the European Commission their instinct is always, as Brecht wrote of the Communist East German government, “to dissolve the people and elect another in their place.” We should have no doubt that this is what is occurring: the EU has forced this outcome again and again in countries, and every single prominent voice calling for us to Remain, defer Brexit or a Second Referendum is someone who campaigned for and voted Remain in the first place.
Make no mistake: the situation in France shows what those advocating for Remain consider a good outcome. Forget the scare stories about Brexit disruption; under Macron we see weeks of rioting against low pay and a rising cost of living, against a leader of whom more than three quarters of the population disapprove. But has this caused the Establishment’s support for Macron to waver one iota? No, it has not.
So what must be done to break free of this so-called centrism, that systematically disregards the people’s wishes and believes it can tell them what they should want? Well, first let’s say where the answer does not lie. It does not lie with the racism of Trump and Le Pen. It does not lie with abandoning the free market for socialism, as Corbyn advocates, tempting though I can understand this is for those who feel they have been left behind. And it does not mean doubling down on the toxic ideology of identity politics that promotes societal division and entrenches injustice.
What it does mean is saying no to an Establishment class that believes it has a monopoly on truth. Saying no to a system that treats mainstream political ideas, such as grammar schools, nationalising the railways, controlling immigration, free university tuition or leaving the EU as pariah notions that must not be discussed, rather than part of legitimate debate (I do not necessarily support all of the above; however, they are examples of policies that are not extreme but have been treated as if they are). And saying no to policies that are pursued without question long after it’s clear they are counterproductive – whether that be greater EU integration, the ever increasing proportion of people going to university, or unrelenting globalisation – and which happen to coincidentally primarily benefit the Establishment class that advocates for them.
Instead we need to start focusing on building an economy that works for ordinary working people and small businesses. To build the homes that people need to live affordably. To delivering high quality skills training and apprenticeships. To creating a society where a person’s ability, drive and achievements are the most important thing about them, rather than their race, gender and ethnicity. To getting the state out of the day to day lives of ordinary people, small businesses and charities. To rejecting the intolerance and hatred of the cultural left. And to have the courage to make and enforce laws based on what people in this country believe is fair and just, rather than the unelected judges of the European Courts of Justice and Human Rights.
Right now, the first step to this is to deliver Brexit: fully, cleanly, taking control of our laws, our money and our borders. I believe that had we been more united, had we negotiated differently, we might have got a different outcome. But as it stands, the preferred way forward is clear: only a No Deal exit will deliver a true departure.
The EU cannot in all honesty be blamed for acting in its own interests, the promulgation of the European project. Particularly as it has been aided and encouraged by many Remain supporters, who would love to see it force us to cave, just as so many other members have done in the past. But it is clear that at the current time it is not prepared to negotiate with us in search of a mutually beneficial option: its actions over Galileo and its refusal to guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, not to mention its attitude to Northern Ireland have shown that. To my mind, and that of many others who voted Leave, that only strengthens our belief that we were right to do so. Maybe in 2-3 years we can negotiate a free trade agreement similar to Canada’s from the outside, as a sovereign independent nation. But that time is not now.
There will be some disruption but there will not be chaos. We will not run out of food or medicines, nor will planes cease to fly – unless you believe that the EU will treat us as a nation win more hostility than it treats Russia or China – in which case we should definitely leave.
Any disruption should also be put in perspective. When Israel declared independence it was immediately invaded by five Arab nations. Slovakia went from voting for independence to implementing it in less than nine months. The lies of Project Fear have consistently been proven false, but even if one takes the latest projections at face value (which one shouldn’t), they simply say we’ll only be about 20% richer in 2035, instead of 30% richer. Hardly disaster.
These are tumultuous times. Those who honour the 2016 referendum need to hold their nerve: no deal is better than a bad deal, and the deal on the table is undeniably bad. As March 29th approaches, those who seek to block Brexit have never been more desperate; they are using all of their considerable power to throw obstacles in its way. We must hold firm and have the courage to deliver to leave the EU without a deal and truly reclaim our sovereignty. Only then can we really begin building a country that truly works for everyone.
I have spoken broadly about the Establishment. There are well over 100 MPs, mainly but not exclusively Conservatives, who appear truly committed to implementing the Referendum result, either because they originally voted Leave or, in a small number of cases, where they voted Remain but are now visibly championing their Leave supporting constituents. These MPs are to be truly commended. More broadly, our Conservative government is to be commended for the tremendous work it has done on the economy. I’ve written earlier of the inspiring thoughts I heard at the Conservative Party Conference, while there were strong glimmers of the policy agenda I outline above in the Conservative 2017 agenda, unfortunately included by some less thought through ideas and a not dry effective campaign. I’ll write about them again, but right now these take second seat to the need to leave the EU.