We shouldn’t have a second referendum, Scotland shouldn’t become independent and Boris mustn’t become PM
Having made a monumental mistake, what is a nation to do?
We don’t have any good options and of the miserable options available, it’s hard to tell which of them is the least ghastly. Even were I less of an emotional wreck, I’d have difficulty making a sensible choice between them. But these currently seem like prudent things to do:
1: Do not attempt to overturn the referendum result
It breaks my heart to say this. There would certainly be just cause for trying. Leave’s victory was small, rested on demographics that are being progressively eroded and was only achieved by telling demonstrable untruths. And there’s precedent for this: EU related referendums have been re-run in the past. And legally speaking, Parliament could just ignore the referendum result.
But let’s be realistic about the politics of this situation. When previous referendum results have been reversed that was following a protest vote about some relatively minor treaty modifications. Voters weren’t that fussed about the substance of the issue, so getting them to change their mind about it wasn’t that hard. By contrast, the vote we just had clearly represents something of greater significance.
Trying (and most likely failing) to erase their choice will only feed a narrative that they have been disempowered by a craven elite. And it will prolong the uncertainty about Britain’s future.
If the rest of the EU offers us substantively different terms then that would be a different but they probably shouldn’t as that would invite other member states to start trying their own brinksmanship.
2: Scottish independence remains a bad idea
England and Wales have put Scotland in an invidious position. We’ve made them choose between the Union and the European Union. Rightly Scots are angry and I quite get why there are calls for a 2nd Indy referendum. I think it’s also pretty hard to disagree with the notion that a Brexit is a legitimate reason to hold another vote so recently after the last one.
But notwithstanding Brexit, the case for Scottish independence. While it does a lot of trade with the rest of the EU it does an order of magnitude more with the rest of the UK. Ditto for the movement of people. And it is far more integrated into the British state than it is with the European Union. Leaving the UK would disrupt the lives of Scots more than leaving the EU. So I reluctantly recommend to them that they stay with us even as we take them out of Europe.
Indeed, Brexit arguably makes independence a riskier proposition because it creates the possibility of Scotland being in the Single Market and the remaining UK being outside it. Tariff barriers between the two nations is not worth contemplating.
4: Johnson must not be allowed to become PM
Following Cameron’s resignation, the Conservative Party will now elect a new leader. Under no circumstances should that person be Boris Johnson. He proved himself inept in his handling of the relatively insubstantial role of London Mayor belying the notion that Conservatives are fiscally prudent with a series of expensive vanity projects. But his competence (or lack of it) is less concerning than his character. He has lost his job for telling lies. Twice. He has made racist statements. A Conservative member of my acquaintance once yelled at him for using a homophobic epithet. And he has been caught on tape giving a criminal information he can use to beat up a journalist:
4: Corbyn has got to go
Historians will debate whether Corbyn was a covert Brexiteer or just a crap politician. I favour the latter option but whatever the reason his waffley, half-hearted defences of the EU were basically no use to Remain. His inability to manage his party meant it fell apart when put in the spotlight. And worst of all his tribalism prevented Labour playing a full and effective role in the Remain campaign, which in turn made the whole debate seem like an internal Tory squabble.
By taking Britain out of the EU, the Conservatives have unleashed a monster. Its negative consequences will doubtless turn many voters off the party and that creates an opportunity for Labour. But only if they choose a less useless leader.
5: We need economic stimulus. Lots of it.
The fundamental economic problem that Brexit creates is on the supply side. If Britain leaves the Single Market then tariffs and regulatory mismatches will raise the cost of trading between the UK and the EU. But that will not be the most immediate effect. Businesses will perceive these future losses coming and will cut back on investment and perhaps even reduce their existing activities perceiving them to now be unprofitable. That will create a demand hit.
There are steps that can be taken to reduce this impact. The Bank of England can cut interest rates and engage in quantitative easing. The Government can raise its spending and/or cut taxes. The optics of these won’t be great. They will further reduce the value of the pound and will beget a further round of complaining from savers about their terrible returns. It will also push up the deficit. But we are in a crisis and our priority needs to be protecting people’s jobs and avoiding getting the UK stuck in a prolonged downturn.
6: Britain’s young people need to be offered something
Work, study and travel within the EU now join the list of opportunities that have been snatched away from the generation that came of age during the financial crisis. This is a breach of the social contract between generations and something ought to be done to compensate them. Perhaps break the break ‘the triple lock’ guaranteeing increases in the state pensions and use the money to fund tax credits or extra education spending.
7: Secure the rights of EU citizens already in the UK and UK citizens already in the EU
It seems particularly cruel to evict people from lands where they have established lives. Even leaving them worrying about the possibility is unpleasant. Resolving this should be a priority perhaps even to the extent that we should make a deal with the EU on this issue ahead of a broader agreement on post-Brexit relations.
8: Apply for EEA membership
As I’ve written before I think that EEA membership has more or less no benefits vis a vis actually being in the EU. But keeping Britain in the Single Market would negate many of the potentially dangerous economic consequences of Brexit and would go a long way to mollifying discontent in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would also be a magnanimous gesture on the part of Brexiteers that acknowledged the fact that their victory was narrow. It would also provide a staging post for Britain to rejoin the EU at a later date.
It would be a hard sell politically as it would involve keeping intact free movement of labour (at least to some extent) and creates sovereignty problems that are arguably worse than those involved with EU membership. But as I said we don’t have good options and this seems like the least bad.