My 350 on BREXIT: First time as farce

"They can hardly call for a General Election. For they will have to state in their Manifesto whether they intend to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty."

James Gordon Finlayson
30 June 2016

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

While I was briefly in Belfast, a thriving city with no visible Leave or UKIP posters, Jo Cox was horribly murdered and I began to fear the worst. Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and co. had gaily thrown open Pandora’s box, unleashing all the political evils of xenophobia, nationalism, and racism. As in the myth, once the evils were unleashed, to deadly effect, only one hope remained: perhaps her awful murder would make people see what was really happening. I felt guilty for harboring that hope.

Along with the political evils came the endless lies. A week later, the votes were cast and the liars have it. Turkey and Albania are not about to join the EU. 350 million pounds a week will not be used to fund the NHS. We will not be able to restrict the free movement of EU citizens to Britain with Australian-style immigration controls. Sadly, democratic will of the people is not invalidated when it is based on lies. In politics, winners take all. If you win the vote, you’ve won the argument. Chris Grayling did not blush the following day when blithely claiming it was merely “an aspiration” to spend “part of money” that went to the EU on the NHS. And Johnson stretched credulity by claiming that the Leave campaign had not been about immigration; after Brexit there will still be free movement of people in Europe; and Britons will still have access to the single market.

The people have spoken, and since he has no chance of dissolving them and electing another, David Cameron has resigned and George Osborne, his lieutenant, has started quacking like a lame duck. He has just let out a statement redolent with the rancor and disingenuousness of one who has had his ambitions crushed, and is resigned to a safe seat on the backbenches and a dreary life of lucrative consultancies. “It was not the responsibility of those who wanted to remain in the EU to explain what plan we would follow if we voted to quit the EU”.  It was the responsibility of the Government that called the referendum that required only a simple majority, in the context of a longstanding poisonous campaign against EU membership, to plan for both eventualities.

Once the leadership issue is sorted (and for some of them the referendum was just a convenient mechanism of career advancement) they will have to devise a plan that will help them avoid economic disaster and social unrest, while appearing to respect the democratic will of the people. They can hardly call for a General Election. For they will have to state in their Manifesto whether they intend to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If they do they will be held responsible for all the economic and political fallout foreseen by the organizations with acronyms, and the 16 million citizens who voted Remain. And if, as is likely, they also have to accept the free movement of people across the EU as the condition for access to the single market, they will have cheated everyone whose vote they snared with the promise of strict migration controls. If they don’t trigger article 50, they will betray the 17 million people who voted Leave. In either case UKIP and the rabid Tory rump will be resurgent. (And it was partly to shoot the UKIP fox, and appease the Eurosceptic Tories, that Cameron foolishly allowed the referendum in the first place.) It seems that we have bypassed the historical stage of tragedy and moved straight to political farce. Only this one is not the least bit funny.

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