Monday

18th Feb 2019

Opinion

Brexit - why can't we just swipe left?

  • Last woman standing - Theresa May lost both her foreign secretary and her Brexit secretary on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

It's like watching a train wreck, in slow motion, with 3D and Dolby surround sound.

The resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis from the British cabinet have finally thrust into the open what the dogs in the street have known since the Brexit referendum of 2016.

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Namely, the promises of the Brexit cheerleaders – such as Johnson and Davis – are unachievable, totally unrealistic and are based on a strangely nostalgic view of British history rather than on the realities facing Britain today.

No doubt, in the coming days Boris and co. will step back into the Churchill playbook and seek to stir the nation with tales of betrayal, broken promises and the secret machinations of the EU super state.

A covert organisation which, in their minds, is at this very moment hatching dastardly plans to foil the will of the British people.

Watching the football...

It's unclear if the hard Brexiteers view this moment as their finest hour, or perhaps more likely, their Waterloo? In any case, nobody will really care because everybody will be watching the football.

So what happens now? In the strange world of Tory Party politics any course of action is possible.

But if Theresa May really wants to leave any sort of tangible legacy – apart from a real life Dunkirk-style retreat from continental Europe – she needs to stand her ground (and that of civil servant negotiator Olly Robbins), face down the hard Brexiteers within her own party and ultimately, use her new found Brexit policy as the basis for negotiations with Brussels.

Whether these proposals are accepted by the EU or not is irrelevant.

What is important is that they finally represent an acknowledgement from the British government that a hard Brexit scenario would be economically damaging, socially irresponsible and political impossible (particularly in Northern Ireland).

"Taking back control" sounds great, but it's not so easy when you're a global businesses location embedded into European supply chains and your health service is dependent on those annoying EU citizens.

Alas, Boris and David (among others) are now free to roam the pastures outside of cabinet and seek to topple May.

Yet, even if they succeed, all is not lost. A general election with a Tory party led by Johnson or Davis, facing a Labour party commanded by Jeremy Corbyn – all united in their scepticism of the EU – throws up boundless opportunities.

Throw in a slowing economy, President Donald Trump visiting the UK and big business sounding the alarm then the possibilities of the entire Brexit process coming apart at the seams increases exponentially.

Corbyn – increasingly hemmed in by Keir Starmer (his Brexit spokesperson), Momentum (lefty youth and increasingly pro-Europe) and Unite (largest Labour party donor and trade union) – should do exactly what every non-Brexit voter in the UK wishes he had done months ago: come out clearly in support of a second referendum.

Labour fears of general election losses in their traditional heartlands should be balanced against those hefty possible gains in London, other urban centres and in suburbia throughout the UK.

Nothing tends to focus the mind like a period of phoney war, of this the British people are well aware.

In 2019, it's time to recognise that irrespective of being on the right or left of the political spectrum, regardless of whether people voted 'yes' or 'no' in 2016, no matter if there is a Tory or Labour prime minister – isn't it time to give the British people another chance to vote on EU membership?

The entire Brexit debate since at least 2015 has been like a bad date. But this is the age of Tinder, why can't we just swipe left?

Eoin Drea is a senior researcher at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

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