A Dog’s Brexit: The UK vote to leave the European Union

On 23 June 2016 the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU). This decision has become known as ‘Brexit’. Since then there have been a stream of comments from many directions on what Brexit means and how people will be affected.

The discussions are taking place in many different areas and are wide ranging in their particular subjects. From these interactions a number of very different viewpoints are emerging. All that is clear, at the moment, seems to be that no one knows what will happen and that Brexit means different things to different people.

Here I parcel the current discussions into four approaches among the many different interpretations currently being offered.

a) It’ll never happen

The result of the referendum was simply a protest vote. People don’t really want to leave the EU and will avoid doing so. Furthermore, leaving the EU will prove impractical and, sooner or later, the government will sort this anomaly out. This overlooks the result of the referendum – it has happened – and focusses on the reaction to it.

In fact David Cameron refused to take part in Brexit negotiations and took little time in resigning. The consequent kerfuffle, while not insignificant, has meant that the UK now has a prime minister who was selected by a relatively small number of MPs, not by the Conservative membership and certainly not by the general electorate.

This view is very passive and may simply be denial. Things may work out this way, they may not. If they do then whoopee. If they don’t then … what?

b) It’s already happened

Within the EU, the UK has blocked social reform, financial integration, and environmental improvement. It has done this because such things are to be thought of as thoroughly un-British, amounting to nothing less than handing control of the UK to a bunch of ‘unelected foreigners’. So it would seem that we don’t have to do anything other than carry on as before.

However, previous UK governments, such as those led by Ted Heath, John Major and Tony Blair, sought to take a full part in the European Project. So rather than act as ‘the voice of reason’ or ‘the awkward squad’, they were happy to transfer a range of powers. This has left the current government constantly saying ‘no’ while handing over large amounts of taxpayers’ cash to the EU.

On this view, Brexit is a ‘quickie divorce’ formalising what has been the case for a long time. Brexit is a simple matter of straightening things out and, once the dust settles, we should all be a few quid better off.

c) It shouldn’t have ever happened

The bedrock of the UK is the continental shelf. This goes under the channel and joins the UK to the rest of Europe permanently and irrevocably. Politically, the UK is joined to the rest of Europe in a similar way. Any attempt to remove and isolate the UK will be catastrophic.

To support this view, several very senior figures spent several months pushing a message of impending disaster. Cameron and Osborne campaigned for Remain. Labour when under Harriet Harman appointed Alan Johnson to lead ‘Labour In For Britain’, if anyone noticed.

The difficulty with this view is that the UK has voted to Leave. What became clear after the referendum was that neither the Cameron government nor the leaders of the Leave campaign had a clear plan for Brexit. They seem to assume it will never happen.

d) The sooner it happens the better

The EU was a drag on the UK and the sooner we’re out the better. The result of the referendum shows that most people in the UK think this way. This is the sort of thing pushed by UKIP.

Theresa May tells us that “Brexit means Brexit” and those who dare suggest that maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all are dubbed post-Brexit whingers. Taking things to the High Court and the Supreme Court probably didn’t help change this attitude but at least MPs will now get a vote on what happens.

On this view the scaremongers will be shown to be wrong because the fall in the pound is a blip and the rise in inflation is ‘worth it’. Either that or Brexit will mean that prices rise, wages fall and there are fewer legal protections in place for ordinary people.

I say tomato, you say tomato

At the moment, three different issues are being mixed together:

  1. Why people voted for Brexit
  2. What Brexit will actually be
  3. When Brexit will take place.

This leaves us in a position where different people attribute different things to Brexit and the government declines to offer any clarity or any guidance beyond saying that they’re working on it. Indeed David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has so far managed to contradict Theresa May and wants to stay in the European Single Market.

As for the EU itself, there are moves to be tough with the UK, partly to discourage others from taking the same path. For example, if the UK is to stay in the European Single Market, it may need to accept freedom of movement for EU passport holders. So for all the talk of ‘Hard Brexit’ the UK could still have one foot in the door.

One thought on “A Dog’s Brexit: The UK vote to leave the European Union

  1. Julian Long sent me the following response which I’m pleased to post here:

    “I like your blog piece. It’s a concise and coherent assessment of the various schools of thought, and the questions arising.

    I wonder who voted for Brexit, and what were their reasons? I wonder if independence and isolationism somehow became entangled and/or confused. It feels clear that immigration (and the associated fears of terrorism) was at the forefront of many discussions and debates in the lead up to both the General Election and the Referendum. There has been much discussion and debate about British involvement, both the human and financial cost, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, Syria. Brexit also came hard on the heals of various anniversaries of British involvement, and huge loss of life, in European and World conflicts.

    Independence to discuss and implement policies and laws etc that impact directly, and solely, on British citizens might not be a bad idea. Independence and connection need not be separate and disconnected concepts. Independence, and connectionism, can be borne out of strength.

    Isolationism feels as though it is borne out of fear. i wonder who voted for Brexit? If it was the more elderly folk of Britain, might ‘remembering the cost/sacrifice’ allied to a fear of the past somehow being revisited in a more unseen and terrifying delivery go someway to understanding the voting. As an aside, if it is, then it is also interesting how as we get older we look back more than we do when we are young, foregoing or ignoring the consequences decisions made might have on the future…a future that becomes shorter the older we get. That brings in another concept: Immediacy. It could be argued that we live in a ‘Right Here, Right Now, society, where the future is considered only rarely, if at all.

    Yours is a piece that should provoke response, should promote discussion and debate. Brexit is clearly complex in its execution. How many people understand what it entails, how and why it will impact? What are the questions parliament need to ask and resolve should it go to a parliamentary vote? The more we discuss, on the back of pieces such as this, the more we can engage our MPs in participating with understanding and clarity. In or out, I feel we need to understand clearly, and comprehensively, all implications.

    Unfortunately, I feel we may have found ourselves in a political situation in which either apathy or feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of it all stymie any desire to discuss and understand. As you say, we now have a PM who was not voted in as part of a national vote, we have a disjointed and fading quickly second party and, since Cameron’s resignation, no coalition. It effectively leaves us with a one party political system, with a leader few voted for, overseeing something for which no-one seems prepared for, or even capable of, implementing.”

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