Brexit means Brexit means Brexit means…

By Sam W. Shenton | 28th January 2017

“Brexit means Brexit” was, of course, the widely mocked platitude of Theresa May’s Conservative leadership campaingn. When the government machine was just coming to terms with the shock result and appearing both too slow to leave voters and hapless to remain voters, the phrase was simultaneously reassuring to the former and terrifying to the latter. Yet as the months went on, reman voters began to come round to the prospect of Britain’s impending departure from the European Union, as well as the referendum result. While some people (let’s call them Lib Dems, for convenience) still protest, demanding second referendums and attempting to paint anyone who isn’t a certain shade of yellow as a traitor, or possibly a fascist isolationist, the majority — to the tune of 52% — 32% (YouGov)— now accept and support Britain’s departure from the EU.

The debate has, thankfully, mainly moved on from whether we will leave at all, to what Britain’s departure from the EU will look like in reality, without the backdrop of a divisive election campaign. The issue for remain politicians who have now turned their focus to fighting for what they call “soft Brexit,” is that Theresa May’s slogan – Brexit means Brexit – is true. Brexit means Brexit. In other words, there are not various types of Brexits that could be explored when down the shopping aisle. No hard Brexit, soft Brexit – no poached, fried or hard boiled Brexit. No Tesco every day value Brexit – and certainly no Morrison’s ‘the Best’ Brexit. Brexit means Brexit. Brexit means that Britain is leaving the European Union. It means what many see as “hard Brexit” – and let me explain why that leaves no other Brexit possibility in the Brexit shop.

Brexit really means… Control

The question on the ballot paper on June 23rd was of course on one issue: whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of, or leave the European Union. The public voted to leave. The Leave campaign had ran many campaign slogans and takes about multiple issues, but there were three that were the key to their success. Firstly, the point of migration and Europe’s Freedom of Movement policy made an imprint on voters. Secondly, the issue of sovereignty which Britain had continually sacrificed to European institutions over policy areas including international trade, agriculture and industry. And finally, the Leave Campaign’s slogan: “Take Back Control.”

“Take Back Control” is more than just a slogan. In the end it is the calling card of Brexit. It means that control is what Brexit must achieve – and as a Remain voter that accepts the result of that June referendum, it’s what now should be implemented by Theresa May’s Government.

The political issue of control means that May’s slogan should be amended from “Brexit means Brexit,” to “Brexit means so-called ‘hard’ Brexit.” Remain voters arguing for ‘soft’ Brexit seek the opposite of taking back control – and actually challenge the notion as to whether it is really even a form of Brexit. Single Market membership and continued Customs Union are the aims of those seeking soft Brexit – both of which would sacrifice more control, never mind take it back like Brexit promised. To begin, Single Market membership requires the acceptance of Freedom of Movement – a concept that is now defunct and unpopular with the majority of British voters. Considering Theresa May’s history at the Home Office and her failure to meet argues of reducing migration, it is unlikely that voters would forgive any form of Brexit that did not address the crucial issue of immigration and reduce it to a perception of more “manageable” numbers.

Ignoring migration for a moment, however, so-called soft Brexit falls apart under further scrutiny. When Britain voted to leave the European Union, it voted in the knowledge that Prime Minister David Cameron’s European re-negotiation was on the line. With the prospect of what many in Europe saw as ‘Europe-a-la-carte’ developing further in this deal, Britons still felt that Europe was entrenching too much on the UK’s sovereignty. That discomfort with Europe controlling so much of policy enacted in the UK drove the country to vote Leave. The issue with soft Brexit is that while the Brexit vote was to take control back from Brussels, soft Brexit actually relinquishes more control to Europe. Britain currently has representation in the European Commission, has its Government Ministers sit around European Council meetings, has the second largest delegation of Members of the European Parliament of all 28 member states of the EU, and a guaranteed Judge – in recognition of the UK’s size – on the European Courts of Justice. Both forms of Brexit – soft and hard – remove that.

The issue is that soft Brexit replaces it with nothing, while hard Brexit replaces it with control within the UK. A direct result of Britain leaving the Single Market is that the UK will then be able to set its own migration policy, its own international trade policy and begin to form alternative agriculture and industrial policies – and indeed “Control” will be restored to London and other UK areas instead of Brussels and the European Union. “Soft Brexit,” however, offers no such control. By relinquishing our representation in the European Union’s institutions, those in favour of “soft Brexit” wish to see Britain have absolutely no control over vital areas of policy, while still seeing Britain’s economy and political situation stifled and controlled by politicians in Europe in an unprecedented manner. As an EU member, Britain maintained some control through joint negotiation – soft Brexit would actually see Britain politically worse off in Europe, as an EU arms-length state, actually diminished in power and influence – and crucially to British voters – in its ability to control itself.

So why so soft?

Soft Brexit’s appeal lies in its economic stability and the idea that politics and economics would largely go unchanged. The issue here is two-fold. The first is that the Remain campaign put forward the idea that Brexit was a risky move that would undermine our economy, living standards and growth. Remain lost the referendum. In other words, these warnings went either unnoticed or simply didn’t matter to Leave voters, who won the referendum by 3.8% – a position which now has large poll support. The second issue is that Brexit itself was a vote for change and a rejection of the status quo – both economically and politically. Whether that be for a leftward or rightward move economically is yet to be same and likely to be a theme of post-Brexit political debate – especially if May and Corbyn are still leaders of their respective parties.

Soft Brexit may provide stability, but it isn’t really Brexit. Soft Brexit maintains bits of membership – associate membership even – of the organisation Britain voted to leave. It maintains control outside of Britain, a political reality that will be be simply inexcusable to the majority of voters that backed Leave. Despite a focus on maintaining Britain’s relationship or membership of the Single Market, soft Brexit increasingly looks like not actually leaving the EU at all. It also shows why when Theresa May says “Brexit means Brexit,” she really means that Brexit means hard or clean Brexit, and taking back the crucial element of control over various policies to institutions in the UK.

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