What Should Remainers (and Sensible Leavers) be Demanding of our Leaders?
Last night I ate some under-cooked chicken in a restaurant. I thought it looked dodgy at the time so asked the chef about it. He said it was fine and there was nothing to worry about. And it was pretty damn tasty so I ate it. Now I’m sick. Not just a little bit sick. Really sick. My wife phoned the restaurant to complain and they said they didn’t promise the chicken was OK, only that it was possible it was OK.
So now I face three possibilities:
- just accept that I’m really sick and may well die but, you know what, I did make the decision to eat the chicken;
- scream and shout about the evil chef and demand in my feverish delirium that the chicken be uneaten;
- turn to a medical expert who might at least be able to stabilise my condition ahead of a cure.
These are essentially the ways different parts of the political class are reacting to the referendum vote.
Many Leavers (and even some Remainers) are going for the ‘rush headlong into catastrophe’ option because to do otherwise, so they claim, would be undemocratic. They want Article 50, which begins the process of the UK leaving the EU, invoked and say either“damn the consequences” or deny there are any negative consequences.
A noisy group of Remainers are pushing the second option, yelling about the lies Leave told and calling for another referendum or a parliamentary effort to overturn the decision of the first.
Neither of these choices makes much sense. Democracy should be respected but it is perverse to say that must also mean a country with the UK’s magisterial history should be blithely allowed to fragment while hundreds of thousands potentially lose their jobs. Equally, simply ignoring the majority vote is a non-starter: it’s undemocratic and the beneficiaries are likely to be UKIP who would scream “betrayal” in their shrillest tones.
Which leaves under-cooked chicken option three. In political terms it means recognising the decision to leave has been made but also accepting that the last forty-eight hours have shown how deep the risks of that decision are. Markets have plummeted, companies are already making plans to leave the UK and the Union is under very genuine threat of fragmentation.
Under such circumstances, the way forward is to put things on hold. To try and stabilise the increasingly sick patient that is Britain. We need a political leader clear-sighted enough to say that, given the emerging risks, Article 50 will not be invoked until a way forward has been charted that does not risk economic and constitutional catastrophe. They could also commit to win popular endorsement of any proposed route-map in a General Election to be held before the year is out.
Of course that solution is far from perfect. It leaves a great deal of uncertainty hanging in the air which is not good for business but it is definitely better than pressing on with a process which could cause untold economic misery and destroy the Union.
Unfortunately, all we have at the moment is a lot of politicians avoiding their profound responsibilities to British citizens while they jockey for position in leadership races. Article 50 is not being invoked, not because of a clear decision on this but simply because no-one seems to be in charge anymore.
So this is what Remainers and sensible Leavers should now be fighting for: to press pause on Brexit until we can find a way to remove the poison coursing through the country’s bloodstream.
I’m doing my bit to achieve this. I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to support a demonstration by those who want our politicians to do what they are supposed to do and find the best way through for the country. You can back the campaign here.
My book outlining a new agenda to fight populism is called ‘Small is Powerful: Why the era of big business, big government and big culture is over’. It is published on 30th June but can be pre-ordered. You can follow me on Twitter here.