Monday, 11 July 2016

Post-EUref - We’ve had the Phoney Debate, now for the Real Thing

I spent Wednesday and Thursday last week in Westminster, attending debates and talking to as many Ministers, shadow ministers and other MPs  as I could.  On Friday I attended a business forum where the dominant topic was Brexit.  Today Monday 11th I am just off to Westminster again.

This is in the wake today of Andrea Leadsom pulling out of the Tory leadership race to allow Theresa May to become PM, and Angela Eagle declaring she is challenging Jeremy Clorbyn for Labour leader.  Fascinating and exciting times. But we do need to get the country back onto an even keel as soon as possible!


I live in a constituency where the Conservative MP is a Leaver but a few hundred yards (or metres!) from one where the Conservative MP is a Remainer.  Yet the vast majority of people I have asked have voted to Remain, especially educated youngsters who say all their friends on Facebook have said they would vote Remain.

Many are upset and angry that the result was Leave. Especially with dirty tricks such as the bus with £350m a week for the NHS emblazoned across it, proven an absolute lie.

Conversely those people that have told me they voted Leave are few and as follows:
  • An elderly neighbour who said “I just sent with the flow. Immigration I suppose”
  • A taxi driver who couldn’t decide, but being the son of a holy man, looked for divine guidance. He and four of his family voted Leave as a result.  Five votes for Leave.
  • A second-hand car salesman and his wife who “liked Farage”. Funny thing was they were just off on holiday to Europe, and the exchange rate was going to make it more expensive. There was more than a hint of regret.
  • A London cabbie who was concerned about immigration.  But he was now more worried about talk of jobs moving from the City to Europe, and the resulting decline in taxi business.
  • A TV cameraman who was going to vote Remain, but at the last moment voted Leave “to give Juncker a kicking” (presumably thinking the overall result would still be Remain)
A very small sample, but hardly a ringing endorsement to Leave.

I haven’t had chance to speak to people outside the Home Counties. Many of the English regions voted Leave despite the potential loss of squillions of EU money.  I suspect in many cases it was concern about immigrants taking their own individual job, and them seemingly being given priority for social housing.

The government now desperately needs feedback on what really lay behind individual Leave votes before interpreting the Referendum result as actually a request to leave the EU. 


I attended the Lords EUref debate last Wednesday. The general mood was that the people had spoken.

The referendum may technically have been ‘advisory’, but politically it couldn’t be ignored. The people wanted to Leave, at least in how they voted, and several Remainers accepted that as a democratic decision

Talk in the House of Commons was similar, reflecting the Cabinet’s decision to accept that the UK should now Leave.

But there was another voice.  A voice saying that Leaving would be economically disastrous, for the short term if not the longer term. A voice that said that the debate prior to 23rd June had been dire and phoney. A voice saying that those who still believed Remain was right for Britain should fight to stop the Government pressing the Article 50 button to Leave.

A voice saying the real debate had now started. People could see what the impact of Brexit would be. No longer #ProjectFear but #ProjectReality.:
  • More expensive foreign holidays and imports such as food
  • Sales contracts and investments being cancelled,
  • Jobs being lost to mainland Europe 
  • Jobs being lost through cancellation of contracts or investment
  • The threat of tax rises to make up for lost taxes.  I still wouldn't rule out an emregency Brexit budget beign needed
  • But conversely easier to export with the lower exchange rate, so not all bad news.
Indeed there was a debate on Thursday in the Lords about the possibility of a second referendum, despite the Government saying that will not happen.  There is now a legal challenge, and a second referendum is a distinct possibility.


Until today we had two remaining candidates, though Andrea Leadsom has now pulled out:
  • Andrea Leadsom – a committed Brexiteer
  • Theresa May – the MP of a neighbouring constituency to me.  Those people I know who know her well still aren’t clear of her true beliefs on Brexit. But she is prepared to publicly support Leave, at least for now.
The Government is now committed to assessing each Leave option, notably but not restricted to:
  • Leaving the Single Market under World Trade Organisation rules, which is by no means ideal economically, or
  • Keeping in the Single Market under EFTA rules, which is likely to mean no dilution to Free Movement of People. This would therefore provide no solution to people’s immigration concerns.
In practice this assessment is taking the analysis published by the Government a few weeks ago in its leaflet, where the conclusion was Remain, and updating it. The conclusion is likely to be:
  • Remain is still the best economic option
  • One of the Brexit options will be “least worst”.
Philip Hammond the Foreign Secretary said last Thursday that in actioning the will of the people to Leave, it is now the Government’s objective to choose the Leave option that will create "least damage".  Ridiculous, but that's the position the Government now finds itself in!

It will be interesting to see how much worse the best Brexit option is, in short, medium and long term. And then the reaction of Theresa May to that assessment.

I have heard it said that for Brexit, “Angela will but Theresa may”.   That is about right. If the assessment‘s conclusion is it would be far worse to Leave than Remain, Theresa is more likely to accept that conclusion.  Angela's reaction is now irrelevant.

As I write I am waiting for confirmation that Theresa will formally take over from David Cameron as Tory leader Prime Minister as soon as Wednesday evening. That measn Thursday is the earliest the A50 button can be pressed, but I am sure Theresa will want more time.


It also means there is now a short period after Theresa becomes PM in which there needs to be a proper debate on the pros and cons of Remain and each of the leading Brexit options.

There is then the question of the role of the Commons and Lords in these debates. It has been argued that the Prime Minister of the day has the legal authority under "Royal prerogative" to press the Article 50 exit button, such that any Commons/Lords debates would only be advisory.

But it has also been argued that the UK went into the EU under an Act of Parliament, and therefore can only leave if that is rescinded by another Act. This would require votes of MPs and Lords under normal parliamentary process.  There are already three legal challenges to insist on a new Act, but the outcomes are unclear.

The legal position needs to be resolved, and quickly.  But either way there will be debates in the Commons and Lords over the coming weeks, and there will be votes.

Prior to 23rd June this was the declared Remain/Leave picture of MPs by party. [picture] A clear preference to Remain. By the time Theresa May become Tory leaer this will have changed:
  • Remainers like Theresa May who have accepted the Leave result and would presumably vote Leave if there was a vote today
  • People changing their minds to/from Remain as a result of further debate and economic experience
I would like to think that there will still be a clear majority to Remain.  But that requires work within Westminster and beyond.


The StrongerIn campaign brought together Bremainers from all parties (except UKIP presumably). 

I was going to suggest a cross-party forum for Remain MPs with the objectives to:
•    Convince the general public that in the light of additional economic experience and assessment, Remain is far preferable to Leave
  • Seek a second referendum if that would put an end to any ongoing uncertainty over the UK’s Brexit position
  • Convince as many MPs as possible to vote Remain in any debate
But over the weekend it was disclosed in the Guardian (and printed in Sunday's Observer) that Labour and Conservative MPS who had campaigned together for Remain had increasingly come to regard themselves as “a tribe”. There is talk of a new centrist party at the highest level amongst Bremainer MPs.


Which brings me on to my meeting of business people on Friday, which involved Chartered Accountants in business, from Centrica to smaller independent businesses. The Chairman said “We are where we are, to Leave, and we now need to get on and do business.”

My view as set out above is that Leaving is not a ‘When’ but an ‘If’.  But yes, business has to carry on and make the best of it.  Budgeting, forecasting and decision-making just got a whole lot more interesting. The sooner this can all be resolved, the better!


The key to the UK’s way forward is the Government’s official assessment of the Remain and Brexit options, and then MP’s reaction to it.   To that extent we need to sit back and wait.

However the original assessment was a strong recommendation to Remain.  If anything the economic experience since the referendum makes that recommendation likely to be stronger.  I believe it is now incumbent on Remainer MPs to unite to fight to Remain.  A cross-party group needs to be formed.
This may result in forming a new party, so the Guardian suggests.  Watch this space!

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