Over the past week a fair few people have tweeted that it’s time for those on both sides of the Brexit debate to do more to respect the other side. Most of these comments come from the make-the-best-of-Brexit sort of people, many of them formerly soft Remain people who think there is no option now but to just get on with things.
This sounds like a pleasant idea I suppose, at least in the abstract. But in the actual everyday debate about Brexit it is, for any self-respecting or moderately sensible individual, no viable way to behave.
Let me just take four examples of what some prominent Tory or Tory-leaning Brexiters have come up with in the last three days.
Nick Boles MP and his “Better Brexit”, Sunday:
— Nick Boles MP (@NickBoles) September 2, 2018
Ex cabinet minister Damian Green, Monday:
Damian Green, tells BBC @BBCr4today "Michel Barnier doesn't' have a plan" for Brexit". "The only plan on the table is the Chequers plan".
— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) September 3, 2018
Andrew Lilico, today:
People say "transition" is needed for customs procedures & IT systems. These are all "expand to fill the time provided" matters. We could have systems in place in five minutes. They'd be inefficient systems. But it's better to be out earlier with inefficient systems than to wait.
— Andrew Lilico (@andrew_lilico) September 3, 2018
Dominic Raab replying to Emma Reynolds MP, today:
MP Emma Reynolds asks about EU warnings on UK-content in auto manufacturing for rules of origin purposes.
Brexit sec Dominic Raab says she should be "showing a bit of mettle and standing up for this country."
— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) September 4, 2018
None of these statements deserve any of our respect whatsoever. Each statement or proposition is demeaning to any thinking person reading it, the argumentation so hopelessly weak so as to not even be adequate in a first year essay at the elite university (Oxford) all four of these men attended as undergraduates.
Each in turn.
Bowles has at least put a little effort into his “Better Brexit” plan. They even have a website. “Humiliation” is the seventh word of the text, and it goes downhill from there. It rejects a Brexit transition… which was the UK’s demand, accepted by the EU side. It refuses to pay what the UK is already due to pay into the EU budget until 2020 – and you want to win friends? It proposes to exit the EU Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies in March 2019. How is planning for new regimes for these sectors going? And then it goes on to propose temporary EEA membership, something that is legally rubbished by Jean-Claude Piris here. And it even has time for the EEA red herring on Freedom of Movement. There is no way in the world this is going to fly. Next.
The Chequers “Plan” Green mentions is 3 pages of A4. It is here. It has taken the UK 742 days since the referendum, and 464 days since triggering Article 50, to even come up with that. And anyone who has followed even the basics of the negotiations on Brexit can confirm that the EU side is better prepared and better organised than the UK side, and has been planning from the off for all sorts of eventualities. Green is hopelessly in denial of reality. Woeful.
Then there is Lilico. Britain – having imposed on itself a deadline for its exit from the EU by itself having chosen to trigger Article 50 when it did – is now just going to have to make the best of it, whatever last minute changes it will have to do to its customs regime. There were some pretty brutal reactions. This is an ideologue, wanting exit for his own obsessed reasons, incapable of understanding the complexity of what he is asking for, and lacking any compassion for or reflection about how a non-functioning customs regime is going to damage the UK economy and people’s lives and livelihoods.
And then there is Raab. Asking a question about supply chains for the auto industry, a major practical Brexit headache, is not standing up for the country. And he is the Minister responsible for Brexit!
Is anyone telling me any of these four men with their four positions outlined here deserve any of my respect whatsoever?
For me it is completely the opposite. A MP, a former Minister, and a current Minister, and the supposed leading intellectual light for Brexit, come up with such complete and utter rubbish. Arguments and statements so poor it takes a matter of minutes to take them apart completely.
Respect this? Seriously? Never in my life are you going to get me to show anything but complete and utter contempt for this sort of stuff. And it worries me profoundly that people behaving like this are anywhere near political power in a country of 65 million people.
“Ah you’re just a Remainer” someone will surely say. Well, no, actually, that is not the point. There are leave people I respect. When he is not ranting or reactionary, Pete North deserves some of my respect. Take this thread of Pete’s on standards for example – this is excellent stuff. He and his father Richard have thought through all the different aspects of Brexit, and have a framework for a plan that makes the Chequers proposal look horribly weak. Taking apart their arguments, and those of Oliver Norgrove as well, takes time and patience.
Therein, ultimately, lies the root of my anger, my burning frustration.
It is not Leave or Remain.
It is about being serious, about addressing the multitude of Brexit issues with the meticulousness, attention to detail, to law and to international relations, that such a complex undertaking demands.
Leavers (other than the notable exceptions above), if you want my respect, do not take me for a fool. Do not just whine I am a Remainer. Instead focus on making Brexit work, practically, and show how what you are proposing is not going to damage people’s lives. Until you do that I will, rightly, treat your approach with the contempt it deserves.