Sticks & Stones

As neither a Remainer nor a Brexiteer, my frustration with our government and the antics surrounding Brexit relate more to general concerns about our democracy than any perceived threat to a particular desired outcome.  I state this up front because most readers have a partisan axe to grind and treat the words of perceived opponents as treasonous.

"Traitor" and "Nazi" are two of the words protesters have shouted at MP Anna Soubry.  It can't be very pleasant to have people you have never met before shouting angrily at you.  Anna has complained that the police should be doing more to protect MPs from such abuse.  Sympathetic voices have been heard to murmur support from both sides of the House of Commons and the name of Jo Cox has ominously cropped up in news coverage.

I would prefer that people expressed themselves reasonably and avoided confrontations such as this, but unfortunately Anna is her own worst enemy in this regard.  Does she deserve to be labelled a Nazi or a traitor?  Technically no, but in the world of barely elevated playground insults and vacuous soundbites that Anna and too many of her fellow MPs inhabit, then it could be argued these insults are as justifiable as their own output, and closer in spirit to their own behaviour than to that of the psychopath that murdered Jo Cox.

My first recollection of seeing Anna in action dates from the morning of the referendum result .  She described it as one of the worst days of her life and that it was dreadful.  Since then she has been one of the voices consistently campaigning to rule out the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal, because to do so would be 'catastrophic', and vehemently disagreeing with May's (now transparently hollow) assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal.  Having been one of a majority of voices expressing such a view in the house, many of whom have traveled to Brussels to ensure EU negotiators are aware of their influence, Anna has been instrumental, not only in hobbling the UK's negotiation position, but in frustrating the 'will of the people'.

Over the more than two years and too-numerous-to-count appearances on TV since the referendum, Anna has repeatedly stated that Brexit will be catastrophic, yet offered little to substantiate this.  Similarly, I have heard no rationale to support her assertion that no deal could never be better than a bad deal.  The former is disappointing, because there are compelling arguments for leaving and staying.  The latter is less disappointing than inevitable.

Imagine that Britain's involvement in the EU is represented by a number of tins of hearty nosh being displayed in a large pyramid shaped structure in an old fashioned grocer's shop window.  Imagine that our chief negotiator is a child being sent in by its parents to negotiate with the shop-keeper (Michel Barnier) to recover these tins.  The parents (Parliament) stand at the shop door and, in full earshot of the shop-keeper, tell their child that leaving the shop without a deal on the tins is not possible - they literally won't let him come back without a deal.  The shop-keeper doesn't really want to hand the tins back, as it will mean his display will have to be rebuilt.  He also happens to know that the parents don't really want the tins back in any case - they just feel they must ask because a majority of the people in their village want them back.  Accordingly, the shop-keeper knows he can ask for whatever he likes.  He asks for the sun, moon and stars and a signed picture of David Beckham.  The child says he only has £20 and doesn't know David Beckham.  The shop-keeper is unmoved.  The child looks nervously at his parents.  They angrily shout at him "you can't leave the shop without a deal" and eventually at each other: "unless you fix this I am going to find myself a new husband/wife who can be a better parent - one that can get their child to negotiate properly - or go back to the villagers and ask them to reconsider their decision".

If Anna approached all her negotiations according to this strategy she would likely be very poor indeed, receive very poor service and have a house full of shoddy goods.  The competition that the Conservative party believes is so important to business is dependent on choice.  The alternatives to competition, monopolies, deprive consumers of choice - the deal they offer is the only one available and 'no deal' is unacceptable to customers when the goods or services offered are essential.  Anna presumably believes this, otherwise her political leanings would position her somewhat to the left of Jeremy Corbyn.  If so, it would seem reasonable to conclude that her stance is motivated not by Conservative economic policy, justice or a love of democracy, but an unwavering commitment to her belief that Britain should not leave the EU.  She asserts her beliefs by passionately decrying Brexit as a 'catastrophe' at every opportunity, as if the referendum had not yet taken place, and rallying others to use their positions of power to frustrate the ability of the UK government to leave the EU.

The success of any commercial business or social contract (such as marriage) is founded on the knowledge that people have the option of 'no deal'.  In order to secure a desired deal they need to offer the best deal or their potential customer/suitor will go elsewhere.  'No deal' is therefore an essential consideration in any negotiation.  Given that MPs voted to allow the referendum and to respect its result, the government should have informed the EU that Britain would be leaving regardless of whether a deal with it was agreed before departure, and should have planned accordingly.  Ultimately, the best deals for Britain, the EU and all other countries with whom we do business will be reached after a 'no deal' departure because we all benefit from mutual trade and cooperation.  As with most transactions, short-term costs are inevitable and long-term benefits have to be imagined, but when there are two or more parties with a vested interest in doing business with each other, it would be unduly pessimistic to rule out the possibility of making new and possibly better transactions.

So far so obvious.  Of the greatest concern to me is that our politicians have failed to observe the obvious and conduct themselves accordingly.  It would appear to me that they have acted, and continue to act as if power - control and influence - was their sole motivator.  The referendum was proposed either because the Conservative party wanted the people to have their say or because it was leaking votes to UKIP that were considered critical to its prospects for holding on to power.  MPs voted 544 to 53 in favour of the referendum (all parties but the SNP).  They did so either because they genuinely wanted the public to have a say or because they feared appearing undemocratic to potential voters.  80% of MPs voted to remain, but 52% of the electorate voted to leave.  If there was no intention to honour the result, MPs should not have voted for the referendum.  If there was an intention to honour the result, MPs should have supported the possibility of leaving with no deal and the government should have negotiated with this in mind and prepared accordingly.  MPs in the government, and without, have done no such thing.  For the most part they, like the protesters who abuse Anna, have instead pursued strategies associated with the personal value of power;  based not on reason but on who can shout the loudest, form the biggest gang or intimidate the vulnerable.  Frequent invitations to appear on TV give Anna the luxury of being able to 'shout' without raising her voice.  The protesters that surround her, lacking her position of power, make the best of what they have.

A lamentable and easily avoidable disgrace.

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