What started out as an internecine war within the Conservative party has engulfed the whole country and turned into a farce with politicians billed as fantasists and dreamers, with some who are delusional thinking that they are realists.
It was a Conservative leader Ted Heath, who in 1973 took us into Europe much against the wishes of some in his Party and in 1975 this decision was confirmed by a referendum. It has taken only 40 years for the decision to be reversed by the people of England and Wales but along the way, different Conservative leaders have adopted tactics to keep their Party united and in the European Union. Thatcher’s way was to keep the Eurosceptics happy by constantly railing against the bureaucrats in Europe who wanted a closer union, and with the support of her Bruges Group brought back a fudged Maastricht Treaty. It was left to poor John Major to negotiate the numerous opt out clauses with the Eurosceptics ‘bastards’ constantly baying for an improved result. Buttressed by the Europhile LibDems, Cameron had an easier time in his first term but then with an increased majority and full power, the destabilisation started again, this time supported outside parliament by UKIP, the Referendum Party having slowly died during the long years of a Labour government.
Cameron could not bring an acceptable result from Europe, so he had to cave into demands by his party and with that, his best-laid plans of handing over to Osborne after victory in the Brexit Referendum or another election went up in smoke.
The Brexiteers should have been allowed to negotiate and implement their fantastic claims: more money for an NHS that they wanted privatised anyway, keeping out immigrants, who while contributing to the economy were billed as benefit cheats, freedom to make our own laws, keeping the measures of bananas and beer under the imperial system and the freedom to sign trade agreements with who they wanted though a sizeable portion of our trade was with Europe.
Why Theresa May, an avowed realist stepped in to manage the course of the Brexit transition cannot be explained. Did she just want to be Prime Minister, or did she believe that getting out of Europe was that easy to negotiate? Now that we are nearly 95% closer to getting a deal, she might just realise, that just like Margaret Thatcher brought back a Maastricht Agreement that had to be renegotiated several times, any Brexit deal may just be an illusion and unworkable. She may also be coming to the realisation that exiting Europe was really a fantasy for just a tiny section of the Conservative Party.
Instead of leaving well alone and exploiting the divisions in the Conservative Party, the dreamers within the Labour Party went on a chicken coup – to force their leader out because he did not campaign for the Remain vote. I have tried to think through the logic of their actions but still cannot understand it. Cameron, the leader of the Conservatives calls a referendum for a vote to remain in Europe and the leader of the Opposition is at fault if the vote could not be won. And still, the dreamers persist, they want a second vote: ironically called a ‘People’s Vote’. Why? Because just as they thought that they should have won the first vote and claim that the defeat was narrow, they think that something must have happened to change the minds of those in the Leave camp? Somehow, I do not think so.
Trying to work out who is against Europe is complex which is why the Remainers were shocked by the results, they felt that their arguments were more logical and that the voters should have seen through the fantasy of the Brexiteers. I have found many Leavers in deprived areas of the UK – in Wales and the North of England, as well as some immigrants who do not want us to be in Europe because they think the Europeans are taking away their jobs and that with closer ties that Britain will be forced to forge with the Commonwealth will be of benefit to the new Commonwealth countries. There are young people who do not see the advantages of being in Europe at all, they worry more about poverty and debt, lack of affordable housing and are looking forward to a better life what with all the money that we are supposed to be spending in Europe which will be returned to the Exchequer here for greater public spending.
The divisions about Europe and the dislike of Europe amongst most British people will never go away. The nostalgia about a Great Britain, a small island that ruled the waves, that created an empire on which the sun never sets, is deeply ingrained in the minds and hearts of the majority. For the patriots and Brexiteers, Britain is better as an island than as the second or third power in Europe.
Many of us could not have foreseen that the original debate during the referendum framed around, immigration and free movement of people, sovereignty and our laws, economic determination and trade could have turned into something that threatens to break up the Union. Scotland wants to move closer to Europe and the irony is that the very people who want to remain in the Union in Northern Ireland are now sustaining this Conservative government.
At the end of the day Brexiteers, those fantasists will not have their way because they are not in power in their party, the dreamers will not have their way because Brexit will happen, and the realists are perhaps delusional because the agreement that they bring back will not hold water. This issue will continue to be a source of destabilisation in the Conservative Party.
The only vote we should be asking for now is a General Election. The Conservatives have proved that they cannot competently manage the Brexit negotiations, an indication that they will not be able to manage the transition particularly with the unfinished nature of the agreement.
Labour might just unite and manage a more realistic transition and make Brexit work and in time, the country might decide that with the pace and consequences of globalisation, the British economy might just be safer and more successful in Europe.
If voting is that important in changing things in this country then we must all respect the vote to leave Europe, perhaps it provides another opportunity for Great Britain, or the United Kingdom or whatever is left of it to start reflecting again at how it can re-dominate the world.
Ade Sawyerr London November 2018
Ade Sawyerr works at Equinox Consulting, www.equinoxconsulting.net a management consultancy that works on social and economic issues affecting disadvantaged communities in Britain. He passes comment on and social cultural and political issues of African heritage people in the Diaspora. He can be followed @adesawyerr or at http://www.adesawyerr.wordpress.com.