Brexit – a view from unionism January 13, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
This is an odd one, Dennis Kennedy, that doughty defender of the union and partition, writing in the IT about Brexit. Kennedy is, like a fair few of us, not well pleased, perhaps particularly because it brings home to him the reality of the union – that is that Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Wales to an extent, are strapped in to a vehicle where England has complete control of the direction and speed and destination. That latter dynamic is grand when things are going alright. Not so great when things are disintegrating all around.
It’s particularly fascinating to read his piece and see how it is focused almost entirely on the machinations of Westminster and Parliament. Northern Ireland? Not so much. And how can it be otherwise when NI has such minimal representation in Westminster. Not that he’s wrong about some aspects of the problem:
Bland assurances that there will be no return to a “hard” Border in Ireland look increasingly hollow, and there is almost total uncertainty as to what the overall trade relationship between UK and EU might be after Brexit.
So to keep repeating “Brexit is Brexit” and “the people have spoken” when we still have no clear idea of what it will really mean is inane and irresponsible.
What if article 50 is activated next March and thereafter it becomes clear that any deal emerging from the subsequent negotiations is going to be seriously damaging to the UK’s vital national interests? The time to ponder that question is before article 50 is triggered, not after, and the place to do so is in parliament.
Still it is odd to see him essay a number of lines that – frankly, I think, even from my anti-Brexit position are incorrect.
The referendum did result in a vote for Leave, but only 38 per cent of “the people” (the total electorate) voted to leave, with about 34 per cent to remain.
Does that in itself constitute a mandate for the biggest constitutional change in 43 years?
It’s irrelevant, all the above. The point is that a referendum was held, there was a narrow win for exiting the European Union. That is, even in the context of an advisory referendum probably sufficient in terms of process and almost certainly in relation to the politics of the issue to allow for an exit.
Of course parliament has a role, but I think he’s incorrect that parliament could over-rule the referendum vote. At best/worst it could, and should really, hold the form of the exit to account, or rather the government of the day to account on the form of the exit, because the truly pernicious thing about this is that exiting the EU still allows for any number of relationships with the EU or in bodies associated with the EU including the EEA or whatever. And exiting the EU allows for freedom of movement and a customs union because non-members can be members of those while remaining outside the EU proper. Or indeed no relationship at all bar the most cursory. In other words – and here he is correct – Brexit is Brexit is indeed meaningless other than saying that the UK will no longer be a member of the EU.
I think it would be democratically appropriate for an eventual deal to be brought back to the UK electorate. But it’s not absolutely necessary as long as the UK is no longer a member of the EU.
Yet none of this is clear, none of this is simple, even to talk of democracy is to open up significant problems. For to take but two examples the situation of Scotland and Northern Ireland certainly confuses concepts of democratic legitimacy in all this. Given they already have competencies devolved to local governments it seems perverse that the sheer weight of numbers of the population of England should determine every last aspect of their relationship. Nor does it seem appropriate that their vote for retaining membership should have no weight whatsoever. But that, in a way, is for NI and Scotland to fight out with the British government as best they can. A further confusion is in relation to the situation more broadly on this island. Obviously the population in this state had no say at all in a matter that has a massive and direct impact. And without question if we take this island as a whole the population would be starkly in favour of retaining EU membership. Where are their/our democratic rights in relation to these aspects? Who will or can uphold them?
Kennedy doesn’t mention that the largest and arguably most reactionary formation in unionism supports Brexit. That the DUP MPs will vote solidly with the Tories on this issue. But that’s not unimportant.
Perhaps Kennedy might have a slightly greater sympathy for those of us who believe that this island is better when all its components are reaching towards some sort of unity of purpose, if not necessarily yet deeper unity for some time to come. Small steps. But in the context of a world of Brexit, necessary ones. Not that the chaos in Stormont seems to allow for much of them.