Cancelling Brexit, the only remedy for a disastrous decision

No deal Brexit looms. Britain will be leaving the EU. Nationalist Prime Minister Boris Johnson promises the use of the Royal Navy to protect British fishing boats and to keep foreign vessels out, even though the EU emphasized inclusiveness. There’s no place for friendly sentiments among ethnocentric Tories.

Britain going it alone also means attacking the countryside. A large area of agricultural land in southern Kent is ploughed to build a lorry parking lot in anticipation of traffic jams as customs tariffs will be imposed on goods entering and leaving the UK. All this in the name of a worn out, war mongering notion of state sovereignty.

The world needs different priorities: nuclear disarmament, policies to deal with global warming and a devastating pandemic. Respect for interdependence, multilateralism, cooperation, dialogue and peace with justice is imperative, not Prime Minister Johnson and his colleagues shouting about sovereignty, and on the streets the masochistic Brexit supporters waving their union jacks.

Two issues need confronting. The first concerns the self-destructive referendum decision, previously canvassed in Pearls and Irritations, March 28, 2019 ‘Brexit, A Democratic Absurdity’. The second concerns the value of saying the Brexit decision can be respected at the time it was made but has passed its use by date.

Democracy surely does not mean that a vote influenced by false claims and by emotive repeats about sovereignty and the will of the people should hold for ever?

The referendum to determine whether the British people wanted to stay or leave the EU, was held on June 23, 2016. Voters were fooled by fear, deceit, racism, foreign interference and holier than thou arguments that the referendum was an example of democracy at work. Slogans on Boris Johnson’s Leave Campaign bus said that 350 million pounds per week would be returned to the National Health Serviced if Britain left the EU. This was a lie of Trumpian proportions, yet as with any conspiracy theory, a large proportion of UK citizens believed it. Aided by Murdoch tabloids, the sovereignty for-ever chorus aimed to anaesthetize voters and leave them groggy with enthusiasm for an independent Britain.

The fear card was played by an openly racist demagogue Nigel Farage, photographed in front of a poster depicting hordes of non-white people attempting to invade Britain. These invaders were said to be EU members from Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. None were members of the EU, but in the sovereignty or nothing era, who cares about facts? Like an apprentice to the US bully boy President Trump, opportunist Prime Minister Johnson says and does anything to brand Britain great, even though his cherished Brexit looks certain to leave the UK isolated and impoverished.

The second issue concerns the so-called democratic principle that because four years ago, 51.9 % of the people voted to leave the EU, their vote mut be respected for ever as an unchallengeable expression of the will of the people? Based on lies confirmed by a criminal conviction imposed on the Leave Campaign, why should this vote be given the status of ten commandments, carved in British granite, always to be worshiped, never discarded?

To save Britain, the Brexit vote needs to be re-evaluated and the records placed in a museum. There are many precedents for reconsidering and reversing significant decisions.

People make investments in stocks and shares, then change their minds, reverse the decision, invest elsewhere, or withdraw from stock exchange speculation entirely. No financial adviser says a decision once made holds for all time.

People get married, make oaths, sign marriage certificates and years later decide that in the interest of all the parties, divorce may be a better option. Circumstances had changed, so had minds.

People decide to migrate and may spend years in their new home country. On reflection and after different experiences, they decide to return to the country of their birth. No-one says that because you once decided to leave, you cannot return to where you came from.

A local Council allows the removal of trees on beach fronts and votes to allow building permits for several high-rise apartments close to a shoreline. A few years later, aware of the consequences of the earlier decision, the councillors vote to protect and promote local amenities and prevent developers from riding roughshod over a natural environment. No-one argues that the initial Council vote cannot be reversed.

As a sailor, I am acutely aware that decisions to sail to a particular point must be reversed when the weather changes, winds become gale force, waves increase in height and frequency. Only the thoughtless skipper says carry on. Britain is also facing wind and waves and should turn back.

The UK is being warned of the consequences of leaving the EU with no deal, or only a paper thin one. Leaders in food distribution, in farming and business have said that no deal would be catastrophic. Even with a flimsy deal, food prices are predicted to rise by 5 to 15% and 13,000 goods are expected to attract import duties. Because of antagonism to Europe, and to defend bogus UK sovereignty, the smooth delivery of goods to and from ports will end.

John Harris, writing in the UK Guardian of December 14, says that after withdrawal from the EU, Britain will finish up like the country bequeathed by Margaret Thatcher, only far worse: ‘shabby, fearful and run by people who keep telling us that if we only work harder and dream bigger, something world-beating will sooner or later materialize.’

Clothes to camouflage the referendum decision have been made from hope and glory threads and ragged home spun lies. Once removed, they reveal a government naked, hastily trying to cover up with red, white, and blue fig leaves labelled sovereignty. To avoid that cold, embarrassing and self-destructive outcome, it will be necessary to admit the Brexit decision was disastrous, and negotiations will start to re-join the EU.

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Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney, recipient of the Jerusalem (Akl Quds) Peace Prize and author of the new book “Cruelty or Humanity”, Bristol: Policy Press. A human rights activist, poet, novelist, and Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

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