The penny is beginning to drop with many, many British voters. There is no prospect of a hard Brexit any more. Britain will, one way or another, have a very close economic and trading relationship with the EU. That means that the UK will not be able to negotiate free trade deals as it wishes throughout the world as though it did not have a de facto customs union or partnership with the EU.
Even as the Norwegians sharply react against the UK joining EFTA or the EEA, the headless chickens in the Tory party squawk on about “Norway Plus”. They claim that Norway Plus would give them control over immigration. It wouldn’t – it might only give them an emergency brake at best.
Just what is good about leaving the EU is now very hard for Tory voters to see. They will be rule-takers in any likely scenario. They will give up all their powers and influence in making the EU’s rules to co-exist like Norway does.
Whether it is May’s draft agreement or Norway Plus, Britain will be economically and politically weaker outside the EU.
The European Economic Area in which EFTA and EU states share membership is built on the famous “four freedoms” of which freedom of movement is one.
If Theresa May’s draft agreement is voted down, as looks likely, the UK will plunge into uncertainty and intensified discord.
The political eejits in the Tories’ ERG will advocate sending a delegation back to Brussels to “sort out those chaps” and to knock a bit of sense into them. Just as they could do to all troublesome fuzzy-wuzzies with a gun-boat in the 19th century; it should only take a bit of “now look here” diplomacy to put manners on the EU 27. The “Arish” will see sense if and when the UK threatens to bankrupt them (as Jacob Rees Mogg suggested a number of months ago) or threatens to cut off their food supplies (as Priti Patel, the former Tory minister who had to resign for having secret meetings with the Israeli government, advocated this week).
The defeat of May’s draft agreement will create a new scenario, one way or the other. The UK could seek an extension to the Article 50 March 29th deadline if the EU 27 unanimously agree.
But to do what? To demand new concessions from the EU? To save the Tories’ face? To avoid an election? To save Theresa May? To give Boris or Jeremy a go behind the wheel? To sell Norway Plus to the Norwegians and then to the British people?
It is plain as a pikestaff that if the British voters had really understood that the set of choices by which they are now confronted were the direct consequences of voting Leave, the narrow majority in favour of Leave would never have materialised in the first place.
It is a fatal mistake to feel or express too much sympathy for Theresa May. She is the person who is plodding doggedly onwards in the process of pulling the UK out of the EU – a course of action that is deeply damaging to Ireland, the UK and the EU. Her draft agreement is probably better that no agreement. But that is as far as its merits go.
Infinitely better would be something against which she has set her face – to go back to the British people and tell them that it is their sovereign right to choose to withdraw the decision to leave the EU if they believe that the choice to remain is better than any of the Brexit scenarios that they believe are truly available to them.
Remember that it was May who went along with the referendum proposal to thwart the UKIP threat to marginal Tory seats in the first place. She and her party put their party interests before their view of the country’s interest to avoid the UKIP threat and to silence their internal minority.
It was she and her colleagues on the Remain side who failed to make convincing arguments against the dishonest Brexiteers in the referendum campaign.
It was she who, having taken over the helm and promised no early election, broke her word and gave away the balance of power to the DUP – a party determined to damage Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.
So while one might feel sympathy for her on account of those in her own party, and in the DUP, and in the Labour Party who are busily wrecking the economic prospects of us all in pursuit of an illusion based on lies that Brexit is good for anybody, and while she may be the least bad leader on offer, she remains determined not to allow the British people to avail of their right to reverse out of Brexit.
The only chance of a Peoples Vote is if her draft deal is rejected. The ensuing chaos might, but only might, produce a second, informed and intelligent referendum outcome in which the people of the UK decided that on balance the Remain option was preferable to any other available outcome.
That is what we should all hope happens.
Obviously our Government has to pay lip-service to accepting the outcome of the first UK referendum, but others in Ireland should, in a friendly and decent way, publicly encourage the Peoples Vote cause. It would be honourable and honest to do so – provided it was not done in a counter-productive way.
It would be a great help if the cross-community Remain consensus in Northern Ireland could find its voice again - and demonstrate that the DUP viewpoint is a minority viewpoint there.
When you think of it the DUP have a lot to answer for. They helped channel illicit funding to the Leave campaign. They are now flying in the face of the Ulster farmers and Ulster business groupings’ strong advice - all in pursuit of a hard Brexit.
The want to have their cake and eat it in terms of corporate tax autonomy for the North. They have accepted Irish Sea inspection regimes on food and agricultural produce. They know that an open border can be preserved with a soft Brexit. They know the advantages of doing so. They know that Michael Gove is secretly pursuing a post-CAP UK cheap food policy which will damage their farmers. They know the backstop is unlikely to come into play.
They have never looked hard at the potential advantages of EU citizenship for the North’s population. In the very unlikely event of the back-stop taking effect, it could give the North’s economy significant advantages. The backstop could only have effect as long as the North was part of the UK, in any event.
But all of this has meant nothing at all compared with the bogus opportunity to use Brexit as an issue to prove their true-blue British-ness. Demographic changes coupled with re-thinking basic loyalties and commitments and economic self-interest among Northern Ireland’s voters strongly suggest that the DUP’s brand of politics is on a political and historical down escalator.
I write none of this with rancour – only with a profound regret that Brexit is doing huge damage to these islands and their peoples. I hope that it can yet be un-done for the good of everyone.