The people have spoken. The status quo is unacceptable. The United Kingdom cannot continue unchanged, muddling through, somehow hanging on to the politics of the past, with minimal changes in its relationship with Europe and the wider world. That option is a non-starter. It would violate the clear result of the national referendum of 23rd June. The people have called for a bold new start.
Nevertheless, as I write these words, nearly three million people have signed the online petition that, in effect, calls for a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
That figure of nearly three million signatories (which keeps rising higher every time I look at the website) dwarfs the number of signatories of all the other petitions (more than 10,000 in total) on the UK government website. The second most popular petition received 823,000 signatures.
In short, although the people have spoken – by a majority of 52% to 48% – huge swathes of the British population are deeply dissatisfied by the outcome. To be clear, I count myself among them. The dissatisfaction includes:
- Wide recognition that the claims of the Leave campaign were full of exaggerations and (to use an unparliamentary word) lies
- Observation that leaders of the Leave campaign are already vigorously, shamefully, evasively, back-pedalling on the promises they made before the vote – promises such as ring-fencing additional funding for the NHS and on dramatically reducing immigration
- Realisation that the vote is likely to trigger Scottish independence – the breakup of the United Kingdom.
Even lots of people who voted Leave are now experiencing voter’s regret. For example, see the compilation in the Evening Standard, “‘I really regret my vote now’: The Brexit voters who wish they’d backed remain”.
This dissatisfaction is eloquently, passionately expressed in a remarkable piece of writing by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, “I want my country back”. If you haven’t read it, you should stop and view it now. I’ll be waiting here when you return.
Also worth pondering is this fine note “The three tragedies” from the Financial Times comments section.
In this context, and with the benefit of some sleep to clear my mind, I offer a proposal. This is not yet a manifesto, but it’s the draft of a potential manifesto.
Tentatively, I label this proposal BRITE – for BRitain In a Transformed Eu. Here goes. There are three parts to it.
1. A different form of second referendum
In the wake of the first referendum, negotiations must proceed on how Britain could leave the EU. These negotiations will flesh out lots of details that have so far been very vague – details where different members of the Leave campaign expressed starkly different opinions. Once the deal is reached, it will make clear features such as:
- Our new relationship (if any) with the European Economic Area
- The resulting requirements for payments and for open migration of workers
- New trading agreements with countries elsewhere in the world
- What will replace all the EU laws and regulations that currently are taken for granted as parts of British law
- Impacts on Britain’s financial well-being, house prices, pension funds, etc – impacts on both the rich and the poor throughout the country
- The likely future of the UK farming industry, fishing industry, the City of London, and so on.
In parallel, it will become clear how the United Kingdom itself would change:
- Whether Northern Island would leave the United Kingdom and join a United Ireland
- Whether Scotland would leave the United Kingdom
- Borders that would need to be put in place.
But before that deal is actioned, with all its momentous consequences, the UK people should be asked whether they agree with it – or whether, instead, they prefer the UK to remain in what might be a seriously transformed EU.
That would be the second referendum.
2. A transformed EU
As I said, the people have spoken. The current status of the EU is unacceptable.
Quite likely, if there were referendums in other European countries, people in several other countries would, at this time, likewise reject ongoing EU membership. So wide is the distrust of existing government systems.
To my mind, the clearest analysis of the drawbacks of the way the EU is functioning is by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. See for example his analysis of the potential impending disintegration of the EU. Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to the entirety of his recent new book “And the weak suffer what they must”. It was gripping listening. The book is full of important back stories to the current EU situation.
As Citizens of the European Union we demand, effective immediately,
- the live-streaming of the entire European Council, Eurogroup, ESM Board of Governors and Ecofin meetings, and the subsequent publication of official transcripts for all such meetings
- a full set of minutes for each ECB Governing Council meeting to be published three weeks after the conclusion of each regular meeting, and complete transcripts of these meetings to be published within two years
- an exhaustive list of all Brussels lobbyists and a register of every one of their meetings with elected or unelected EU officials
- electronic publication of all TTIP negotiating documents and full transparency at every stage of the TTIP negotiations.
So here’s my proposal. In parallel with the Leave negotiations, supporters of EU reform should be doubling down, hard and skillfully, to accelerate groundswell support for democratic transformation of the EU.
Some skeptics say such a transformation can never take place. I believe they’re unduly skeptical. They are under-rating the reforms that have already taken place, over the history of the EU, and they are under-rating the potential for future change.
But we will see. The UK electorate would have the chance to decide, in, say, 18-24 months’ time, which of two parallel processes have heralded the best future for the UK:
- Brexit – Britain exiting the EU – under the more detailed proposals that have been hammered out by that time (see point 1. above)
- Brite – Britain in a transformed EU – under any progress that has taken place with EU reforms by that time.
3. An inclusive Britain
The third part of what needs to happen is, perhaps, the most important of all. It is to comprehensively address the growing sense of alienation that is widespread in many parts of Britain – parts that are disadvantaged from an economic or inclusive point of view. With justification, these parts feel that Westminster politicians pay them scant attention.
As a futurist, I have been writing for several years (e.g. here) about the growing inequality arising from rapid technological progress. We’re living in an increasing “winner takes all” environment. Some people do very well. Many others are in jobs with slow-growing salaries, with little prospect for improvement. In some parts of the world, life expectancy is actually declining among whole strata of people, due to growing despair as much as to anything else. (Despair leads to alcoholism and drug addiction.) See for example the article “Middle-Aged Americans are Dying of Despair”:
Even as longevity increases across the rich world, uneducated white Americans are living sicker and dying earlier…
This despair is driving populist, ugly, dangerous politics all around the world. It’s a fast-growing trend. Unless politicians address it, quickly and wisely, all bets are all for the future.
This may well require a new coalition in the UK, of progressive politicians who understand the threat, and who are willing to take the courageous, imaginative steps to address it.