Gavin Lundy: Why I think Brexit won’t really happen


SNP Youth member Gavin Lundy says the prospect of a full Brexit following the General Election looks less likely

THE last few days of British politics have played out like a distillation of the overall mess that the UK is in. 

Theresa May called this election to strengthen her mandate to conduct the Brexit negotiations. It was supposed to be the Brexit election. Well, prime minister, our friends in Europe are waiting for you. Tick tock.

Jeremy Corbyn should now be realising that he can implement some of his manifesto while outside of government; including keeping the UK in the single market. If he isn’t realising it, backbenchers of all stripes are. 

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May now finds herself in a laughably tenuous position. Months ago Corbyn’s hold on leadership was visibly weak while May was safe. Positions are now irreversibly switched. The parliamentary Labour party is now behind Corbyn. He looks like he’ll be able to whip votes together, May doesn’t.

When negotiations conclude, the House of Commons will vote on the terms of Brexit. This is where things become interesting. If May somehow manages a deal with the EU, it will look a lot like a hard Brexit outside of the single market.

Labour will be in a position to vote against this deal, keeping the UK in the single market as Corbyn set out in his manifesto. Having been consistent in its support for Scotland’s place in the single market, the SNP bloc will also support such a veto.

The Liberal Democrats would also enthusiastically support such a move. With the help of some others, this pro-single market bloc will be touching a majority. It would take just a handful of Tory rebels to beat May’s brittle government.

Given the Tory history of internal rebellion and regicide, it wouldn’t be a challenge getting some Tory MPs onside. We could start with Ken Clarke, Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Nicky Morgan. 

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A well-executed move like this initiated by the opposition parties could prevent the largest economic self-immolation of any major country this century.

At this point you may be glancing at the title thinking, “but how would that stop Brexit?”. I’ll grant you, single market membership may seem like a hollow victory to those of us who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU. But single market access is de facto EU membership.

For now, Remainers should be prepared to accept that single market access is, in many ways, the same as EU membership. This would come at the cost of Britain losing representation in the European Parliament, its commissioner and its seat on the council. But this would be a price worth paying to mend the impact of the selfish decision that David Cameron made in calling the referendum.

With single market access, the UK would enjoy almost all of the economic benefits of full EU membership and trade would be as free as ever. All the people of Britain would be free to travel, work, live, and love across the European Union. The value of this can never be underestimated. 

The caveat is that we would have to accept that these freedoms go both ways. But what self respecting internationalist would deny these freedoms? Would Labour vote against membership of the single market on these grounds? Would absolutely all of the Tories? Do the people of Britain really care enough about EU migration to restart the great ‘debate’ of 2016? Somehow, I don’t think so.

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With single market access, the UK will resign itself to a position of attaché to an increasingly coherent European Union; quietly keeping the economic benefits of EU membership, but never again voicing its interests at the table. 

Who knows? This state of affairs might exist for years before anyone cares enough to do anything about it. If the UK really did find itself in this situation, then then surely we would absolve the past and rejoin. But then again, hard eurosceptics are exceptionally gifted at inventing new grievances.

From the perspective of the EU-27, an arrangement like this is simply the ideal synthesis.

They get to trade with the UK, the UK counts towards the GDP of the single market, and best of all, the British government won’t be able to get in the way as it has for decades. A more coherent EU without shrinking.

This is all predicated on the assumption that the Tories will survive in government. If they do not, then a second election will be held which will likely result in a Labour government under Corbyn, with single market membership in mind. 

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This only strengthens the case that the UK will remain attached to the EU in some fashion. If another election does not occur, then keeping the UK in the single market with a pro-EU alliance offers him some redemption for the uselessness of the Labour campaign to remain.

For a Brexit outside of the single market, May would have to negotiate a magical deal that the EU would never agree to, or go for a hard Brexit, which parliament wouldn’t accept.

Simultaneously, any deal outside the single market would have to have some kind of arrangement to settle the Irish border question – while the UK Government is propped up by the DUP. May would also have cling on to her place as prime minister and keep her party in government. 

If all of this was even possible, our new Iron Lady is in no way competent enough to pull it off, and neither are any of her Brexit colleagues in the Tory party.

Like Cameron, May gambled everything on one vote. She had the audacity to claim her government was acting in the national interest while making Britain the subject of continental pity.

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The Tories who said this was a “Brexit Election” – where does that leave us? It leaves us with a governmental crisis. May will struggle to implement her programme at all and she will never get a majority of MPs to vote against the UK’s economic interest by approving a hard Brexit. 

In fact, the only scenario where a hard Brexit happens is if the EU becomes sick of the tedium of dealing with the Tory party. Maybe that’s May’s plan after all. 

But if the EU has shown us anything over the years: it is patient.

Picture courtesy of airpix

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