Our Leaders are Living in Brexit CloudCuckooLand. It’s Up to Us Whether We Do Too

Any chess player would recognise that the moves of British politics have left voters in a state of zugzwang.

Calling the election because she wanted to re-affirm last year’s referendum result, the Prime Minister has tried to campaign upon her leadership skills. Avoiding voters at every turn, she has reduced the debate to the simplest of slogans. Her current woes stem not just from her manifesto u-turn but from her unexciting personality - sometimes a strength - that could not hide the vacuity at the heart of her “Strong and Stable” campaign.

Throughout May has been unable to define what "the promise of Brexit" is. Trade agreements with countries such as India and China will carry as many restrictions as EU membership without any compensating advantages. Her negotiating stance risks making foes out of recent allies. Most worryingly, she has continued to insist that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. It may sound forthright but is meaningless. No deal is a bad deal. No deal could see us crash out of the EU and not settle our financial obligations, a terrible message from a country reliant on heavy borrowing from foreign lenders.

If May has wanted Brexit to dominate, Labour have been keen to talk about anything but. Yes, Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, has laid out Labour’s negotiating priorities but since, Jeremy Corbyn has preferred to talk about his transformational politics while John McDonnell showers goodies upon the electorate.

Labour’s approach to Brexit accepts immigration control as a red line. They may avoid setting a cap like the Tories but their position also effectively rules out Single Market membership. For Labour, Brexit means what Theresa May has told them it will be.

The Tories are being deceitful by pretending - or worse, actually believing - that Brexit presents an opportunity for promised sunny uplands, but Labour are being equally dishonest. Jeremy Corbyn has no experience of inter-governmental negotiation; even Starmer, potentially a fine negotiator, has only been in parliament for two years and has never held ministerial office. While the Tories are blithe, Labour are woefully unprepared and Corbyn fixated by personal priorities.

The aphorism “fiddling while Rome burns” does the situation little justice: the main parties have set up a whole orchestra to play. And if the Tories started the fire with their referendum, then Corbyn casually fanned the flames when he nodded Article 50 thought Parliament.

In the face of this willful denial, how can any publication endorse either party except to pander to prejudice?

Like the chess player in zugzwang, whatever choice voters make it will leave Britain weaker.

 be radical and vote tactical

If it seems we are being presented with options too good to be true, that is because they are too good to be true. Our exports to the EU are 27% of GDP and imports are 29%. The EU is the biggest investor in the UK accounting for 44% of all investment. These are governed by rules that have developed over decades and there is unlikely to be anything in place by March 2019. Our whole mode of government is connected to the EU. It is frankly delusional to pretend there is not a massive, traumatic and dramatic cost to leaving.

The tumult of the campaign has hidden this election’s real issue. The relative stability of the post-referendum economy has masked the greatest devaluation in British economic history. It has also obscured that Brexit has not actually happened. Because some of the more extreme predictions did not immediately materialise, it does not follow that all will be well: the UK outperformed other G7 economies last year but that performance has since weakened markedly.  

It is this magazine’s belief that Brexit will be inferior to the present arrangement rejected by voters. Worse, an unsuccessful negotiation will cripple our economy as opposed to merely impeding it.

Despite the huge gulfs elsewhere, the manifesto positions of the two main parties on Brexit are separable by the thinnest of thin cigarette paper, but the referendum saw moderate Tories place their cross in the same box as passionate internationalist left-wingers; Lib Dems voted alongside Labour, Unionists with SNP. The wolf truly did live with the lamb.

Those who fear that Britain is sleepwalking into a disastrous negotiation have made a stand: some voted according to their principles against the triggering of Article 50; others, such as Chuka Umunna, have passionately argued for continued Single Market membership. Open Britain has been campaigning for MPs of all colours, based on their beliefs not their tribal loyalty. The referendum was a democratic vote but so is a general election.

Radicalism is a word used too carelessly. The overwhelming probability is that this election will see partisan loyalty trump true radicalism. It does not have to be that way. Voters have an opportunity to select candidates on their merit. And surely the responsibility has to be to vote for the candidate who is most aware of the risks of the next few years, and will fight tooth and nail to stop disaster -  whatever party they belong to.

So free your mind from the polls, from the pundits and from the siren call of leaders: be radical and vote tactically. Our politics may not deserve it but the country needs it.

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About the author

Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.

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