“But: sovereignty” – why the question needs to keep on being asked of Brexit as to how any of this is worthwhile

7th February 2021

The front cover of the Observer this morning provides some indication of what the United Kingdom is doing to itself in respect of its botched endeavour of Brexit.

As Michael Gove himself could well put it: this country appears to have had enough of exports.

Elsewhere are news reports of the realisation of Northern Irish unionists that the manner of this Brexit means that there is now a trade barrier down the Irish Sea.

Even the fishermen and fisherwomen, in whose names the very last stand of this government’s Brexit negotiation strategy was made, are unhappy.

Day by day, news report by news report, the true nature of Brexit is becoming apparent.

There will be deflections and misdirections from those who supported and urged through this government’s approach to Brexit.

And, to the annoyance and frustration of those who opposed either Brexit in principle or this government’s Brexit policy in particular, these deflections and misdirections will in good part stick.

There will be no grand ‘oh gosh’ moment when all those responsible for this folly will admit to it having been a folly.


This does not mean that those who are watching this folly unfold should be silent.


For the question that needs to keep on being asked – whether one is against Brexit in principle or this government’s Brexit policy in particular – is simple:

How is any of this worthwhile?

Or alternatively:

What is the point of Brexit?

This is not a complaint from principle but from practice – regardless of one’s view of membership of the European Union, those responsible for the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit policy are still required to justify what they are doing.


The answer from Brexit supporters to the question of why any of this is worthwhile seems to be one word: ‘sovereignty’.

All these disruptions and all these reversals are supposed to be worth it, because of ‘sovereignty’.

But, as this blog has previously averred, the United Kingdom had sovereignty all along.

That is why the United Kingdom was able to decide to leave the European Union, and that is why parliament was able to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.

Sovereignty was never lost.

And to the extent that the United Kingdom was bound by international rules and decisions, this was (and is) no different in principle to the obligations that the United Kingdom has under NATO, or the World Trade Organisation, or the United Nations.

Though curiously, many of those in favour of Brexit are at ease with our obligations in respect of those international organisations, and even boast of trading under ‘WTO rules’ or of the United Kingdom’s permanent membership of the UN security council.

One could even say that Brexit is nothing actually to do with ‘sovereignty’ (with or without scare quotes) and more to do with hostility to the ‘E’ word, Europe.

What Brexit certainly has little to do with in practice is the supremacy of parliament – indeed under the cloak of Brexit, the United Kingdom government is seeking to legislate as much as possible by executive action.

Powers are being taken away by Whitehall from Westminster rather than from Brussels.

Even on the one topic on which the current government has struck lucky – and that was more by chance than design – it was possible under European Union law for the United Kingdom to procure the AstraZeneca vaccine on its own terms.

And, indeed at the time, the United Kingdom was still subject to European Union law under the transition arrangements.


No assertions – however loud – about Brexit in practice being justified by ‘sovereignty’ in principle add up with a moment’s thought.

Not one incident of Brexit so far has shown any value of Brexit as an exercise in regaining ‘sovereignty’.

And this is not so much because Brexiters are wrong to prioritise sovereignty above everything else – but because none of this is really about sovereignty in the first place.

And so the question needs to keep on being asked as to why any of this is worthwhile.

Because it is only by pressing this question that we can ascertain the real reasons for certain botched policies and decisions – and then once the real reasons are ascertained then something useful can be done to mitigate the disruption and damage.

For like some character in an ancient myth or a folklore tale, the United Kingdom has chosen to bring destruction upon itself in supposed pursuit of a thing it had already.


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42 thoughts on ““But: sovereignty” – why the question needs to keep on being asked of Brexit as to how any of this is worthwhile”

  1. I wrote to my local Tory MP who is a government whip to ask if he could give me some examples of how the government planned to use its newfound “control over laws, money and border” to improve people’s lives.

    All he could do in response was to refer me to the Vote Leave web site.

    I replied that after 4 years I expected the government to have some plans and he said he thought there were plenty of papers on the Cabinet Office website (Spoiler: there are not).

    There is nothing. The government is bereft of ideas. They focused on “getting Brexit done” in a way that ameliorated the Tory right and that’s it. They have no further plans.

    Our local MP is a good, decent man but he has sacrificed his integrity for his career. He campaigned for Remain; he knows the UK is suffering badly from this hard Brexit; but he has gone along with it for the sake of his career and been rewarded with a job asa whip. I expect that he will look back with shame on this part of his life.

    1. “use its newfound “control over laws, money and border” to improve people’s lives”

      But for many that’s not the point of Brexit, they see “sovereignty” as something to be hoarded. Brexiteers are sovereignty-misers.

      Once you see “sovereignty” as a currency to be “spent” for the benefit of the people they have to ask themselves awkward questions about the best way to spend it. It gets particularly awkward if you ask them about our control over defence issues.

      We’ve given up the freedom to eg make chemical weapons, because it’s felt that it’s better for the British people to live in a world where chemical weapons are banned. The logic of Brexit would mean dismantling the Chemical Weapons Convention and every country getting back the sovereign right to make chemical weapons. Is that the kind of world they want? Of course what they really want is the British Empire to retain the freedom to make chemical weapons whilst nobody else can – classic cakeism.

  2. Brexit was publicly sold as being about ‘sovereignty’ and thus ‘taking back control’. On social media these ideas were wrapped up in straightforward xenophobia and racism by adverts targeted at individuals identified as being sympathetic to them. The finance for this, so-called ‘dark money’, came from opaque sources.

    While the Tory party was traditionally supported by donations from their community associations and from the City, it is now funded by ‘vulture capitalists’ and ‘hedge funders’, who call the tune. The aim does seem to be deregulation, small state, and raw free trade.

    What you describe as ‘deflections’ and ‘misdirections’ are simply ‘misrepresentations’ which is a euphemism for lies and lying. This, sadly, is now where UK politics is.

    ‘Sovereignty’ was merely the cloak disguising the real purpose.

    1. Just taking your example of raw free trade as an obvious ‘benefit’ of Brexit. I wonder which UK businesses actually wanted raw free trade? The UK can now agree additional trade deals – but trade deals are just the framework, they aren’t actual trade. I don’t recall all those businesses happily trading away with the EU clamouring to change their business model to increase trade friction with their existing clients in order to break into far flung, often mature markets.

      It has always been crystal clear to me what this aspect of Brexit meant and have been astonished by the near silence of the business community in neither endorsing nor opposing it.

      I am resigned to the probability that the blame for all this nonsense will never be placed on those who are responsible. It really isn’t too hard to grasp but will be obfuscated by the dominant Tory media channels.

      1. What could be called “normal” or “ordinary” businesses didn’t want Brexit, or at least what we now have as Brexit.

        Those that did want what we now have were the ones that paid for the advertising on social media, and the “influencing” of more mainstream media and politicians. Their vision, if that’s an appropriate description, seems to be the “Singapore on Thames” model of free ports and enterprise zones, where they are free to do pretty much as they please. The welfare of the ordinary Briton doesn’t enter their calculations.

        The EU views free ports as centres of criminality and money laundering, and wants to abolish them — there are lots scattered around Europe and elsewhere.

  3. The “sovereignty” argument still holds sway among brexit supporters to the extent of ignoring realities which, in fact, is what got us here in the first place.
    The belief that things would be alright on the night prior to leaving the EU, has morphed since into an unshakable notion that things will be alright, eventually.
    When these sovereignty disciples point to a new trade with Albania as yet further proof of their righteous stance, any suggestion of such deals simply preserving the status quo fall on deaf ears.
    Meanwhile, our less scrupulous politicians are happy to fill the Sunday columns to provide the loaves, fishes & rewritten gospels to help keep the dream alive.
    Belief is a really hard nut to crack.

  4. Not only needs the question be asked whether any of this is worthwile, but for whom it is worthwhile. Evidently, businesses across the UK are not finding enjoyment in this newly found freedom, or sovereignty if you will.

    At this point it would be much easier to mention those who profit, or think they profit, from Brexit, but who are they? What industries, what businesses, are the winners of all of this? Where are their success stories, where are the government’s own briefings, praising these brave entrepreneurs?

    The press across the UK is only reporting about the negative economic impact of Brexit to this day and this includes those in the media who have thus far been promoting Brexit for their various audiences. It is thus uncontroversial that there is a negative economic impact of Brexit itself, even when some media pin the blame of ‘new red tape’ on the EU.

    Which then brings us to another question: How is this situation sustainable for HMG? The economy is bleeding, both from Covid-19 and Brexit. Either would’ve been bad enough, which is evident when we look across the world to countries who are affected by one but not the other. Together they create a situation which might very well be unprecedented in the UK’s long and proud history and which is likely to result in the loss of jobs and lifelihoods of millions of people who also happen to be voters. Will these voters eventually wish to install another government, given how this government has promised to do just that but, judging by how things look like now, achieved the opposite?

    Recent polls suggest that this is by no means certain. Conservatives and Labour are both polling around 40% respectively and although this is a already substantially better for Labour than during 2019 General Election, it is by no means certain that a GE now would result in a left leaning government. The success of the Conservative government when it comes to vaccines might indeed tip the balance in their favour even though their inconsistent approach to Covid also resulted in a death toll that, today, in Europe is only surpassed by Belgium when it comes to deaths per capita.

    Where is the UK’s journey heading? Nobody can really say with any degree of certainty. We do know that the both Covid and Brexit have a substantial negative impact on the UK economy. Covid will pass, in due time, HMG’s vaccine program is a ray of sunlight in the darkness.

    Brexit, however, is not going to go away. Some of the teething issues will disappear, people will get to know the processes and eventually, there will be a routing all sides which will smoothen trade across borders. Other issues are created by Brexit itself, by the UK taking the choice of leaving the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union. These issue are here to stay and HMG’s brinkmanship is more likely to make them worse than provide easement.

    Which means that the UK will continue to suffer economically even when Covid is thing of the distant past in public memory.

    Who is going to profit from this? Who in the Conservative and Unionist party, a party that is currently risking not only losing Northern Ireland but also Scotland, thinks that this situation is sustainable even in the short term?

  5. how any of this is worthwhile ? an excellent question !

    thanks for asking it, and keeping on asking it in the future

    of course you provide the answer – please keep doing so !

  6. I used to find Theresa May’s mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” maddening and would call on Leavers to come up with a concrete plan.

    I have since realised that she was, inadvertently no doubt, revealing the truth. Brexit is purely a policy of the imagination, there is nothing more to it than the idea, the dream, of sovereignty. Brexit has no substantive content and for its supporters its practical consequences are neither here nor there.

    Supporters of Brexit feel better about their country – and hence themselves – now that the UK has left the EU. That’s it.

    1. Independence of most nations is largely a policy of the imagination. “We Ruritanians will be better off because we will be free to run our own affairs and be free from the repression of the Baronian Empire that has crushed out culture and exploited us.” Typically there are immediate economic hardships as traditional economic connections are broken and bureaucratic new border controls established.
      The former Soviet empire went through considerable immediate hardship when that empire broke up, even though the potential for self-improvement by leaving was large and evident. Those that remained badly ruled states (Ukraine, Moldova, Turkmenistan, etc) were little able to take advantage of it.
      Ireland went through considerable hardship on leaving the UK. The UK had given them very good reason to want to leave over the centuries. But it was not done for economic gain, and Ireland remained a deprived economic backwater for something like 70 years thereafter. Until some people had a vision as to how it could take advantage of EU membership to thrive.
      There is little evidence that the EU is a yoke at all, at least if you work out how to make the best of it (Ireland, Baltic States, etc). Most countries have thrived fairly quickly by joining it. Some prominent Leavers were reasonably honest about not expecting any material economic gain from leaving. Jacob Rees-Mogg, not usually someone I would normally cite on grounds of honest or perceptive analysis, said that he didn’t expect any economic gain to the nation for least 50 years. Not in his lifetime. A policy of the imagination.

      1. It’s interesting that you mention Ireland (my country). I have never met an Irish person of my own age or younger who opposed our independence, though I am sure that they exist. Once it was done, it was done, whatever the economic consequences. As you say, we became far more of an economic backwater as a result of our independence but my many relatives never blamed independence for the widespread emigration and continued rural poverty which we experienced for so long. Now, thanks to being in the EU most of all, we have a high average standard of living and an outward looking, self confident country.

  7. “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad”. So is the date of Brexiters. They were driven mad by notions of sovereignty. Some of us think they also had other baser motives. UK has failed to reconcile itself to loss of empire and its diminished place in the world. Brexit has guaranteed that this diminution will accelerate with the likely breakup of the Union. Then, perhaps, the English (for Brexit was predominantly driven by English nationalists), when they are alone (with the unhappy Welsh satrapy) may slowly realise that they are a small country in a big bad world of powerful blocs, each of which they have deliberately alienated themselves from and that sovereignty is a chimera, like patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel.

  8. Trying to explain to Brexit supporters that the UK never lost sovereignty citing the points you include above resulted in severe headaches from banging my head against the wall.

  9. Part of the problem is that the word ‘sovereignty’, when used in the context of the EU, refers to our having been subject to a much more complex set of laws and institutions than as members of the WTO, the UN, etc. It was eventually very hard to find any element of UK policy-making that could 100% ignore ‘Brussels’ (or Luxembourg). This was understandably very irksome for UK politicians – especially the more pompous ones.

    The irony, of course, us that we will still (even post-Brexit) find ourselves having to take the EU’s policies, regulations etc. into account when making UK policy decisions. But some of our politicians will appreciate not having to attend (or having their officials attend) meetings in Brussels when doing so. This will make them feel more powerful (‘sovereign’ – as they would describe it) even though they have in practice lost both power and influence.

  10. You ask “how is any of it worthwhile?” Good question which bears repeating.

    “For whom is it worthwhile?” Another question – Answer for a shrinkingly small constituency. In particular the one person who has benefitted above all others, the PM.

    Without the Brexit referendum he would have struggled to succeed Cameron in the short term.

    Now he has to pivot way from Brexit and is coming up with ‘radical’ ideas – the NHS being the latest. But he is incapable of overcoming all the implications of Brexit, even if he can avoid the break up of the Union.

    How will it all develop? First a return to the customs union, associate membership and eventually rejoining the EU as a full member. 20 years at least and I’m hoping to last long enough to march to Whitehall in celebration.

    1. Good for you! The first call out I’ve heard on Johnson’s so-called ‘leaked’ plans for the NHS. It’ll likely come to nought but quite an improvement on the opening up, in the very year that the UK will be hosting COP, of a new coal mine in Cumbria.

  11. wonderfully expressed as usual. I just wish your words could be seriously listened to by the dolts who still bleat on about
    “sovereignty”. If Britain had not kept its sovereignty, how was it able to leave the EU with the latter’s agreement? Contrast Scotland, which requires the London government’s agreement for a meaningful referendum on independence to take place

  12. Quite. However, the question must be directed at the proponents of Brexit and they must be held to provide a proper, meaningful answer.

    Brexit is rather like the tale of Jack selling the family asset, the cow, for five beans except none of these are magic and will not provide any route to a hen which lays pewter eggs – let alone golden ones. Brexit is a confidence trick pulled against the British nation, no doubt somebody stands to gain very handsomely, but it will not be any of the people gulled into supporting it (just ask the fishing industry).

  13. Although I personally regret us leaving the EU, I have always interpreted the word “sovereignty” in the Brexit context as referring mainly to the UK’s ability to decide its own immigration policy and to its trade policy with other countries. Both of these are highly constrained by our membership of the EU.

    1. I can’t agree with regard to immigration. Non-EU immigration was always under full UK control. Teresa May famously decided not to implement EU Single Market rules that meant anyone coming to the UK from a member state had just a 90 day visa in effect, and unless by then they were working, a student, meaningfully self-employed or financially self-sufficient they had to leave. What was never appreciated by Brexiteers was the opportunity available to any Brit to do the same in 27 other countries.

      1. And what an opportunity it was. We lived and worked in Italy for four years and would never have chosen this if we hadn’t known that the answer had to be “yes” when we went through the bureaucratic processes (which Italy never dismantled despite the answer being a given). I have 64 (Irish) first cousins and roughly thirty of them took advantage of the opportunity to live an work in another European country. So different from the average attitude in the UK.

    2. I think this is true for many Brexit voters. However they failed to take into account that our trade policy will be circumscribed by the EU if we want to avoid tariffs on sales in the future. So we have the sovereignty to allow us to adopt policies that in practical terms we cannot, while having sacrificed our power to affect the rules of the single market.

      1. Circumscribed no doubt, but not non existent. We have just applied to join the Trans Pacific Partnership. As we are learning of course, tariffs may not be the main issue where modern trade is concerned. I assume UK consumers will get lower long term prices through Brexit as we can now buy freely from the most efficient producers. The extent to which the EU is a protectionist club masquerading as a free trade advocate shouldn’t be ignored.

  14. Cui Bono?

    Most likely some very rich people, but how?

    We might imagine the economic world as a vast desert with some terra incognita and one major oasis – global capitalism. But everyone is clustered around this oasis. What better idea than to move one’s tribe (especially the poor and useless members) out into the parched area with the promise of pastures new, sunny uplands even. Then leave them there. Might require changes to the benefits and voting regime but whatever.

  15. Brexit was about getting rid of things we didn’t like about Europe whilst claiming we could keep the things that we wanted from Europe – at no cost. Then, when that was shown to be false, it was about claiming that this was yet again the fault of Europe. This only has an emotional reality, it does not have any logical, financial, economic, legal or other reality.

  16. As John B notes, the only bit of sovereignty that has any relevance to Brexit is the ability to control ones immigration policy – he also mentions trade with other countries but in fact this requires some sovereignty compromise and in reality is no different within or without the EU. So it all comes down to immigration. Now opinion polls tell us that the populace is less concerned about immigration now than it was in 2016 but the movers and shakers of the Brexit policy are as a xenophobic as ever, as are much of the Tory shires. It is unfortunately a fact of life in the UK that racism is alive, well and kicking and it is hard to see the country changing in the near or medium term future. So there’s your answer David.

  17. I agree with the first part of your article – the architects of Brexit are unlikely to admit to what is happening being exactly what happens when a country chooses to leave the EU. Maybe people had had enough of exports?

    But the second half of your article I am not sure enough. Saying that we retained sovereignty because we could always have chosen to leave is not the same as saying that whilst within the EU we had similar sovereignty.

    We were part of a supranational organisation – which is why I also don’t agree with a direct comparison between our obligations to any of our intergovernmental arrangements (UN, WTO), which we can not be forced to stick to, and those of our supranational arrangement in the EU, which we were.

    It is possible to admit surely that out of the EU our sovereignty is much less constrained than in the EU, but at a massive price?

    1. I often find it useful to use the analogy of individual people to contemplate these issues, imperfect as it may be. In this case, your argument is equivalent to saying that I lose my Free Will (~sovereignty) if I agree to follow the rules of conduct of e.g. this comment section or the rules of a club. Not so; I can always leave, nobody is going to stop me.

      Some for the UK in the EU. The proof positive that the UK had never lost its sovereignty, and much under-appreciated by Brexiters, is that it was able to leave the EU through the simple act of sending a notification letter. All the other noise about punishment and the EU supposedly wanting to keep the UK in is no more than me complaining that I lose membership benefits once I have left the club whose rules I don’t like.

      It is instructive to compare this process against the processes by which the Republic of Ireland or India were able to leave the Empire, or by which Scotland could become independent. Although we do not live in times where the UK sends in the colonial army to suppress protests, Scotland, for example, needs the permission of the UK government to even ask the question, much less implement a potential referendum result. Accordingly, Ireland or India in 1890, or Scotland right now, are not sovereign, but the UK in the EU has always been.

  18. How much trade/whatever else is worth the cost of “ever closer union”? To most brexiteers nothing could ever be worth “ever closer union” whereas to most pro-EU people “ever closer union” seems not to be mentioned or particularly thought about. So comparisons to NATO and even more so the UN seem absurd. To me this blog item and the comments thus far illustrate that pro-EU and brexiteer viewpoints don’t really seem to overlap or have a common set of beliefs within which to have a discussion. Each side largely speaks to their own echo chamber who all agree that the other side are mad. I shall now take cover from the inevitable incoming hate for having dared disagree with the consensus here…

  19. Good article. I would go further and say that Brexit has in fact *diminished* the UK’s sovereignty.

    The vast majority of areas that were under EU competence were areas that had interconnectedness as a core feature underpinning them. This meant that, in these areas, harmonisation is a leading policy objective for any government, and this remains the case even though the UK is outside the EU.

    So, in practice, this means the UK will now have to be a rule taker in the majority of these areas, as the inefficiency of divergence will far outweigh any substantive tweaks the UK might prefer. Having lost its seat at the table in crafting EU directives, it has lost its ability to help shape the regulation. Instead, it will have to just accept EU law without any say.

    Sure, there will be some areas where we can diverge, to some potential benefit for us, but overall we will often have to subject ourselves to Brussels’ diktat with zero voice for our electorate. Sovereignty indeed.

  20. I voted Remain, like everyone else who’s commented, but let’s keep things in perspective. It’s far too early to assess the consequences of Brexit, although we can say that it’s highly unlikely that the UK would have pursued its own vaccination procurement policy had we still been in the EU.

    As for sovereignty, JohnB is right, and the ECJ is definitely a constraint from which the UK is now freed. (I recommend reading Perry Anderson’s trio of lengthy articles about the EU in recent editions of the London Review of Books; he throws interesting light on how its institutions have evolved, largely without any democratic mandate.) The other main underlying reason for Brexit was that a majority was unconvinced that we got value for money. As Philip Hammond said in his recent interview, that argument didn’t much interest the enthusiasts for the EU as a Good Thing. As he also said, a sensible accommodation on immigration would probably have been enough to change the result, an accommodation that might well have been unnecessary if the Labour government had imposed transitional controls in 2004 on the new entrants. Final point: with good will on both sides, it should be possible greatly to reduce the friction and the cost from the bureaucracy of non-tariff trade barriers. There was more than enough time to achieve that between June 2016 and December 2020.

    1. I can remember reading an analysis (sadly can’t remember where but it was very good) which had the value of the removal of non-tariff barriers being worth 6% of the value of our exports. I guess we’re about to find out the actual costs, but the point is that this value was far greater than our net membership cost of the EU. This is the value/the benefit of being in the Customs Union and Single Market – why do you think the EU are going to ‘give’ this to us?! What goodwill have we shown to them to merit this?! Surely this is our problem, not their problem…….

  21. Not mentioned in this excellent blog post from DAG, or the many comments thereon, with which I am totally in sympathy, is what I & many other staunch Remainers consider a colossal blunder from across the political aisle: namely Keir Starmer’s dreadful decision to whip his MPs to vote for the Brexit deal. (He should have voted against, or at least abstained.)

    Not only was this a terrible decision in principle – politically, economically, culturally, educationally, in terms of national security, and morally – it also exposes him and the Labour Party to the accusation that the did not bother to understand what a truly catastrophic deal Johnson’s government has struck in practical terms, and renders it impossible for him to attack the government for failing to understand that too.

    He is locked in an unintentional (has he even noticed?) Faustian pact with Johnson to humour the Red Wall, whereas telling the Red Wall some home truths about how Brexit was going to mess up their lives and wellbeing good and proper would have been a better long term strategy.

    Where does a moderate liberal centrist turn these days? The Lib Dems seem to be in a death slide. Maybe a huge surge for the Green Party will bring us together?

    Or will Starmer finally acquire a backbone and start telling the truth about Brexit?

    Reading this blog would be – or would have been – a good start.

  22. In 2016, according to Dominic Cummings, the supposed positive economic benefits of Brexit, not sovereignty, were the key reason behind the result of the EU referendum (see comments on this blog below the posts dated 26 December 2020 and 24 January 2021).

    As to the supposed economic benefits of Brexit, the interview with the former Phillip Hammond in November 2020, referred to in this blog on 3 February 2020, concludes: “History will decide. I think I said at the beginning of this interview that the terrible thing here is that I am pretty sure that, in the end, the one thing I can guarantee is that, whether we have a no deal Brexit or a hard Brexit with a deal, the price, the cost that that imposes on the economy, will be pretty much 100% absorbed by exactly the demographic profile that voted Leave and then voted Boris Johnson, having never voted Tory before, in December 2019. I’m pretty sure that is almost exactly the definition of the people who are going to bear the costs of Brexit.”

    During his November 2020 interview Mr Hammond also seems keen to lay as much blame as possible on May’s former chief of staff, Nicholas Timothy. It is therefore worth noting that Mr Timothy has described May’s approach to Brexit as a “damage limitation exercise”:-


    In this context, Labour’s position on Brexit, and its recently reported decision to try and rebrand itself by focusing on patriotism, is a disappointing and disturbing development:-


    The EU’s position that the single market was indivisible during the Brexit negotiations meant that it would not have been possible for Labour, or any other political party in the UK, to negotiate a form of Brexit that delivered the “exact same benefits” as the UK enjoyed as members of the single market and customs union-the second of Labour’s six tests:-


    Labour’s six tests are evidentially significant as they represent the product of an unrealistic/unobtainable compromise struck by a political party divided on the issue of Brexit and how to try and respect the result of the 2016 referendum without destroying the UK’s economy.

    There was, and is, no such thing as a “good” Labour Brexit. In 2019 Labour Remain calculated that Labour’s Brexit plans would have cost the economy £24 billion per year devastating the spending plans set out in Labour’s 2017 manifesto.

    Unable to say “no” to Brexit and openly admit that it was, and is, “a damage limitation exercise” the Labour Party, under both Corbyn and Starmer, may therefore have been “overawed” for the purposes of section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848, an offence created to oppress the Chartist movement:-


    (For further information on the application of the offence of treason felony also known as “open and advised speaking” to the 2016 EU referendum, including a link to a series of five articles published in the New Law Journal see comment below the blog posted on 14 September 2020.)

  23. “Sovereignty” is quite the trigger word for those of us who lived through the Quebec push for independence from Canada. It began with violence in 1970, continued with the election of a pro-independence Provincial government in 1976, then two failed referenda, one in 1980 and one in 1995. The issue is currently somewhat dormant, but may well re-emerge at any time.

    It did begin with a valid reason: the French-speaking majority in Quebec were being held down, both by the English *elites* and by their own Catholic Church. Speaking as part of the English speaking minority (a “maudite anglaise”) a lot has changed from my perspective, some but not all for the better.

    Canada has so far held together in my opinion because the Federal Government gave Quebec massive leeway to determine its own policies.

    I see many parallels between Brexit and the mindset behind Quebec independence, not the least of which is the word sovereignty, which is the same word in French, plus an accent or two.

  24. Having followed the Brexit discussion as a European, it appears to me that there is a relatively small number of underlying reasons or, perhaps, Actual Arguments that people had in their minds for leaving, overlaid by a much larger number of rationalisations. I would count sovereignty under the latter, whereas the Actual Arguments are:

    1) Wanting to see less foreigners. (This includes the misunderstanding that e.g. immigrants who came from southern Asia decades ago would magically disappear on the day after the referendum, and also the incoherence of selling Brexit to white Brits with the idea that there’d be less Asians and at the same time selling it to ancestrally Asian UK citizens that there’d be more opportunities for Asian immigration when free movement from the EU had been abolished.)

    2) The idea that the EU was headed for economic and/or fiscal collapse and/or holding the UK back with its regulations and/or low growth, and that the UK needed to break free or be dragged down. We are still waiting for the collapse, and it is singularly interesting that the argument relied on the UK having higher growth rates than other EU countries *while being in the EU*.

    3) Pure, visceral hatred of the EU. This is one for psychologists and arguably beyond my ken. But I find convincing, although I do not remember where I read it first, the suggestion that it is based on a similar worldview as Trump’s: everything is zero-sum and competition, as opposed to win-win and “we’re stronger together”; therefore if the UK isn’t visibly calling the shots in the EU like in its former empire then the only alternative is that Germany must be secretly dominating the UK, which is obviously not acceptable to a patriot.

    The point is, if one wants to convince people it seems more useful to address their Actual Arguments rather than their rationalisations that can be picked and discarded and contradict each other from one media cycle to the next.

    And here, I think, and as also implied in the OP, lots of people still do not realise, or find it difficult to accept, how important the third of the Actual Arguments I listed is. Therefore they try to make only cases like “removing Free Movement also makes us less free” or the economic benefits of SM membership, while neglecting to address plain, simple, animosity against the existence of the EU as such.

    And while one might argue that the first two Actual Arguments have become less important, what with it being too late to avert Brexit, the third one remains highly relevant because the EU still exists, and irrational hatred of it will make negotiating with each other and getting along in general much more difficult.

    1. I once asked a friendly acquaintance who was at one time the youngest national newspaper editor in the country (so no fool), why he voted to leave. After much more digging by me, it emerged that having been a young child in WW2, his view had been formed through a dislike of Germany.
      For him, pure emotion!

      1. Can’t argue with emotion, of course. But I wonder if for some of them it would be possible to get through with specific evidence that the EU is not dominated by a single country, if the constant drumbeat of anti-EU propaganda could somehow be quarantined off for a bit.

  25. We had the Brexiter version of sovereignty until we joined the EU (or its predecessor). We didn’t like it. We were the sick man of Europe. We begged to be let in to the club. We didn’t like being in the club. We voted to leave. And now we don’t like that either!

    What, oh what, does this silly country want? We’re like a herd of cows forever perceiving the grass in the next field as better. “Mustn’t grumble” used to be a national mantra, yet grumbling is our modus vivendi. There’s something in the British psyche that renders us Eeyores when life as a Piglet or Tigger is oh-so-much better.

    To hell with sovereignty – just give me the freedom to bounce about throughout 28 countries instead of being confined to a solitary island of thistles.

  26. Well, if you asked people why they intended to vote to leave or remain just before the referendum in 2016, you’d have got answers that look like this: https://www.britishelectionstudy.com/bes-findings/what-mattered-most-to-you-when-deciding-how-to-vote-in-the-eu-referendum/

    For leavers, it was “immigration”, “control” “borders” and “sovereignty”.

    For remainers, it was “economy”, “trade”, “jobs”, “rights”, “security” and “stability”. (The last two reflecting the fact that the EEC / EU is and was not just an economic partnership – it was founded in large part to bring the peoples of Europe together and make another war in Europe unthinkable.)

    The evidence so far suggests the remainers were right to be concerned about those issue.

    It is not so clear that the leavers have got – or will get – what they said they wanted.

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