Pointing out the United Kingdom government negotiated and signed the Northern Irish protocol is not enough – those opposed to the government’s post-Brexit approach also need a positive policy

13th June 2021

‘I told you so.’

These is perhaps the most dangerous four-word phrase in the English political lexicon.

And the danger is that the one who did tell others so then just shrugs, and does nothing more.


A political idiot does [x], even though you (and others) averred that [x] would be irresponsible and dangerous.

Of course: it is natural and right to point out the idiot did [x] even though the irresponsible and dangerous idiocy was both foreseen and foreseeable.

And this is what this blog did yesterday.


It is not sufficient.

The government can (and will) just shrug off the criticism.

And a sufficient number of voters will nod-along with the government, regardless of these errors being pointed out.

Any sensible person knows that the government made serious mistakes forcing though Brexit at speed and without a plan, and in signing up to a withdrawal agreement without understanding or caring what it said.

It is bleedingly obvious.

But there is only so much purchase in pointing this out, and that purchase is unlikely to extend to changing any voters’ minds.

Something more is needed.

Something positive.


The biggest problem in the politics of the United Kingdom at the moment is that neither the government nor the official opposition have any substantial positive vision of the United Kingdom after Brexit.

The government, having obtained Brexit, is the proverbial dog that caught the car.

And the opposition are refusing to engage with Brexit at all, fearful of the repercussions of mentioning it – and a cowered opposition is, of course, a useless opposition.


It is fun – and easy – to point out the government entered the Northern Irish protocol of its own free will.

The pressure to sign it at speed was self-inflicted.

We know this, and they (if ministers are honest with themselves) know this.

Yet the protocol was only, in effect, a backstop and an insurance policy (though less of a backstop and an insurance policy than the proposed formal arrangements it replaced in the course of the negotiations).

And what is the positive vision of the post-Brexit relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union?

Does anyone – anyone at all – have a positive vision of what happens next?


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47 thoughts on “Pointing out the United Kingdom government negotiated and signed the Northern Irish protocol is not enough – those opposed to the government’s post-Brexit approach also need a positive policy”

  1. A very rapid more towards Scottish independence within the EU, and Irish unification. The only brexit dividend.

  2. The obvious answer is SM+CU

    I guess that the opposition believe that too.

    I also guess its all about timing. The opposition believe that the current plan has got to be seen to fail by the ordinary man in the street before they can propose this.

    I am not sure they are right but I can see their point. their noses will be ground into the ground if they are at all negative about Brexit.

    I certainly think they should be pointing out the worst issues as they happen and referencing SM+CU was an option that was in line with the vote and pointing out that HMG is putting ideology above common sense and that Torys have lost their mantra as a “safe pair of hands”

  3. I’m going to be following these comments with interest. I’ve been looking for one of these since June 2016, as well as the fabled Brexit benefits.

    The only outcome I can possibly see as less than completely negative is one that basically undoes Brexit (aka BINO), such as membership of the EEA – which of course is politically unachievable in the near term, not to mention it is more a mitigation of its myriad disbenefits than a positive vision.

    So let’s hear them, make my week/year!

  4. “Does anyone – anyone at all – have a positive vision of what happens next?”

    Yes. As a first step, the polity that is the UK must re-acquire a clear-eyed view of reality. Only then can different plans for the future be examined.

    How can that clear-eyed view be achieved? Something must cause a damburst of honesty among politicians and media. That may sound farfetched, but it may be more achievable than it seems.

    I have faith that a great many able and honourable politicans and commentators have been caught up in the madness and – fearful to break ranks – are just waiting for the tide to turn. The British cannot be as they now appear, can they?

  5. Yesterday I meant to quote Tim Harper’s latest FT magazine article- “rationality is an assumption I make about other people. Rationality is the best predictive assumption available. If irrational behaviour is random it’s effects may average out” David Friedman – Hidden order the economics of everyday life. Waiting for the irrational to be averaged out.

  6. “Yet the protocol was only, in effect, a backstop and an insurance policy (though less of a backstop and an insurance policy than the proposed formal arrangements it replaced in the course of the negotiations).”

    I don’t understand this point. There is no backstop or insurance element in the operative protocol – these notions existed only in connection with Theresa May’s proposed Brexit Withdrawal agreement – a defunct appendix to it – whereby NI would be retained within aspects of the single market & the UK as a whole within a common customs territory with the EU.

    As the journalist Lisa O’Carroll pointed out: “Overall the backstop has essentially been replaced by a full stop whereby Northern Ireland remains aligned to the EU from the end of the transition period for at least four years. A change can only happen if it is voted on by the Stormont assembly…”

    And Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief negotiator in the Good Friday Agreement stated: “the backstop is…transformed…from a fallback into the definitive future arrangement for NI with the province remaining in the single market and customs union”.


    This followed on from Boris Johnson’s letter to Donald Tusk on 19th August 2019, in which he said: “…the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement.”


  7. Brexit and ‘Global Britain’ are the latest and very potent forms of English/British exceptionalism, that addictive drug that has been dealt by Westminster politicians of right and left for decades.

    The viewpoint for the ‘positive vision’ has to be that Britain is a part of, and therefore needs, Europe; that Britain can no longer ‘lead in Europe’, because Europe is largely the EU; that the EU is almost certainly here to stay (and its breakup would not in any case be in the UK’s interests); and that the UK is outside it looking in, able to make itself useful in many ways and thereby wield influence, but ultimately in a subordinate relationship with a much larger neighbouring power and shut out of its decision-making. That’s Brexit.

    That’s also a painful and unwelcome message to many British, especially English, people, but until it’s accepted I don’t think it will be possible to reset relations with the EU. No matter how ‘cowered’ (cowed? coward? cowering? all three?) opposition politicians are going to have to bite this bullet sooner or later.

  8. Rejoin.
    It’s possible, it’s not illegal, it’s beneficial.
    This is not a sarcastic or jaded comment.
    Rejoining the EU will make us richer, make us happier, make goods cheaper, save jobs, spur inwards investment, and foster educational and cultural ties.
    It will be great and people should be arguing for it. Our opposition should be arguing for it.
    It’s a great idea. We should do it.

    1. Although I agree with you in rejoining, I don’t feel that currently enough people who voted for Brexit will have seen the disadvantages of it.
      It also must be appreciated that if/when we rejoin, it won’t be under the same terms we left. I believe that we would have to adopt the euro, definitely would not have the same influence on important issues, and a lot more besides I imagine (I’m no expert)

    2. I agree with Martin, to persist with something so blatantly broken (brexit) is an act of national masochism.

      Rejoining is the obvious answer.

  9. As you say we need a long term vision of how the EU/UK relationship will work.

    For many Remainers that vision is rejoining the EU and they find helping to achieve a workable status outside of the EU as inimical to that vision.

    Many leading Brexiters (obviously Johnson) built their political careers on antagonism towards the EU. Articulating and working towards a vision of harmonious relations with the EU is equally foreign to their interests.

    Others, including the current Labour leader, just want to move on from a topic where they have suffered politically and feel they have nothing to win. Others just want to move on full stop.

    So no one feels it is in their interests to engage seriously with the topic.

    As others have said: what a mess.

  10. The Government needs brexit to be a success. The current policy is risking that success with no visible path to avoidance of the risk being realised. So, a change of policy is required. The new approach should do several things:
    1. It should improve the current state of the relationship with Europe.
    2. It Must respect the Good Friday agreement and the status of NI as part of the UK.
    3. It must show the UK remains a treaty abiding state.
    4. It should settle brexit in that it cannot be easily reversed and must be lived with.
    An obvious solution would be to dismiss Lord Frost, who is trying to renege on the deal he negotiated, recommended and the PM signed.
    The PM should acknowledge that Frost made a profound error. and finally the UK should rejoin the Customs Union, which we were all told, including all the leave voters, would be the case after we left the EU. All these serious issues would then evaporate, and the Conservative party may get surprisingly high marks for honesty and pragmatism.

    1. The Government needs brexit to be a success.

      I don’t believe that’s true. Brexit was simply a route to power for Johnson and his cabal.

      In the short to medium term (up to the next election, certainly) it will be enough for them to continue demonising the EU for the damage Brexit is causing (like Andrea Leadsom recently – shamelessly – asserting that the UK now being treated like any other Third Country; and the EU expecting the UK to honour the Protocol; prove that the EU is “punishing” the UK – “kicking us because we had the temerity to leave“, to quote her directly) and this nonsense will keep enough of The Base onside to get them re-elected.

      After that, when the penny finally drops for the electorate, it’ll be directorships in merchant banks and the after-dinner speech circuit for most of them: they have literally nothing to lose from the hurt that Brexit must cause.

      There’s no “making Brexit work”, as any Brexit which involves rejoining the CU and SM, either actually or effectively (which is what it would take) won’t be Brexit, it will be the Brino many of us hoped for.

  11. Ideally, Labour would enthusiastically support the Protocol, saying that it’s what the electorate voted for in 2019 and it should be delivered. After all, it has a mandate and it would be undemocratic to try to reverse that. But Labour MPs aren’t enthusiastic about it, and are no good at acting (a skill which Johnson has in spades).

    Then there’s the Northern Ireland unionist parties. NI unionists desperately need the Protocol to work. If it collapses, either there are issues on the land border which push the country towards a reunification vote, or there’s economic disaster for NI. But the UUP are in a state of collapse and the DUP for some reason are actively trying to wreck the protocol.

    Then there’s the nationalists, but for all they want the protocol to work, they’re aware that its failure advances the cause of reunification, so their support isn’t as solid as it might be.

    Then there’s the Lib Dems. Do they still exist? They’ve gone very quiet. And I have no idea what their policy is. A lot of their members probably oppose the protocol because it’s part of Brexit. But I’m guessing.

    Then there’s the SNP, but they’re quite happy with the state of collapse in English politics, thank you very much, and aren’t about to help.

    So we’re left with the NI Alliance Party. Who have a politically astute leader and are great people, but if the future of the UK depends on that tiny group of activists then we should probably just accept that we’re going to lose.

    In the end, Johnson will follow his usual strategy of accepting catastrophic defeat, claiming it’s a victory and winning votes. I’m not sure whether he’ll do that by giving in to the EU or by tearing up his own Protocol and leaving us back with no deal. Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. But he’s very confident in his ability to talk his way out of any situation, and so far he’s being proved right.

    1. For what it is worth – which is not very much at the moment – the main plank of Lib Dem policy as I understand it is for the UK to rejoin the single market and customs union, but in the meantime to support the implementation of the NI protocol, as the deal that both the EU and the UK have signed up to, in the interests of upholding the Good Friday Agreement. There is a positive vision of the future there – or at least a less negative one – but there does not seem to be a groundswell of support for it yet.

      I’ve heard it suggested that both sides need to compromise. I understand that the EU is being asked to be “pragmatic” about holding the UK to the deal it agreed, but what compromise is the UK prepared to offer in return?

    2. Unlike Johnson, the Lib Dems do actually have a post Brexit policy which does not jeopardise the GFA and makes the NI Protocol redundant. At their last conference the membership passed a motion committing to working to strengthen ties with the EU in the short term, including Customs Union or Single Market membership.
      As a matter of interest, the NI Alliance Party, which you apparently admire, is the sister party of the Lib Dems.

  12. Maybe a future government (obv. not thos Tory hard brexit one) rejoining the customs union, with the homologation of standards required to do so?

  13. Don’t think so Mr Green. Nothing positive can happen while the current Prime Minister is in place. Rather it will get worse. For sure the opposition needs to get its act together, by eventually breaking the FTPT hegemony, but that is only going to happen by getting through to a proportion of his supporters. I’m afraid his supporters appear to me not to be people who are looking for alternative policy ideas, . It will need a consistent focus on the sub-groups of his supporters to see how best to unpeel those layers of support. A good place to start might be to identify the subgroups of his supporters whom he has betrayed ( a rapidly growing number, as it must be, given how he behaves) and see how best to get them to trust an alternative. And never miss an opportunity to puncture his bloated. narcissitic self-image.

  14. Make a positive case, you say. That ought to have been done in 2016 and we would not be in this mess now. I am a Europhile, but one area that I criticise the EC for is their failure to engage with civil society on the benefits of EU membership (hardly a surprise, since it is the responsibility of the nation states).
    Brexit is a lie; the NHS is not getting £350 million a week; nations are not queuing up to sign trade deals with the UK; we cannot have our cake and eat it; we do not hold all the cards. The question is when will the opposition parties tell itlike it is? Brown has already made an overt call to re-join the EU; it is LibDem policy, but the arguements that should have been deployed in 2016 must be enhanced and deployed now.

  15. Two observations on the need for a strategic view of the future;
    1. In his research paper for Chatham House, Robin Niblett argues that the U.K. should make the most of its independence and influence as a ‘global broker’, and addresser of the world’s intractable problems, summarised as; protecting liberal democracy; promoting international peace and security; tackling climate change; enabling greater global health resilience; championing global tax transparency and equitable economic growth; and defending cyberspace.
    Details – https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/2021-01-11-global-britain-global-broker-niblett.pdf
    Two major attempts have been made in the past week (international tax accord and G7 gathering). Covid-permitting, in November the next COP 26 meeting will be held in Glasgow.
    Many criticisms can (and will) be levelled at the Johnson government for immediately back-tracking on commitments (in word and/or spirit) and of lacking the intellectual depth to engage global peers. Moreover, the Niblett message has yet to be packaged in retail firm as a operating definition of ‘Global Britain’.

    2. The Swiss represent the likely path for the U.K. in dealings with the EU. As with Switzerland, an effective working relationship with the EU is essential. As with Switzerland, it will regularly be necessary to punch above the nation’s relative political weight, at least for public display purposes.
    The political strategy of Mr Johnson’s Brexit Britain is to continue casting the EU as the ‘baddies’, (not dissimilar to his predecessors) as – aided and abetted by the popular press – it serves his purpose of maintaining executive power.

  16. Currently the DUP is in a mess, the SNP are in a mess, the Tory party is due a fall and Labour is like a tanker stuck mid Suez Canal. At least Israel has shown us a way to get rid of a divisive leader.

  17. Suppose Dad blew the kids’ college fund at the races, what then would be the positive vision for the family?

    Especially when Dad maintains his horses should have won, but something went awry with the jockeys/racetrack/bookies.

    Perhaps Mum can dump Dad and marry a nice accountant.

  18. I’m sorry to be so cynical here, but the outcome is a success for the conservative party. They are in power with a big majority and the opposition is in disarray. That appears to be their only measure of success.
    Until that changes, nothing positive about brexit will gain traction. So the only way to change the impasse is for the collapse in support of the conservative party. Only once that happens will there be a possibility of persuading the electorate that a better alternative exists (for all sorts of aspects of life, not necessarily or exclusively brexit). We can hope that that would also get you to a positive vision of post brexit Britain.

  19. We need an ‘English Party” of the middle ground, prepared to work with sensible people in other parties and with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who’s aims will be to work for our country and our people’s best interests, to negotiate with the EU for the most positive arrangements we can with a view to eventually rejoining, and to promote PR so that we will never again have to endure the endless swings from Left and Right. A centre party for common sense. If the Brexit Party could come from nowhere and have such huge influence then so can the English Party. Flag a Union Jack with one segment a St George’s flag.

  20. The Cons will endlessly weaponise Brexit “punishment beatings” and go to an early election on the back of “we got Brexit done”, and “we sorted Covid”. They will continue to taunt the EU, daring the EU to call their bluff over their repudiation of the NI sections of the FTA. The Cons will continue to try to split the EU, witness inviting Orban to #10, and witness the bilateral negotiations on security between UK-FR, UK-GE, UK-IT, etc; and the relevant big defence projects (esp Tempest vs FCAS). Critically the Cons will continue as a populist English nationalist positioning and in their next manifesto they will promise to take powers to neuter the devolved administrations, enshrine the primacy of Westminster over the DAs, roll out FPTP for all UK elections, and probably make it illegal to question the unity of the UK (i.e. the Spanish option). They will further remove powers from the judiciary, and further reduce the BBC. They will call a snap election with this programme fast before the Brexit chickens are too visible above the Covid dust, and before the SNP and Sinn Fein can make too much more progress. They already control the mass media, and the BBC is utterly cowed so there are not many channels to reach Brexit man/woman.

    Against that lot the only realistic whole-UK response is for a pan-UK anti-Con electoral pact. I do not think that likely – none of the individuals or organisations have the capabilities required to address this. To beat the Cons to the draw the SNP will need to move very quickly on IndyRef2. The EU will need to be firm and fast to force the consequences onto the cosciousness of the UK electorate before the Cons have had the chance to get their agenda embedded for a next term. It is not looking good in the short term.

    1. Some comments in reply
      1). You talk of “repudiation of the NI sections of the FTA” – the NIP is part of the Withdrawal Agreement which is an international treaty. The EU-UK Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed 11 months later and is separate and its also not a comprehensive FTA but really just WTO with zero tariffs and lots of NTB’s which can currently be overcome because at present UK law and regs match EU law and regs very closely having just left the EU.

      2). The UK is not a unitary state like Spain with a overarching federal constitution but is 4 kingdoms plus a few others (e.g. Isle of Man) each linked in a patchwork of treaties made and amended or replaced over hundreds of years and which together form the constitutional framework of the UK.
      NI and Scotland have a different constitutional status to each other and to England & Wales. NI and Scotland have there own legal systems and courts whereas England Wales operate under English law and courts.

      Yes the IMB was an attempt to override the constitutional protections of NI (NI now dropped from the IMB) and of Scotland. Its now in abeyance as the IMB has not been re-tabled in the HoC but simply put the IMB would not survive a challenge in the Supreme Court. To make it illegal for the SNP to promote separation would require demolishing the 1707 Act of Union of Scotland and England.

      As regards NI, dating from the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which set down the status of the then SI and of NI post partition, NI has been self governing and a part of the UK and simultaneously a part of the whole island of Ireland ‘which will one day be reunited’ to use the language of the Act. The 1920 Act superseded the 1801 Act of Union of NI and GB. Constitutional experts of the day compared the new self governing status of SI and NI to that of Dominion recently granted to Canada and Australia.
      Written into the 1920 Act (specifically at the behest of the NI Protestants who did not trust Westminster) is the stipulation that the status of either SI or NI could only be changed by a binding referendum called by their own parliament. No permission is required from Westminster nor can a change be imposed.
      The fact that NI is unique is clearly seen in the fact that all born in NI are citizens of both Ireland and of the UK.

      The GFA is an international treaty that ended what was a civil war (The Troubles) was brokered by, and is guaranteed by, the USA strengthened this unique status and is written into UK law (Government of NI Act), into EU treaty law and into international law with the UN Court. The GFA was passed by a huge majority in a binding referendum in NI.

      A hard Brexit means a border with the EU across the channel but cannot mean a border across the island of Ireland but instead a border in the Irish Sea.

      Raab and Johnson are parroting the line of militant Protestant unionists (today a minority even the Protestant community in NI) who never have accepted the 1920 Act (because it lays out that partition is a temporary solution) nor the 1998 GFA (because its PR voting system means a Catholic led government sooner rather than later and they -wrongly- fear a drive for immediate reunification. The Troubles came to be precisely because of a decades long systematic attempt to extirpate the Irish language and culture in NI by the Protestant led government and to remove civil rights from Catholics.

      Unionists have built a complex mythology that NI is constitutionally just like England and Wales which is patently false. Quixotically they cling to the idea that the 1801 Act of Union of GB and Ireland is still in force and a few weeks ago went to the High Court in Belfast arguing that the NIP breaks the 1801 Act!

      Macron was better informed about the constitutional arrangements of the UK than its own PM and FS.

      1. AW, I fully agree with you re the legality(ies) of the existing position. The broad thrust of the points I was trying to make are that I also expect the Cons to seek to change the laws and (where relevant) the treaties as well as to simply flout them. “Will of the people” and “new constitutionl settlement” for a “perpetual union” and suchlike will likely be in the next Con manifesto, and thereby they will seek legitimacy for subsequent actions. Not a pretty sight, but one I sadly expect hence my pointing this out. It is not enough for Remain/Rejoiners to say what they would do differently, they also need to think ahead to anticipate the Con-Populists’ next moves and to think how to counter them, and who might be the allies of Remain/Rejoin, and how their allies might also respond.

  21. This is a genuinely difficult question, to the point where I am not sure there is a convincing answer. First off, it is asking an awful lot of those who have spent five years warning what would happen to now provide a positive policy to address the situation in which these warning have been proven well-founded. Especially when those who ploughed ahead anyway still deny that they made any mistakes at all.

    But if one could be so magnanimous then there are some suggestions, which would start from the recognition that (as you said long ago, David) once Brexit had happened the mandate of the referendum had been fully discharged. Thus, the question of UK-EU relations should no longer be viewed through the prism of the dead question ‘leave or remain?’ That in turn would mean a) changing the tone from antagonism/ resentment to cooperation b) dropping the preoccupation with sovereignty above all else (on the grounds that “otherwise what was the point of Brexit?” Which is to continue with the 2016 question).

    From that could then be derived some specific policy proposals, ranging from piecemeal measures such as adding a mobility chapter to the TCA, or creating a comprehensive veterinary agreement so as to address many of the NIP issues, right through to joining EFTA, I suppose. An improved tone might also yield different responses from the EU on things like Lugano membership.

    But isn’t the key problem not so much that we Cassandras are failing to articulate a positive policy as that we are the last people to whom the government would listen? Or, even, that a positive policy is not what the government wants to hear from anybody?

  22. I’ve read this blogpost multiple times trying to get my head around it.

    As was laid out in detail by Chris Grey in his most recent post multiple impeccable sources say the government signed and ratified the NIP knowing full well that they had zero intention of implementing it – even Lord Frost admits that.
    The NIP is now UK law, EU law and international law and yet
    what we have is the wilful intentional illegal behaviour.

    I’m from NI and those in GB may not be aware that blatantly illegal behaviour regarding NI is nothing new. The last NI Assembly elections were held in March 2017 and despite blowing every Unionist dogwhistle they could the DUP were shocked to only win one more seat that Sinn Fein (28 vs 27) and to have to share executive power equally.
    Their response was to refuse to allow Stormont to sit and an NI Executive to be formed. Despite only having 28 of 90 seats they could do this because the rules require a minimum of 40% of each community to participate.

    Under the GFA if a government is not formed in 4 months then the NI SoS is to consult with London and Dublin and either call a new election or formally assume direct rule.
    The DUP were is a pickle but what saved them was the snap UK GE of June 2017 which ended up with the Tories 3 seat majority depending on the 10 DUP Westminster seats. At the time a senior DUP leader jubilantly said ‘now we don’t need Stormont, we can rule from Westminster’ – and astonishingly that was the case up until after the Dec 2019 UK GE.

    For two and a half years NI had no legitimate government. Despite Stormont never formally sitting and swearing in an Executive, Arlene Foster styled herself as First Minister and whispered instructions into the ear of the NI SoS who issued decrees despite never having legally assumed direct rule powers. A budget was never debated let alone passed but the SoS put one together yearly and when Mrs May’s bung of an extra billion pounds to NI (negotiated by the DUP for their support in Westminster) was paid over where it went to was decided by Arlene working with the SoS. Needless to say it went to prop up DUP support in Protestant areas. Incredibly the SoS decreed that the salaries of those elected as MLA’s in March 2017 be paid even though they were never sworn in.

    In Nov 2018 Declan Morgan the Lord Chief Justice of NI issued an unprecedented public rebuke saying that the whole administration of NI was illegal. This was ignored.
    Repudiation of the NIP has not come out of the blue its baked into the Tory/DUP alliance.

  23. There’s lots of earnest Remain advice here that our Government will never take. No, Boris & Co will not somehow “see the light” and take us back into the SM & customs union. That would mean admitting a policy failure (from a government that would rather double-down than sacrifice even a single senior Minister) … and also following rules made in Brussels with zero input from the UK. Switzerland and Norway don’t get to vote on EU policy … they just implement (and in some cases pay for) the rulebooks they are sent. The UK will not do this. This is why the “Norway” option was never a serious Brexit option (no matter what Baroness Nicky Morgan of Turncoat Lane says).

    Oh, and BTW, has anyone else noticed that the EU’s answer to any recent problems has been more centralisation and strengthening of the EU’s “federal” institutions (Macron-esque?). So the case for rejoin, if there is ever an opportunity, is going to be facing an even bigger task. There is even starting to be talk of a new treaty. So it may not seem like Kansas anymore, Dorothy …

    1. I agree that the likelihood of England (85% of the population of the UK) reversing course on the EU or even EEA is vanishingly small. The referendum and the elections since -especially the May 2019 EU Parliamentary election and the Dec 2019 UK GE – were sine qua non second and third referenda in which England strongly voted ‘Leave Now’ and ‘Get Brexit Done’ and Scotland (74%) and NI (67%) voted strongly for unequivocally Pro-Remain parties.
      Both are distinct societies and both are furious at what has happened and both will via their own paths now leave the UK union. Both have a huge and politically powerful diaspora in the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand who have no love for the English and will help their ancestral land.
      Wales, the first and now last, colony of England is a much more mixed picture.

    2. has anyone else noticed that the EU’s answer to any recent problems has been more centralisation and strengthening of the EU’s “federal” institutions

      There seems to be a somewhat accusatory tone here, Brian – as if this is “obviously” an unacceptable reaction.

      Is it? Don’t see it myself. Indeed, if we were still in, we’d doubtless benefit from this supposed consolidation ourselves.

      And it’s not the EU’s fault that we’re not…

  24. Here’s a positive vision – though it’s not very likely.

    Brexit has greatly diminished our influence, so we must act more like a small country. We need to offer things which are not available elsewhere. We need to abolish border controls – anyone can come here and work. This provides a plentiful and international labour force. Abolish all tariffs. This provides cheap materials and minimises prices for people in the UK. Abolish corporation tax. Companies, despite what many envious people say, pay lots of tax – especially via their workers’ income tax and National Insurance, but also fuel tax on any vehicles they use, business rates on premises, and various others. But low corporation tax is a proven effective way to get international companies to move here – thus paying all those other taxes, providing jobs, and providing an environment in which workers have a choice of good emplyers or a ready marketplace for any business they want to start up.

    The big problem with this is that Brexit is based on xenophobia, racism, and insular attitudes. It looks back to a time of Empire when Britain gained an advantage by force, which is a course no longer open to us. So, ironically, the way to make the best of Brexit is directly opposed to the forces which caused it.

  25. It’s increasingly appealing to use the divorce metaphor for Brexit at the moment. We are seeing lots of divorce-like behaviour from the Government: bickering, recriminations, blame, “lawyers made us do it but we didn’t really want to or understand what we were signing up to”, new friends, new status vehicles etc etc.

    Ok, but what positive vision did you have for your relationship with your ex-spouse after the divorce? “I’m better off without them.” “Look at me, I’m independent, I can stand on my own two feet without them.” “I don’t need them anyway.”

    I said positive vision? “Like, we can both see other people? Make new friends? Buy things in shops that the other person doesn’t like?

    “Get married to someone new? Have a more ‘open’ relationship with my new spouse? Buy foods from countries that are really really far away?

    “And I could return to the halcyon feats of my youth, my seagoing days, when I ruled the world.

    “And we could still be friends, just in a different way. We could do things together, but as equals now, instead of them acting like they’re in charge. And they’ll see that my new friends know just how much better I am without them.

    “And I can still bitch and moan about them, right?”

  26. Reading the comments here, I am suddenly struck by a simple question. Why are concerned citizens not joining the Conservative Party to try to change its direction?

    1. It’s virtually impossible for members to have any significant influence on the policies of the main British political parties. With the Conservative party, members have virtually no influence at all on party policy. Unless of course you happen to be a billionaire donor, or in a position to give backhanders for corrupt contracts.

        1. “Surely Brexit was driven by the membership, including an influx from UKIP?” No. Conservative party membership is minuscule and has been falling for years. The strategy was aimed at conservative voters, not members. The hard right nationalists had transferred their votes to UKIP at elections. The referendum and all its insane aftermath was aimed at wooing back the hard right ethno-nationalist votes to the conservatives. If anything, conservative membership had fallen further at this time. The strategy worked. Of all the major parties, the conservative membership have least influence on party policy – virtually none.

          1. I have lived in the UK but am in Ireland now so I will take your word for that. I am gobsmacked however.

            I had understood that generally the constituency associations chose the party candidates and by doing so influenced the direction the party was taking. I had also understood that popularity at party conference meant something. So the Conservative party membership could be as unhappy about Brexit as the majority of readers of this blog and it would have no effect on party policy? Astonishing.

          2. In theory, constituency parties have a say in choosing their MP. In practice, the leadership will almost always get its way.
            The conservative conference doesn’t make party policy. It’s a media event.
            This article is a few years old, but I don’t think much has changed in terms of the “internal democracy” of the conservative party.
            “Of the three main parties, the Conservative Party grants least influence to members in the formulation of policy. As Bale notes, the party leader dominates the Conservative Party and, in opposition in particular, the party operates as ‘an essentially top-down organization’.”

  27. Reading the comments here, I am suddenly struck by a simple question. Why are concerned citizens not joining the Conservative Party to try to change its direction?


    You might as well argue that we should rejoin the EU in order to correct its supposed flaws from the inside – indeed, this was a frequent argument for remaining, and it fell on deaf ears.

    There’s no obvious reason to assume that joining the Conservative party (which would be absolute anathema to many anyway) would have any more traction.

    1. I don’t see the equivalence with reforming the EU. The UK could leave the EU. Short of leaving the country, British voters cannot leave the UK.

      I humbly suggest it is more squeamishness than principle. The direction of the UK is generally decided within the political parties. Perhaps people need to hold their noses and get stuck in?

      As for whether there would be more traction, of course there would if the concerned middle class signed up in great numbers.

  28. Until the focus groups, media and eventually the electorate demonstrated by polling get the message we will continue on the downward path until, as Cummings writes that Johnson says “enough I’m off to make some serious money and have fun”

    All talk of the role of party members, MPs and alliances is irrelevant. If it were not irrelevant then perhaps we might live in a functioning democracy.

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