What should we call a second referendum vote? Will there ever be a border in Ireland? Can a one-size-fits-all economic strategy work for the EU?
People’s Vote 2
For the sake of democracy the people of the UK should have another vote on whether to continue membership of the European Union when the terms of leaving are clear. Well, perhaps not clear but at least known, or expected as in the latest draft Withdrawal Agreement.
What should it be called? People’s Vote would be very confusing because people have voted before, in 2016. The choice itself will inevitably be pretty complex because it will be about things most people don’t understand, like ‘Irish backstop’, ‘Irish backstop backstop’, WTO, immigration – so we need a KISS (keep it simple, stupid) vote. The Immigration Vote would be simple, boiling it down to a single issue that people care about. Except lots of people care about a lot about other things too.
How about the Freedom Vote then? That’s exactly how some see it but it would represent a leading question. The Sensible Vote then? Perhaps the people should vote on what the vote is called, except they might call it Votey McVoteface*.
It’s not clear what the result would be this time. In 2016 the polls, on average, showed a 10% lead for Remain on the eve of the Referendum but Leave won by 4%. Today the polls show a similar closeness so it could go either way, but not decisively. If Remain edged it this time some would argue that the people had reconsidered and the second vote was more valid than the first; others would call it a tie and demand another go, the best of three. It wouldn’t settle the argument once and for all.
All this assumes that the vote was on a straight-forward leave or remain question, but it won’t be as simple as that.
*A few months before the first referendum in 2016 people chose Boaty McBoatface in an online poll to find a popular name for a new research vessel (finally named RSS Sir David Attenborough). Subsequently people around the world have chosen similar silly names for other things: Horsey McHorseface (a racehorse in Sydney), Trainy McTrainface (a train in Stockholm), Ferry McFerryface (a ferry in New South Wales), Mega McMegaface (a bus in England), Floaty McFloatface (a floating bridge in the Isle of Wight).
No hard border? No problem
The draft Withdrawal Agreement might well pass in Parliament without the Irish backstop Article which could keep us in a kind of bondage indefinitely unless we paid a heavy ransom, probably in fish and a lot of other things the 27 think of during the Transition. It is claimed that this is to avoid a hard border if a trade deal isn’t agreed but the fact is there will never be a hard border, all parties have agreed that explicitly.
Taoiseach’s stated position was forcefully made to the Dáil Éireann
“… we are not drawing up any plans for a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland full stop. Because there isn’t going to be one and I have made very clear to my counterpart in the UK and also to the other EU Prime Ministers that under no circumstances will there be a border full stop.”
Junker agrees: (https://youtu.be/G6ljJhZZo5s)
Mission Improbable (or Stretch-fit Strategy)
Pessimistic forecasts for life after Brexit by the UK Treasury and others are based on models that assume the EU sails on serenely while the UK fails to find new opportunities and markets to replace those deliberately blocked by the EU. The second assumption might prove true if a divided government can’t get its act together, or if the draft Withdrawal Agreement is implemented, but the first is very unlikely.
The EU’s stretch-fit strategy to weld the European nations into a single state is on the brink of dramatic failure. One major economy is leaving and another is about to shake its financial foundations to pieces. The European Central Bank (ECB) doesn’t have sufficient funds to bail out Italy even if it wanted to, that would require the Bundesbank to agree more cash, which in turn would require consent of the Bundestag – it won’t give that unless its politicians are prepared to follow Chancellor Merkel into retirement after she defied public opinion over immigration. (The ECB can’t defy the Bundesbank in practice and there is a constitutional block on the Bundesbank bailing out other countries unless the Bundestag agrees.) The IMF probably won’t help this time either after admitting it bent its own rules when bailing out the last eurozone victim – Greece . Nor will Italy tolerate the conditions any of the bail-outers would have to impose.
As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said more than 2,500 years ago, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.“ Brexit could be irrelevant, practically a non-event compared to the fallout from a eurozone collapse.
The EU’s original, strategic mission to create conditions for lasting peace has been overshadowed by its tactical plan – Ever Closer Union. But this tactic doesn’t necessarily promote peace, it can equally well lead to civil war unless the uniform fits all, which it clearly doesn’t if the Italians don’t behave like Germans or the Poles like the Swedes, etc.
It is pretty clear that the major powers in Europe haven’t (so far) re-engaged in armed conflict between themselves for various reasons, perhaps the main one being that the principal focus of international tension shifted after 1945 so the peace has more to do with factors beyond the EU’s influence. European empires aren’t what they were, the schisms have moved elsewhere and other moderators matter more than the EU – such as NATO and the nuclear deterrent.