Ian Swanson: Best Remain can hope for is a fudge to sweeten exit
It's two years since the UK voted to leave the European Union. It was a result hardly anyone Âexpected '“ not even, or perhaps especially not, the leaders of the Brexit campaign '“ and no one knew what to do next.
With just nine months to go before the deadline for our departure, the shape of the final Brexit deal and what it will mean for ordinary people remains almost as much a mystery as it was on the morning after that shock vote.
The country, the House of Commons and Theresa May’s Cabinet remain deeply divided – and Scotland’s clear majority for Remain is just being ignored.
Aerospace giant Airbus said last week it would pull out of the UK with the loss of thousands of jobs if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. The company said this was not Project Fear but “dawning reality”. Other companies are reportedly set to issue similar warnings.
Meanwhile, Tory rebels who want a soft Brexit caved in to the Government, their leader Dominic Grieve deciding not to vote for his own amendment, allowing the EU Withdrawal Bill to pass its final stages at Westminster.
On Saturday, 100,000 people marched through London calling for a “people’s vote” – a referendum on the final deal which Mrs May brings back from Brussels.
A poll last week suggested growing support for such a vote with 48 per cent backing the idea, against 25 per cent who were against it.
And the same poll suggested a fresh referendum would produce a very different outcome, with the UK voting to remain in the EU by a margin of 53 per cent to 47 per cent, reversing the 52-48 Leave verdict of 2016.
The survey found only 35 per cent now believe Brexit will be good for the UK economy, while 39 per cent say it will be bad.
But a new referendum looks unlikely – even Labour does not officially back one. With the figures so tight, there would be no guarantee of a Remain vote. Even if there were, many of the disillusioned voters who backed Brexit as a kick at the political establishment would see a second referendum as confirmation of their fear that the powers-that-be always get their way and do not listen to ordinary people, leading to further alienation and division.
So what should we expect over these next few months as the Brexit deadline edges closer? The Prime Minister is sticking to her mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has insisted she is not bluffing.
Mrs May says she does not want “no deal” but for some of her MPs that is the preferred option. The result they fear most is a compromise which satisfies no one, a fudge which leaves Britain formally out of the EU and with no say at the top table, but nevertheless caught up in EU rules and requirements in return for keeping some of the privileges which we currently enjoy.
Many Remain supporters have reluctantly concluded Brexit cannot be halted and are now focused on trying to stay inside the single market and the customs union. The Scottish Government’s analysis shows that would be the least damaging outcome for Scotland. It would be a second best, of course – a fudge, if you like.
But that says it all – the best we can hope for from this debacle is a bit of a muddle.