56 hours to go, and we still don’t know if we’re going.
Late last week, European Council President Donald Tusk mooted a possible one-year flexible extension to Article 50 as a way out of Westminster’s impasse. Lawyer David Allen Green commented that Tusk was “one of the best genuine friends UK has ever had and one, frankly, we don’t deserve”.
Tusk has had the most incredible life. He founded an illegal pro-democracy magazine in communist Poland and went to jail for his work with Solidarity. He was Poland’s longest-serving democratic prime minister, and on his watch the Polish economy grew by almost 20% when the rest of Europe was suffering the effects of the global financial crisis. He’s written best-selling books on the history of his hometown of Gdansk, lived in hiding during a period of martial law in the early 1980s, earned his living as a breadseller and a steeplejack, and was instrumental in introducing a free press in Poland after communism. He’s about the best person you could hope to have fighting your corner, and a living refutation of Brexiters’ attacks on the EU as an institution of faceless bureaucrats.
Everything now hinges on the European Council accepting Tusk’s proposal of a one-year flexible extension, and Theresa May in turn accepting their offer rather than her preferred 30 June 2019. If she rejects their proposal, then she will be actively choosing No Deal. Even in a long extension, we’d still be in danger. All it would take is a general election with a Labour party losing too many Remain voters and a Tory party going full ERG, and first-past-the-post could deliver us a No Deal parliament.
I won’t stop feeling apprehensive until No Deal is dead and buried. We’ve seen reports of how some medicines for treating epilepsy can’t be stockpiled against the threat of it, which puts those who depend on them at risk. Half a million people in the UK have epilepsy. Even if only a fraction of them depend on these particular medicines, and a fraction of those would suffer life-threatening effects if they didn’t get them, that still suggests thousands of lives are at risk.
I wish we could just insert a number every time someone talks about leaving with No Deal as being worth the disruption. “We should just intentionally cause 112 people to die.” “It’s worth the short-term sacrifice of 112 people for the long-term gain of 748 further deaths.” “The will of the people is for 112 people to die.” “We didn’t vote for a deal that would allow 112 people to live, we voted to leave.”
Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne published an extraordinary article on the weekend—the kind that you wish and hope that a Brexiter might come to their senses and write. As an overview of all the key points against Brexit it could almost have been written by a longtime Remainer. There are only a few wrong notes for me: one is his assertion that Theresa May’s hands had been tied over immigration, which also begs the question of immigration being a problem in the first place; another is the suggestion that stalling for a year would resolve any of the fundamental contradictions that he’s identified; another is that the EU is “not democratic” as if it’s meant to be the top level of government of a superstate, rather than a vehicle for managing an international treaty with a supporting bureaucracy and a democratic assembly to confirm its binding directives; and the last is this:
Many who voted Leave have a deep—perhaps the deepest—understanding of the communities where they live; and in some of these, everyday life has been spoiled for many by policies imposed on them by a pro-European Westminster elite: policies they never voted for.
That, in fact, is the key paragraph that marks him out as a Brexiter for me. It implies that 16.1 million voters didn’t have “a deep—perhaps the deepest—understanding of the communities where they live”, that Scots don’t know Scotland, Londoners don’t know London, and Mancunians don’t know Manchester; it suggests that “policies imposed ... by a pro-European Westminster elite” are somehow undemocratic, when Westminster has imposed its policies on the rest of Britain for centuries, and if we consider the UK a democracy then that’s how it works; and it implies that “everyday life has been spoiled” in Leave communities by EU policies, which is either a novel take on all of their EU-funded science projects, community centres and roads, a tiresome rehash of 1970s and ’80s debates about the Common Agricultural Policy and fisheries, or a sop to people who can’t possibly be “closet racists” but feel that their new neighbours spoil their lovely towns and villages.
Nevertheless: he acknowledges that the economic damage we’re seeing is real and unprecedented and all because of Brexit; he acknowledges the catastrophic risks of no deal; he acknowledges that the promises of 2016 have utterly failed to materialise; he acknowledges the terrible risk to the British union itself; and he acknowledges that the growing evidence of illegality by the Leave campaign makes the entire exercise completely untrustworthy. And that makes him a rare Brexiter indeed.
Rafael Behr: Is Brexit still worth it? It never was.
And a glimmer of hope from Robert Peston: Is cancelling Brexit the Prime Minister’s new default?