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Like most people, I have no idea what will happen at the end of the Brexit process – if indeed it will ever end. What makes it worse for me is that I no longer know what I want to happen. It’s not that my basic views have changed: simply that the repercussions have become so complicated and divisive.

What are my views? I believe that we would be better out of the European Union. My reason is straightforward: a belief in democracy. By democracy I mean essentially the ability of the people (or, more precisely, a majority) to dismiss the government, that is to say, to dismiss those effectively making the laws and administering the country. This does not happen in the European Union to the extent (a significant extent) that laws are made by the bureaucratic machine in Brussels. (In the UK, and perhaps in other member states, over half of new laws are made in this way.) When such laws are made, they are unchangeable by normal democratic processes.

Does this matter? I think it does. If the public objects to the way things are done, or not done, they have no redress – except to take action in the streets (like the gilets jaunes) or to support extremist political groups (like the Front national in France, the AfD in Germany, the 5 Star movement in Italy) and/or to try and get out of the European Union . . .

The main issue in the UK has been immigration, particularly among the less well-off: hence the strong support for Brexit in the north of England and in Labour-controlled constituencies. But this is just a symptom of what happens if democracy is not perceived to be working.

Why have we got into this mess? Largely because the political elites, including crucially the leaders of all the three main political parties, disagree with all this. Their reason is mainly a fear that leaving the EU will be so disruptive of trading and other relationships that it’s not worth it. Very few have tried to counter the arguments for leaving that I have described. (Matthew Parris, the highly articulate commentator who has throughout argued against Brexit, ends a jokey diary column in the Times of 10 April 2019 by admitting: “I am a Remainer: not out of love for the ghastly old EU, but from a healthy fear of the consequences of amputation, and a preference for the devil you know”.) In my view, the referendum was lost by those I refer to as the political elites very largely because fear is an uninspiring message. It still is: many (even most) of the horrors predicted before the referendum didn’t occur. What we don’t know is whether, if Brexit doesn’t happen, or if it does but in such a diluted form as to disappoint its supporters, the underlying dislike of the “ghastly old EU” will continue to haunt us, leading to an increase in support for xenophobic political groups – as has happened elsewhere in Europe.

A backdrop to all this is the very real threat of an extreme socialist, even Marxist, government taking power if more moderate elements continue fighting each other. To my mind, this is a more serious danger facing the country than anything related to Brexit. That is why I no longer know what I want. If any particular outcome of the tortuous (and, frankly, mishandled) negotiations with the EU – whether staying in, getting out without a deal, getting out with a deal, even a bad one, whatever - would help in preventing that dangerous result, I would unhesitatingly support it.

11 April 2019.

Tony Herbert

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