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I wrote a lot of QuoraAnswers about Brexit that are obviously "historical" in that they discuss options and possibilities that are now long decided and closed to us.

Nevertheless, I'd like a place to record what I, PhilJones, thought at these various times. So I'll try to keep them in date order.

Quora Answer : Why is Corbyn unable to call for a second referendum when Brexit has turned out to be different than sold?

Nov 15, 2018

It's not a question of being unable.

It's not his job.

Corbyn's job is to win an election, get into power, and then exercise that power to enact the policies he believes in.

That's a necessary and urgent task.

Anything which isn't focused on that is a dereliction of duty.

Complaining that Corbyn isn't putting his time and credibility into campaigning for a second referendum is like insinuating that ambulance drivers are secretly bad people because they aren't helping put out fires.

There's a huge fire going on! Why is the ambulance driver running away to the hospital with the burn victims when he could be carrying buckets of water?

Corbyn's job is to try to get people to recognize that the Brexit debacle is just a symptom of a much deeper problem : the failure of the neoliberal programme.

You aren't going to save our comfortable liberal society from far-right populism and economic devastation just because you manage to pull off a narrow second referendum victory that goes Remain's way. That will be a temporary respite at best. Britain will be more divided. Britain's economic decline will continue. Far right-populism will return stronger and nastier than ever. And calling for yet another referendum next year.

To fix our problems you have to go to the root and deal with that underlying neoliberalism. And it's Corbyn's job to get people to focus on that root cause and the only real solution : getting the Tories out and Labour into power.

Once that happens, THEN Labour can deal with Brexit. Until that happens, Corbyn actually has very little influence. It would not matter an iota if he was at the front of every Second Referendum march in the country, arm in arm with Caroline Lucas, Vince Cable and Anna Soubry. It wouldn't make a second referendum the slightest bit more likely.

There will only be a second referendum if :

a) Theresa May's proposed deal is voted down by parliament.

b) Theresa May can be persuaded that it's better to call for a second referendum than try to either tweak her deal or crash out without one.

In regards to the first, Labour, will vote against May's deal. Check.

In regards to the second. Corbyn has no intimacy with May. Nor much credibility with her as an advisor. What bargain could a Corbyn-led Labour offer May to persuade her to go for a second Referendum?

To lend their votes to her next project?

Tory Remainers can promise a second referendum will save her reputation. As it saves her from the personal catastrophe of being responsible for a no-deal. Corbyn can't promise that. He has to attack her reputation whatever she does. He will blame her for Brexit.

He has no influence over her decision.

Furthermore, to win power, Corbyn needs the votes of the Leave inclined working class. There's a massive risk that coming out strongly for Remain will alienate them and lose him votes he can't afford to lose. (This is, in fact, what happened – Phil-from-the-future)

There are many passionate Remainers in Labour who are undoubtedly disappointed that Corbyn isn't joining them. But Corbyn is a "grown-up" now. He has responsibilities. And his responsibility is to focus his energies on getting Labour into power. Not dissipate them fighting for something which other people can do just as well as he can, but which carries a real risk of scuppering his main objective.

Quora Answer : What would be the political advantages of Jeremy Corbyn backing a second EU Referendum?

Jan 25, 2019

Political advantages for who?

Honestly, for Corbyn himself, or the Labour party he wants to lead, not much.

The main advantage for Corbyn now, of backing a second EU Referendum is that it will forestall another rebellion against him in the Labour party by passionate Remainers, and the risk of a catastrophic split in Labour. Many in Labour are desperate for a new Referendum in the hope of cancelling Brexit.

There IS a "new Referendum" constituency out there in the population. But it really isn't as big as you'd think it would be. It's not big enough to guarantee Labour the next election. It might not even be big enough to counter the Labour Leave voters who may abandon the party over it.

Corbyn has to decide if he is willing to throw away his one shot at winning a general election and changing the country, for what's basically an outside chance of a return to the unpopular status quo of 2015.

Terrible as the Brexit crash will be, that's not a very appealing prospect.

Is there an advantage for the country?

A bit.

Yes, it takes a decision which politicians are too entrenched in deadlock to resolve and gives it some legitimacy.

Yes, it opens up the possibility of undoing Brexit. Which will save the economic crash that this would entail.

The main problem with a Referendum is how to get any consensus on what it should ask.

Do you include a "Cancel Brexit" option? Do you include a "No Deal" option?

If you don't, supporters of those two positions will cry foul and claim the Referendum bogus. If you do, you will be accused by the Remain / soft side of splitting their support between the best and the good. And by the Hard / no-deal side of splitting their support between what they see as the best and the good. And if you ask two questions you'll be accused of making it too confusing.

You have to make sure all of the options in the Referendum can actually be delivered. There's no point putting an option in the Referendum that the EU won't accept. (Ask Greece.) But if you give the EU a veto over what questions go into the Referendum, that will be controversial too.

Referendum design is hard.

Back in 2016 after the first result, it would have been very sensible to have a second Referendum asking if people wanted a soft / Norway type option or a hard / Canada like option.

That would at least have given the government guidance. Wouldn't have been seen as working "against" Brexit. And forced the hard Leavers to come up with arguments specifically for why we should leave the market and customs union.

It might just be worth still doing that, so that it's transparently obvious you aren't trying to reverse the first Referendum and just want more detail.

BUT ...

the big stumbling block now is Northern Ireland. Canada is out because of Northern Ireland. Because of the Good Friday Agreement you basically have a choice of Remain, Norway, a May-like deal which is de-facto "Norway for the forseeable future" without admitting it, or No Deal, tear up our obligations and become an international pariah.

Just as there's no majority in parliament for any of these three options, there's quite plausibly no majority in the country for any of them. Offer them to the public and you will be accused of stacking the referendum in Remain's favour.

So ... what to do.

Here's why a new general election is better than all that.

A general election is a known quantity. And the rules of engagement are more or less agreed by the public and uncontroversial.

If we hold a new general election where it is explicit that the winners will have a mandate to lead Britain's next negotiations, then we have a chance - and it's still not certain but it's a chance - of getting a government that can actually get us to a deal.

It might be Corbyn. It might be Theresa May coming back with her deal again. It might be a wave of LibDems on a Remain ticket. Or a wave of UKIP on a No Deal ticket. But it will at least have come through the only democratic process that most people respect.

Quora Answer : Are you a Remain voter who, despite still believing that Brexit was a mistake and that it will have a huge negative impact, actually want to see it happen?

Feb 8, 2019

"Want" to see it happen? No.

I think it's a damned stupid idea, and I wish it wasn't.

But I do buy the argument that it "has to" happen, because "the referendum needs to be respected".

There are lots of valid arguments that the referendum was botched, that the Leave side lied and cheated. And that people didn't know what they were voting for. Etc.

But ... I can't really see how versions of these arguments can't be made about any election.

There's always some economy with the truth in election campaigning. Always some misleading slight of hand. And optimistic promises that couldn't possibly be fulfilled because bureaucratic and diplomatic reasons.

The Leave campaign took that to a whole new level. But ... the voters were told they'd be listened to, and voted in good faith. Any vote has to be run in a spirit of "caveat emptor" and in light of an assumption that some in the electorate won't be well informed.

So what's the difference with this one?

There's no really good justification for rejecting or rerunning the referendum just because the result is going to be terrible for us. If democracy means anything, its that the electorate decide their values and their priorities. Through the mechanisms we have, flawed as they are. You can't have someone else coming along retrospectively and saying "that's not good for you, you shouldn't have it". If you do that, you've undermined the foundations of your democracy.

Bad as Brexit is, I think overriding the referendum result would be worse for our political culture in the long run.

So in that limited sense, I think some kind of Brexit has to happen. And I "want" it to.

Quora Answer : Could the EU outsmart any proroguing of UK parliament by Boris Johnson by simply and unilaterally extending the October 31st deadline? Why or why not?

Aug 29, 2019

They couldn't unilaterally extend the October deadline.

But they could signal that they would be willing to extend it, without question, the moment a British PM asked for it.

This would send a signal to parliament that a VONC to put in a new PM to ask for it would be a successful. And would encourage them.


this question betrays a deeply flawed world-view.

It believes that the EU is somehow trying to thwart Brexit and keep the UK inside itself.

That is completely wrong. The EU doesn't want the UK. It doesn't want to stop Brexit. It just wants to minimize the damage to itself from Brexit.

The EU isn't going to try to "outsmart" Boris. Because it doesn't need or want to. It is NOT fighting him.

The EU is not going to ride in and save us from No Deal. If we are stupid enough to do it to ourselves we must take the consequences.

Quora Answer : Has the EU abandoned remainers?

Aug 14, 2020

Well, yes, but there isn't really any alternative.

I mean "abandon" suggests that there was some kind of implicit commitment to do something else for them.

But there never was anything that the EU could do for remainers or was promising to do for them. The EU has never tried to stop Brexit. Countries have always been free to leave the EU if they want. And the EU had a process for it.

The arguments were only about the facts that :

a) the UK had signed some other commitments with EU, over the NI border, that turned out to be incompatible with the UK leaving. And

b) that the UK wanted to continue to have some of the good bits of EU membership without the associated responsibilities. And the EU wasn't planning to give it those.

But once some sort of deal on the NI border had been cobbled together (which it was, even though Boris Johnson tries to pretend to the UK public that it isn't the thing he told the EU it was). And once it was very clear to everyone that the UK wasn't getting to keep just the good bits it wanted. Then the EU, with some regret, had no more to say about Brexit. The UK is free to leave, and the EU isn't going to try to stop it (never was going to try to stop it)

The EU was open to a deal within its parameters, but the UK can't live with those parameters and so it's likely there'll be No Deal or a very minimal deal.

Of course, UK Remainers are sad about Brexit. And have tried to stop it. But the EU has never been allied with them on that, or given any concrete support. The EU has neither the power nor the authority to do that. It couldn't and wouldn't.

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