The Brexit fa­nat­ics go for broke. This is their chance of counter-rev­o­lu­tion

No com­pro­mise may look crazy to many, but the hard-Brex­iters’ aim is to cause chaos

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis - Nick Co­hen

Lik­erev­o­lu­tions, coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tions ab­hor com­pro­mise. “Cit­i­zens,” cried Max­im­i­lien Robe­spierre in 1792, as he pre­pared the French for a reign of ter­ror, “did you want a rev­o­lu­tion without rev­o­lu­tion?” Tories should be “un­afraid to go for­ward without an agree­ment”, echoed Steve Baker, the Robe­spierre of the English right last week. We can­not tol­er­ate “a half-in, half-out Brexit”.

Boris John­son agreed. All that is needed to make his im­pos­si­ble prom­ises pos­si­ble was a Riefen­stahlian tri­umph of the will. “Go in bloody hard”, cause “all sorts of break­downs, all sorts of chaos”, said John­son and the pu­ri­fy­ing fire would con­sume the EU’s re­sis­tance.

To out­siders, whose num­ber in­clude many who voted to leave, their fa­nati­cism is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. From a rightwing point of view, now is the time for half mea­sures. Re­main­ers’ small but dis­tinct chance of forc­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum may de­pend on the Tory right and the Demo­cratic Union­ist party. Ei­ther they ex­ert such pres­sure on May she has no choice but to crash out of the EU without an agree­ment or they vote down her deal when it comes be­fore par­lia­ment. A “peo­ple’s vote” to break the dead­lock will then be their fault and their re­spon­si­bil­ity. They will not be able to blame the “Re­moan­ing” elite. Their own ex­trem­ism will have re­opened a ques­tion they wanted to keep closed.

The Labour lead­er­ship’s fainter hopes of forc­ing an early gen­eral election also de­pend on the Eu­ro­pean Re­search Group de­stroy­ing May’s govern­ment. The feel­ing among Scot­tish na­tion­al­ists and Ir­ish repub­li­cans, that a hard Brexit will make union with an Eng­land that no longer cares about how the na­tions of the UK voted ever less at­trac­tive, is once more a prod­uct of the right’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to in­flict the most dam­ag­ing Brexit imag­in­able on these is­lands. From a purely party in­ter­est, a no-deal Brexit, or one that cuts Bri­tish busi­ness off from its largest mar­ket, will de­stroy the Tories’ un­earned rep­u­ta­tion for eco­nomic com­pe­tence and fur­ther alien­ate the young and the pro­fes­sional mid­dle classes whose votes the Con­ser­va­tive party will need one day.

A peo­ple’s vote, a Labour govern­ment with Marx­ists at the top, a threat to the union – ev­ery­thing con­ser­va­tives once ab­horred – are be­ing brought closer by the tac­tics of the Con­ser­va­tive right. You can un­der­stand their de­ter­mi­na­tion to push Brexit to the lim­its only when you grasp that, to its pro­mot­ers, Brexit is the best and only chance they have to launch a counter-rev­o­lu­tion.

They have hardly made a se­cret of their am­bi­tions to re­verse pro­tec­tions for work­ers. “The weight of em­ploy­ment reg­u­la­tion is now back­break­ing: the col­lec­tive re­dun­dan­cies di­rec­tive, the atyp­i­cal work­ers di­rec­tive, the work­ing time di­rec­tive and a thou­sand more,” said John­son in 2014. Liam Fox told the Fi­nan­cial Times in 2012 it was “un­sus­tain­able to be­lieve that work­place rights should re­main un­touch­able”. Ja­cob Rees-Mogg said he could not “sup­port all the em­ploy­ment rights that come from Europe”. David Davis, John Red­wood and the older Brexit crew were against the so­cial chap­ter from the mo­ment of its in­cep­tion. Mean­while, An­drea Lead­som out­bid them all when she dreamed of a fu­ture when there was “ab­so­lutely no reg­u­la­tion what­so­ever – no min­i­mum wage, no ma­ter­nity or pa­ter­nity rights, no un­fair dis­missal rights, no pen­sion rights – for the small­est com­pa­nies that are try­ing to get off the ground”.

Leav­ing the EU can make their dreams come true, as Davis came close to ad­mit­ting in 2016 when he told a City au­di­ence that his “al­ter­na­tive strat­egy” was to com­pete with the EU by of­fer­ing “lower tax, softer reg­u­la­tion and other strong busi­ness in­cen­tives”. It is not co­in­ci­den­tal that so many of the loud­est sup­port­ers of Brexit are against gay rights: “As a Chris­tian, I am well aware of the bib­li­cal view of mar­riage and I sup­port it,” said Steve Baker. Gay Labour MPs were “bent” said Ar­ron Banks, while Peter Bone opined that “gay mar­riage was ‘com­pletely nuts’”. Women’s rights are treated with the same dis­dain. Na­dine Dor­ries brought for­ward an amend­ment that would have stripped abor­tion providers of their role in coun­selling women: Liam Fox, Iain Dun­can Smith and Owen Paterson sup­ported her.

It is not a co­in­ci­dence ei­ther that the lead­ers of the Brexit back­lash in­sist we deny what is in front of our eyes. Paterson yawned and said: “We should just ac­cept that the cli­mate has been chang­ing for cen­turies” when he was en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary. In ap­par­ent se­ri­ous­ness, Red­wood added that sci­en­tists who warned about cli­mate change “re­vealed an ig­no­rance of the way sci­ence works”.

The orig­i­nal sin of the au­thors of Brexit was to refuse to ad­mit that it must ei­ther bring a shud­der­ing dis­lo­ca­tion as Bri­tain tore it­self out of an in­te­grated Eu­ro­pean econ­omy or turn Bri­tain into an EU vas­sal state that obeyed EU rules but had no say in their for­mu­la­tion.

The greater dis­hon­esty was that the EU ref­er­en­dum was never just about the EU. It was a howl of rage from Thatcherites, who can­not ac­cept that their ide­ol­ogy failed, from the old against the young, and from all who could not make their peace with the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s, the en­vi­ron­ment sci­ence of the 1980s and the mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism of the 2000s. Their lead­ers see the chance to abol­ish a mod­ern world they nei­ther like nor com­pre­hend. Hence their fa­nati­cism. Hence their de­ter­mi­na­tion to go for broke and tol­er­ate no com­pro­mises.

Men and women whose views I re­spect are warn­ing that a peo­ple’s vote on the fi­nal Brexit deal could back­fire. It might tear the coun­try apart or pro­duce an­other nar­row re­sult that achieves noth­ing be­yond a fur­ther poi­son­ing of the pub­lic sphere. I have no idea if they are right, but then they don’t ei­ther. With so much at stake, how­ever, I know this: it’s worth a try.

An­drea Lead­som dreamed of a fu­ture with ‘ab­so­lutely no reg­u­la­tion what­so­ever’


An­drea Lead­som: ‘No min­i­mum wage, no un­fair dis­missal rights, no pen­sion rights…’


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