This election will be about many things – but Brexit is actually an irrelevance

This election will be about many things – but Brexit is actually an irrelevance

Tony Blair tells us that this election is all about Brexit. A chance for the people to join his one-man resistance movement and learn to love the EU. Not being quite as brave, the Liberals claim it’s a chance to change our minds. Labour says it will fight for us to leave only on the same terms as we have while we are in. Theresa May asks for a negotiator’s mandate to strengthen her hand.

They’re all wrong. Brexit will be the most divisive part of the debate. It will be more noisy than the old party rows but in reality it’s irrelevant to this election. We’ll spend six weeks arguing about something to which the electoral verdict has little relevance.

Elections can’t be confined to the cage politicians want to fight in. Ted Heath wanted his 1974 election to be about controlling the unions. It was actually about the performance of Ted’s hapless government. Stanley Baldwin called the 1923 election on the issue of tariffs only to find people more concerned with social justice. This one will be about austerity, neoliberalism, the rise of inequality, the performance of the Conservative Government and the state of the Labour Party. Brexit will be only background noise.

Hard as the politicians try to argue about Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Brexitless Brexit or Should have gone to Specsavers to see it Brexit, that’s out of British control. It will be decided by the sadism or sense of a shambolic EU, emboldened by the French election result.

For any British party to claim it can either dictate or influence that would be like reading How to Win Friends and Influence People to a herd of stampeding buffalo. All we can do is to discuss whether Britain can change its mind and turn back – and that’s both hypothetical and premature.

Like everything else, this depends neither on us nor on the election result but on how much the EU wants to punish us for being naughty to teach the others to behave. Indeed if Lib Dems and Blairites go on trying to undermine Brexit it can only build EU confidence and encourage it to be more obdurate in the hope that we’ll get fed up and give up – which wouldn’t help the EU cause.

The more obstinate the EU gets and the longer they insist that there can be no talk until we cough up the cash, the more it will alienate the electorate. The more they punish us, the less traction Euro-enthusiasm will have in Britain, the more angry and alienated our electors will become and the more difficult it will be to accept the humiliation of going back onto a naughty step on the periphery of a gloating EU. The less generous the terms offered, the less they will be acceptable to a Parliament and a people who have the final verdict.

That’s what will decide the matter. We won’t know it for two years, if then. In the meantime, all the bluff, bluster and euro-balderdash are a total waste of time compared to voting about what kind of Britain we want to see and which party can deliver it. Bogging down in the euro-mire is only a distraction.

Photocredit: Coventry City Council