Brexit is just another tumultuous fight for democracy that will soon seem straightforward

Brexit is just another tumultuous fight for democracy that will soon seem straightforward

Imagine a supranational project that is set up by a group of member states to serve its members by acting as an international trade facilitator. Imagine also that, as time goes by, this trade facilitator adds a massive political overcoat through the accumulated effect of many small steps. Despite no clear democratic mandate.

Now imagine that one of the member states is met with derision when asking for clear limits to further expansion. Imagine, moreover, that the majority of the people in this member state, subsequently, vote to leave. And then ask for a free trade agreement. Meaning that this country, in practice, asks to be treated similarly to most other non-member countries. Imagine next that the supranationalists respond as follows:

“Leaving is close to impossible while it will lead to aeroplane chaos, lorry chaos, medicine chaos, economic chaos and, yes, possibly war at your north-western border. By the way, we cannot start discussing a trade agreement until that border issue has been sorted. As well as the money issue. Fees way beyond the membership fee need to be discussed, meaning extra negotiation time is necessary. During the transition period you will have no say over rules since you have, sort of, left. But you will still need to continue to pay up because you have, sort of, not left. And if no agreement can be concluded during the transition period, well, then you need to stay in our customs union indefinitely. Meaning you will continue to be prohibited from signing independent trade deals. Now, since leaving is so hard, costly, time-consuming and restraining – is it not time to conclude, once and for all, that only ‘ill-informed hardliners’ would even try? And that it is better to stay?”

Imagine, moreover, that this response is produced by supranationalists consistently apt at moving forward quickly and creatively when ever closer union is negotiated; just not when going the other way.

As an objective observer, which side would you conclude was really representing ”hardline excess”? Which side would you say was representing “excess backtracking”?

A key problem during every important transition period relates to perceptions. Every political camp, when having dominated the political scene for a long time, will unknowingly enter excess terrain. Why? Because the tremendous nomination and budgets powers (that comes with the territory) will ensure – often unconsciously – that people with the same mindset will eventually dominate in just about every position of authority, meaning that expert consultation rounds will usually end in the same way: “Anyone ‘serious’ against our proposal to [yet again] advance a bit further in the same direction as before? No? Since most of us would prefer moving forward through great leaps, this is the moderate way to go, right?”

A century ago it was ”the socialist radicals”, while then more firmly attached to the ground than the Conservatives, who brought common sense and realism into a Parliament dominated by dated but lingering perceptions. The institutionalised right-wing “experts” responded with never-ending prophecies of instability and doom. Yet, the Labour Party – while offering counterweight and balance – paved the way towards greater both stability and prosperity.

With roles reversed, history is now repeating itself since – surprise, surprise – the scenario imagined above is based on a true story titled “The Brexit hotchpotch” which, had it been submitted as a work of political fiction only a few years ago, probably would have been rejected by most publishers because the plot would have been considered too unlikely.

If stepping back and looking at the big picture it is arguably, today, only the “rebel faction” of the Conservative Party which offers a path towards regained political stability; since excess backtracking is always the best remedy if truly seeking political stability. Whereas it is the Conservative Party “establishment faction” that can be seen as the sole faction in UK politics which is likely to end up on the wrong side of history during both democratic junctures mentioned.

The Brexit story involves numerous ironies but the perhaps greatest of them all is that despite the animosity most people on both sides really want the same thing: international trade, an intact democracy and certainly not excess of any sort. Today, just as a hundred years ago, a small minority of movers and shakers, institutionalised on top of the political power pyramid, is holding the overwhelming majority to ransom through its moralist defence of excess dressed up as moderation.

However, even when exercising tremendous powers of interpretation the moralists can only halt real progress, not stop it. After all, if genuinely comfortable about the truth neither moralism nor scare-stories are needed to make a case. In the 1920s, as time passed, the tactic of the status quo apologists backfired. Meaning that the moralism-and-scare-story-phase proved to be their last hurrah. We are presently going through a similar cycle. Which is why today’s status quo apologists are bound to come across as just as obsolete as their equivalents a hundred years ago. Not without reason.