...for the first time since 1985. We have to stop this lunacy - or, at least, salvage what we can.
This is not quite the official No10 version of this video...
I've kept this topic off the blog: It consumes enough of my thinking as it is, without expending time talking about it on here. But... for some time I've been thinking about writing down my perspective on it - to the extent that I started making notes of important points, to work into something more consumable.
And then I came across this letter, from John Sheppard to his MP. It covers pretty much everything. I don't know what the hell has happened to our politics, which I would once have defended to the the world:
" Dear Mr Graham,
Thank you for your letter of 25th May, addressed to myself, my wife and my daughter. I have been intending to write to you in more detail for some time, but with so many issues regarding the Government’s determination to leave the European Union I have struggled to know where to begin. However with the Withdrawal Bill returning to the House of Commons for extremely brief consideration of the many amendments this week I can delay no longer.
Perhaps I should start by saying that I do not respect the outcome of the 2016 advisory referendum. I do, of course, respect the likelihood that the vast majority of those who voted in favour of leaving did so in good faith, believing what they had been told by people that they should have been able to trust. However, as we know, the leave campaigns built their arguments around misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies. Some of your most senior colleagues chose to ride around the country in a big red bus with a lie about the size of our payments to the EU on the side, and followed it up with false claims about imminent expansion of the EU. Other campaigners chose to stoke fears about immigration, making false claims about the cost of immigration to the country and the impact this had on public services. Leave campaigners did a remarkable job of convincing people that everything they didn’t like was somehow the fault of “Brussels”, and that leaving the EU would somehow make everything better again. Few of these claims of marvellous benefits survive today.
I know that some people feel that Remain campaigners also lied. I suggest that there is a fundamental difference between over-estimating the speed at which damage would occur, and telling untruths about simple facts like the size of our payments. However I cannot accept that if both sides misled the electorate then everything balances out and the result becomes trustworthy.
Recent revelations cast even further doubt on the respectability of the referendum. Did the alleged manipulation by Cambridge Analytica using stolen personal data skew the result? Or the alleged overspending resulting from collusion between Leave.EU and BeLeave working with AggregateIQ? Or the alleged covert funding by the Russian Government?
The referendum was carried out in a sea of misinformation, and the result cannot be considered to be an informed decision.
My next concern is how the advisory referendum became the eternal, unquestionable, “Will of the People”. The Referendum Act says nothing about what should happen after the referendum, and I believe that the Parliamentary briefing papers at the time the Bill was going through Parliament made it clear that the referendum was advisory. I can only assume that this is why Parliament did not feel the need to build in the precautions that would be required in most mature democracies before a referendum could lead to change of this magnitude, such as a requirement for a super-majority or for all four constituent nations of the United Kingdom to vote in favour of change. Prominent leave campaigners stated on several occasions that they would not regard a vote of 52% to 48% in favour of remaining to be a conclusive result, and so we can be sure that they would not have called such a result the “The Will of the People” and simply accepted that they had lost. Then, somehow, by the morning of 24th June 2016 a vote of 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of leaving had become an overwhelming mandate, and we must leave whatever the cost, whatever damage we do to our economy, however much we lose standing and influence in the World, and however much we undermine our children’s prospects. I cannot understand this.
I accept that after the referendum the Government could not ignore the result. They also could not simply execute the leave campaigners’ plans, as there weren’t any. They could have sought to consider the options, to study the impact that various decisions might have, to hold a public debate and build consensus to agree a way forward, but they did not. Mr Cameron decided to go home and buy a new shed. Mrs May became Prime Minister without the party’s leadership selection process running to completion, and appeared to make all the decisions in private, perhaps with advice from a few trusted advisors such as the now long-departed Mr Timothy, and presented the lot in her Lancaster House speech. She dismissed the concerns of the 16,141,241 who had voted to remain, and treated us to charming expressions such as “Citizens of Nowhere”. Was this supposed to persuade us that her approach was correct?
I could carry on at length. I could discuss the Government’s attempts to invoke Article 50 using prerogative powers until prevented from doing so by the Supreme Court. I could discuss the woefully inadequate Notification of Withdrawal Act, pushed through Parliament with little debate to meet an arbitrary deadline, or the Prime Minister’s failed attempt to gain an overwhelming Brexit mandate in the 2017 General Election, or the saga of the non-existent Impact Assessments, but I will spare you my thoughts on these issues for now.
We are now just over nine months from our departure date, and the negotiations seem to be revisiting issues that we thought had been dealt with last year. Last week we had the drama over inserting some vague and non-committal wording about an end date to the backstop proposals for the Irish border, and the Cabinet are reported to be still debating which customs arrangements they want, even though neither candidate scheme seems to be achievable. Almost all of the benefits that were promoted before the referendum seem to have vanished, and even Nigel Farage has reached the point of denying that he ever said that leaving would make us better off. There are still some claims that “Trade Deals” will make it all worthwhile, but it is hard to believe that there are “Deals” to be had that can compensate for the loss of our current trading arrangements with and through the European Union. The surviving claims now seem to stretch many years into the future, with Andrew Lilico saying that we may feel some benefits in 25 or 30 years, and Lord Digby Jones saying that we will benefit after a hundred years. I’m not sure that putting that on the side of a big red bus would have helped the leave campaign much.
So my long rant finally brings me to a question for you. Do you really believe that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union will bring any benefits for me or my family? Will it bring any benefits for Gloucester, or for the United Kingdom as a whole? If so, what will these benefits be? What is the likelihood of realising these benefits? Will they be enough to justify the loss of economic growth we have already experienced, and that which is forecast? Will the benefits justify removing Freedom of Movement from my children? Will they justify the loss of highly skilled citizens of other EU countries from our businesses and public services, the sheer hard graft of migrant agricultural workers, and the tax revenues that all those EU workers bring? Or are we just following “The Will of the People” and hoping for the best?
If you cannot give me good reasons to believe that there are benefits from leaving the European Union that will clearly outweigh the vast costs and risks, then I urge you as a minimum to vote in favour of all of the Lords’ amendments to the Withdrawal Bill. I believe that the Government is busy trying to offer alternative amendments that commit them to very little, but these seem very unsatisfactory. I understand that you may feel loyalty to the Prime Minister, to the Government and to your Party, but the issues at stake are too important for party loyalty to be the deciding factor. If nothing else, I beg you to vote in favour of the amendment to give Parliament a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. Simply allowing Ministers to impose whatever they have come up with, or giving the choice between a terrible deal and the utter chaos of leaving with no deal in place, is utterly inconsistent with “Taking Back Control” and is entirely unacceptable.
I apologise for the long email, but I hope you will understand that I had much to say "