Britain’s Brexit Debate is Finally Over

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 December 2019

This article was published at QPosts

The victory of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the crushing defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is the beginning of the end of three years of turbulence in Britain.

The gridlock in Britain goes back to the referendum in 2016, when the country voted to leave the European Union. Although Parliament had voted to surrender this decision to a plebiscite, Parliament had a majority that favoured remaining in the EU and resisted implementing a result it disliked, despite the promises before the referendum. This clash of mandates—both able to claim electoral legitimacy—plunged the country into a constitutional crisis.

The vote to “Brexit” had come in defiance of elite opinion and beyond Parliament the Remainers had power-centres in the bureaucracy, the economy, and the media—to say nothing of academia and the arts—who could be called upon to help block the implementation of the referendum result with assistance from an activist judiciary. And help they did.

Until Thursday night, many of the most powerful and influential people in the country believed that Britain would not leave the European Union. There were those who thought the referendum could simply be cancelled. Some argued that it was only “advisory”, after all. Others tried to blame the result on Russian interference and have the result annulled or re-run on that basis. A more widespread view was that it was necessary to have a second referendum, dubbed a “people’s vote”, in which Remain was an option—though it was never explained why the British public should trust such people to accept the result this time, when by definition they had refused to accept the last one.

Corbyn tried to split the difference on Brexit. His position was that Labour would negotiate a deal with the EU, which would then be put to a referendum, and, extraordinarily, he refused to say whether or not he would vote for his own deal in such a referendum. Labour friends who tried to explain this position on the doorstep in northern England and the midlands found it did not resonate. People either thought Corbyn’s Brexit policy was ludicrously incoherent or a sneaky way of trying to cancel the 2016 result. In either case, they thought it would prolong the debate—and the chaos. In huge numbers, they voted either for the Conservatives or, if they were unable to do that for partisan reasons, for the Brexit Party, which came to the same thing, reducing the Labour tally and giving the Conservatives a sweeping victory across England.

Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Jeremy Corbyn, 1983 [source]

The other major factor that destroyed Labour was Corbyn himself. Many saw him as simply incompetent; even if they liked his manifesto, they had no confidence in his skill to make it a reality. For many others, he was worse than that. There was the antisemitism crisis in the party under Corbyn’s leadership; his support for various anti-British terrorist groups like the Provisional Irish Republican Army, HAMAS, and Hizballah; his being paid by the Iranian government for work on Press TV; and Corbyn having been an informant for the Czech Communist secret police. People might not have been able to name the specifics but they understood the broad picture of a man who hated the country and threatened its national security. The urban liberals could overlook Corbyn’s record for the sake of promises about free university education; the patriotic working class could not.

Corbyn will have to resign, but Labour’s far-Left leadership seems unlikely to learn any lessons from this. It could, therefore, be a long time before the Labour Party returns to power in Britain. The redrawing of the political map will remake the Conservative Party over time, particularly by moving it to the Left on economics. And the interminable argument over Brexit, which has dominated the national conversation and gotten quite hysterical at times, is over. Britain will leave the European Union on 20 January 2020 and as an independent nation will then seek to make its way in the world, as it did before 1973, when, all things being considered, we didn’t do too badly.

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