The Brexit nobody voted for

When people voted for ‘Leave’ on 23 June 2016, nobody had been told – let alone asked – what Leave meant.

It was just an undefined word. Leave. One word that could have meant anything.

If you say you’re going to leave, the obvious next question is ‘where to’? But that wasn’t a question offered or answered.

After Theresa May became Prime Minister the following month, in July 2016, she said, “Brexit means Brexit”. It was gobbledegook.

Brexit at that stage didn’t mean anything. Nobody, let alone the electorate, had agreed what it could or should mean.

There was no consensus – not even among prominent Brexit campaigners, who couldn’t even agree with each other.

But by January 2017, Theresa May took it upon herself to unilaterally and starkly spell out what Brexit meant – even though nobody else had, certainly not voters.

In her speech of Tuesday 17 January, she announced her version of Brexit that ‘astounded’ the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

He questioned whether the referendum had given the UK government ‘carte blanche’ for “such a total break” from the EU.

Monsieur Barnier’s entry into his ‘Secret Brexit Diary’ for 17 January 2017 is revealing, especially now, when we can look back on what happened with more knowledgeable eyes.

▪ 𝑇𝑢𝑒𝑠𝑑𝑎𝑦 17 𝐽𝑎𝑛𝑢𝑎𝑟𝑦 2017, 𝐿𝑎𝑛𝑐𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝐻𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑒 – 𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑎 𝑀𝑎𝑦 𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑤𝑠 ℎ𝑒𝑟 ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑑

Standing behind a lectern bearing the words, ‘Global Britain’, the Prime Minister begins her address in a resolutely optimistic tone, praising the merits of a United Kingdom at the forefront of tomorrow’s world, of a ‘great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home’.

I can’t help but notice the paradox when she claims that the referendum ‘was not a decision to turn inwards’ but ‘the moment we chose to build a truly “Global Britain”’.

However, it is not this optimistic – and somewhat debatable – message that really catches my attention, but three sentences that suggest to me that the content of this speech is far more significant than what has been said so far:

‘Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out.

‘We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries.

‘We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.’

In fact, Mrs May is about to do nothing less than set out her red lines in their entirety, even though we have not yet opened negotiations.

And she does so in surprisingly specific terms:

● the UK will ‘bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice,’ she says;

● and will end the free movement of people so as to ‘get control of the number people coming to Britain from the EU’;

● ‘we do not seek membership of the Single Market’;

● ‘I do not want Britain to be part of the Commons Commercial Policy and I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff.’

I am astounded by the sheer number of doors she is closing here, one after the other, by enumerating all of these points…

Have the consequences of each of these decisions been fully thought through, assessed and discussed?

Does she realise that, in doing this, she is excluding almost all the models of cooperation we have managed to construct up to now with our partners, even the closest among them?

Can we be sure that the referendum vote gave the British government carte blanche for such a total break?

In fact, for her to say all this amounts to writing off not only membership of the European Economic Area – of which Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members – but also the kind of partnership we have with Turkey, which has a customs union agreement with the EU…

My view today: neither Theresa May’s Brexit, nor the Boris Johnson Brexit that we ended up with, ever had the consensus support of the electorate.

We’ve been had.

Our political masters unilaterally seized one word – LEAVE – and turned it into a Brexit book of THEIR liking, but not ours.

Jon Danzig is a campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe. He is also founder of the pro-EU information campaign, Reasons2Rejoin. You can follow Jon Danzig on his Facebook journalism page at