Mrs Mays speech 18 Jan 2017

Indy on-line
17 Jan 2017
Paddy Ashdown

So now at last we know what Mrs May has decided shall be our future in Europe – or rather out of it.

What she calls for is a fundamental break with our neighbours, our culture and our past of the kind which was never discussed during the referendum campaign.

Remember, when, time and again, the Brexiteers were asked what kind of Brexit they wanted? Time and again they couldn’t – or more accurately, wouldn’t – answer. Or, if they did, gave answers which were completely contradictory. Some said they wanted to stay in the Single Market; others demanded out; some proposed managed immigration; others insisted on none; some suggested a new trading relationship with the EU; others wanted to cut loose completely.

They would not tell us what we were voting for then; they should not be allowed to steal our votes for their prejudices now.

If ever there was a case for putting the deal that is finally made with the EU before the British people, Mrs May made it today.

Last week-end in Germany, Chancellor Hammond, blurted out the truth about the course Mrs May has chosen. Retain the closest economic links with the EU, he said, and Britain will remain a broadly European style nation. Cast off all our European moorings and head for the open sea, we risk having to turn ourselves into a low tax, no regulation, cheap labour, equivalent of Singapore. Then – among other things we have come to take for granted and enjoy in our country – we would say goodbye to work-place rights, the welfare state as we know it, policies to protect our environment and European style protections for our civil liberties. That Mrs May finds this prospect congenial should not come as surprise. As Home Secretary and Prime Minister it is she who has been the driving force behind the Snooper’s Charter, which the European Courts have rejected.

And to compensate for all this, we are offered in exchange a Michael Gove promise of a cosy relationship with Donald Trump and a TTIP style trade deal negotiated from a weak position.
Mr Trump is now limbering up for a trade war, not just with China, but with the EU as well. Presumably he will expect us to take his side against our old friends. Not the best climate to negotiate trade deals, you may think.

Maybe this is what the people of Britain want, too. But I doubt it.

Surely, before this Government is allowed to turn a narrow majority for leave into a swingeing mandate to re-name our country “Britapore” and paddle it out into the mid-Atlantic, we its poor benighted passengers, should be allowed a say?

Such a vote would not be to re-fight the in/out referendum. Those, like me, who campaigned for Remain must accept as gracefully as we can, that we lost. What we now have to decide, as a country, is what kind of relationship a Brexit Britain should retain with the European Union – in short, what kind of country we should now become. Mrs May has told us her vision. The question is do the people of Britain agree? Given the stark choices she has proposed at what she concedes is “a moment of great national change”, do they too not get the right to speak?
Brexiteers claim that “Leave” was a vote against an arrogant political elite; how ironic then that our country’s course is now to be determined by a leader who has not faced an election even in her own party, let alone the country. No second vote, no consultation, no detailed plan, no chance for Parliament amend or scrutinise, (unless the blessed Supreme Court Judges instruct otherwise). The people have spoken and are now to be dispensed with as “not wanted for the remainder of the voyage”. Conservative voters, along with the rest of us. What happened to the Tory manifesto promise of little more than eighteen months ago; “We say: yes to the Single Market”?

Sir Ivan Rogers’ recent resignation illuminated what many of us suspected – that Mrs May runs her Government like a Borgia court. All but her closest advisors are excluded (including the Civil Service); all voices that oppose her are unwelcome; the poisoners are sent out after any public dissenter; even the “hapless three” charged with the Ministerial responsibility for Brexit, are left squabbling outside the door. Are we really to leave the most important decision of our time to such a tiny, closed and venomous cabal?

What is at stake, following Mrs May’s speech, is nothing less than keeping Britain open, tolerant, united and planning a future based on engagement with our friends in Europe, rather than depending on the crumbs from Mr Trump’s table.

What started out as an act of democracy must not be allowed to end with a stitch-up for a plan we never voted for and a future we do not want.