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How Brexit Was Derailed - A Historical Perspective

04/11/2016 17:48

The British Prime Minister sat down to thunderous applause. One by one the members of the European Parliament stood in acclamation to show their appreciation of the words they had just heard. Nicolas Sarkozy came over with outstretched hand whilst Angela Merkel leant over and patted the PM on the shoulder.

" .......and therefore I can announce that the United Kingdom will NOT be leaving the European Union." These had been the closing words of this fateful speech

The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Foreign Secretary left the hall together after arranging to meet later for a quiet meal away from the crowd.

"Tim, Nick, this has been the most important fight of our lives, history will thank us for this" said the PM after arranging to meet at the evening press conference.

"I'll settle for thanks from the voters at the next election" Said Nick Clegg, a little ruefully.

"Don't worry," replied Tim Farron, "this time it will be different!"

It had been a long 18 months since the referendum of 23rd June 2016. 18 months of turmoil, hatred and a country divided, not just by politics but by social class, educational achievement and geography.

At first, there had been an entrenching of the Brexiteers, forcing the "Remainers", as they were termed, to retreat underground whilst the potential effects of Brexit began to emerge.

The tide had begun to turn when motor manufacturers began to desert the UK. Nissan was the first to make clear that they didn't come to the UK for the good food and nice weather - but to access the European market. Land Rover/Jaguar were next but the final straw was BMW giving notice that they would be moving the Mini production line to Poland.

The Sunderland riots hammered home the point that the Leave voters had not voted for the export of their own jobs and the evening news had led with pictures of the burning of effigies of Boris Johnson.
Boris declined to go there to apologise whilst complaining bitterly that it was much easier to make an effigy of him than the other two Brexiteers.

"All the blighters have to do is stuff a suit and stick some straw on top, much easier than a Davies or a Fox. If I go up there to the Geordie masses they won't need the effigy and Boris will end up doing a Joan of Arc routine. No thanks!"

The banks were next. No big announcements, just the slow and remorseless drift of staff to Paris, Frankfurt and New York. The Tory Spring conference of 2017 was conspicuous by the absence of business sponsorship, with the sole exception of JCB whose logo appeared at every reception and on every fringe platform

12.47pm on the 17th of May 2017 was the tipping point. That was when the Pound finally slipped below the Euro and the currency exchanges at airports were giving just 90 cents for every pound sterling. This, along with the 93p value of the US Dollar was the trigger for a full blown political crisis. The parliamentary debate on the moving of article 50 was forced on the government and the motion was lost by 7 votes.

Theresa May called a General Election, with the support of the other parties, and the rest is history.

Meanwhile Europe had been quietly reforming its open border policies, prompted by the close results in the French elections and forthcoming German elections of 2017. Free movement remained a central policy but there was now an emergency brake available to be used by countries under extreme pressure from immigration.

This greatly influenced Britains General Election and, crucially, let some of the reluctant Brexiteers off the hook, able to claim that the last 18 months had been worthwhile and had resulted in a Europe on a path to reform. The election had been without the presence of Nigel Farrage, now in his new post as President Trump's political adviser.

The Conservatives lost 70 seats, Labour gained 10, the SNP stayed level but the Liberal Democrats gained 62 seats with their pro Europe stance. The Lib Dems promise to build 1 million new council houses, bring fast broadband to every home and business, coupled with an expansion of solar and hydro energy had also appealed to voters.

Two weeks of negotiations followed, with the Lib Dems being the key players. The SNP were never going to make a deal with the hated Tories which left the Lib Dems as the Kingmakers.

Tim Farron was asked to trim his manifesto and to back away from his parties bold promises.
His response was quick and crisp:

"There's another party over the road, and if you think I'm doing a Clegg then you can think again. It's our manifesto, or I walk"

The deal was done after a final request that Nick Clegg be Foreign Secretary. This was quickly granted on the basis that fences needed to be mended and Nick's European credentials actually made him best man for the job, irrespective of politics.

This left the problem of the 2016 referendum result versus the Parliamentary vote. Opinion polls pointed to another referendum which was quickly organised for the Autumn. The alternatives were carefully crafted.

"Stay in a reformed EU on the basis of a cap on immigration "

"Leave the EU and the single market"

This time, the political big beasts were all on the same side and a discredited UKIP played little part.

The result was 56/44 in favour of remaining.

And the rest, as they say, is history ..........

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