The post referendum campaign to remain in the EU is now fully under way. Those who never wanted us to Remain have now been joined by some of the people who voted Leave, but who are genuinely and understandably concerned about what we should do next. These latter people, who I would call ‘Soft Leavers’, are arguing for delaying the invocation of article 50 for as long as possible or as long as necessary. They are in many cases joining forces with those who did not want us to leave in the first place-the ‘Hard Remainers’ to find reasons why we should delay leaving the EU until some mainly unspecified date in the future.
The main reasons that the Soft Leavers are giving for waiting are along the following lines.
1. We need time to work out our bargaining position with the EU.
2. If we wait, the EU is well on the way to imploding after the French and German elections next year.
3. There is a split between the EU Commission and the national governments in Europe which we can exploit, even to the extent of bypassing the EU Commission and making deals with individual countries.
4. If we can get the EU to back down and make concessions on the free movement of labour it may not be necessary to leave the EU at all. This is where the Soft Leavers join with the Remainers.
The problem with all these arguments, whatever their individual tactical merits, is that they fail to take into account that the consequence of delaying the invocation of Article 50 immediately will be to strengthen the hand of those who wish to deny the democratic decision of the majority of the people. This would be a terrible blow to our democratic process and induce even more cynicism in those who have already demonstrated their alienation from the political establishment. It is far more important that we strengthen our democracy and the people’s belief in it than the specifics of a negotiating process. In 20 years time the EU negotiations will be history and the world economy will be in a different place, but if we abandon democracy now we run the risk of damaging the democratic process for good.
We need to take events into our own hands and not hope that other countries will come to our aid.Delaying the invocation of Article 50 sends a signal to the people with whom we are negotiating in Europe that we are not serious about leaving. Any serious negotiator on the EU side will see this as a sign of weakness and will draw the conclusion that if they are tough enough in the negotiation over trade then we will back down from leaving the EU. We need to take immediate steps to take the focus away from the EU negotiation in two ways
1. We need government action to stimulate the economy. The economy is weak and has needed attention for years. Remainers will try to pretend that the problems have been caused by Brexit and this will demoralise Leavers if there is a recession.The government should borrow money and invest in a major house-building and infrastructure investment programme. It should also find ways to stimulate technological and scientific investment. Existing plans to build a third runway and HS2 should be accelerated.
2. We should start making new trade deals with the rest of the world outside of the EU.
We should campaign for the invocation of Article 50 immediately under the banner of Democracy Now. The best bet for the UK is not to rely on the kindness of others, but to take matters into our own hands and make our democracy work.