If anything is to happen, whether it is for Brexit to be stopped or reversed, it’s really only down to the British voters, Dr Helen de Cruz argues.
First published in August 2019.
The scene is familiar: our hero or protagonist is faced with a seemingly intractable and extreme problem. He (or she, or they, etc.) has no way out. Jon Snow’s army is totally surrounded. But then, a deus ex machina, a new event or character, suddenly turns up and saves the protagonist. The knights of the Vale ride in and save Jon Snow’s army from near-obliteration. Tolkien’s eagles swoop in to help the Hobbit and the Dwarves from the burning tree tops.
We are so used to deus ex machina solutions in fiction that in the long, weary, drawn-out Brexit struggle the UK is in, there must be some external force, someone to save us, from food shortages, medicine shortages, civil unrest, or a far-right coup.
To give you a sense of these narratives, here are some serious proposals floated in respectable newspapers that I’ve seen people share enthusiastically, saying “This could work!”
The Irish will save us!
Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times, argues that Sinn Féin MPs who have not taken up their positions at Westminster could voluntarily stand down and trigger by-elections, thereby helping into power MPs who would be committed to avoid a no-deal Brexit, “What’s needed, and needed urgently, is something much more imaginative: a pact among all the anti-Brexit parties in Northern Ireland — Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens. The agreement would have four basic elements. First, the seven Sinn Féin MPs will stand down temporarily, triggering byelections in Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast. As it happens, all of these constituencies except Mid Ulster and West Belfast are bounded by the Border.”
O’Toole makes the case that this would be advantageous for Sinn Féin and that it would be feasible. But the idea that Sinn Féin would acknowledge Westminster sovereignty is very fanciful to say the least. It is surely possible, as in metaphysically possible (e.g., it’s possible and the laws of quantum physics permit that my hand goes through my keyboard as I’m typing this), but it’s not going to happen.
The queen will save us!
Will Hutton, writing in the Guardian, proposes that the Queen will save Britain. He acknowledges, “The constitution does empower the monarch to assert fair play and the public interest, but a non-elected head of state can never actually act. This is no longer sustainable. We needed the Queen to insist that a referendum as important as that on EU membership required a super-majority; we will need her to sack Boris Johnson if he tries to stay in office after losing a no-confidence vote or to time a general election for after 31 October, so bypassing the Commons to effect a no-deal Brexit. But she knows she can only act politically once. If she sacks Johnson she makes enemies of the English nationalists; if she doesn’t, she makes enemies of everyone else. Either way, her legitimacy is ruined.”
Okay. I don’t realistically see her acting in the national interest in this way even once. It’s just not going to happen.
Women will save us!
Caroline Lucas proposes an emergency female cabinet to stop no-deal. This would be consisting entirely of women MPs from across the political spectrum (Jo Swinson, Anna Soubry, etc) and would propose a referendum on Brexit, offering the choice between No-Deal and Remain. Why only women? She writes, “Because I believe women have shown they can bring a different perspective to crises, are able to reach out to those they disagree with and cooperate to find solutions”.
Lucas seems to have forgotten Theresa May’s terribly short and ill-fated premiership, where she not only called an unnecessary general election to grab power, and gave people such as Boris Johnson important cabinet positions, she also made no-deal a reasonable sounding option by her repeated “No deal is better than a bad deal” mantra. We are where we are now, facing down the cliff edge, because of May.
Much as I value that women should be in leadership positions, I am skeptical of how an emergency cabinet, regardless of gender composition, could head off no-deal, and the binary No-Deal/Remain choice Lucas proposes is dangerous.
These three cases, just drawn from the recent media, indicate that any last-ditch effort to stop no-deal is going to require an elaborate coming together of many factors. None of the proposed solutions has a serious chance of working.
Brexit may be a far-right coup, using a gerrymandered electorate, and lies, but the UK electorate (in its misguided and gerrymandered form) did make the Referendum result happen. If Brexit is to be stopped, or reversed, or its effects mitigated, it’s the British electorate that has to make it happen.🔷
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