Can Remainers still seek to push the PM in a softer Brexit direction if the Government is not listening? An interesting thread by Professor Phil Syrpis.

First published in January 2020.

The question facing the UK, now that Brexit is ‘done’, is what the future relationship with the EU (and the rest of the world) is going to look like.

As David Allen Green says, the referendum mandate provides little (or no) assistance.


But... PM Boris Johnson now has a big majority in Parliament, and can set the UK’s post-Brexit course. The question is what ‘Remainers’ can do to seek to ensure that a close relationship with the EU is maintained.

They will be challenged by many ‘Leavers’ who will seek to ensure that the UK remains distant from the EU’s regulatory orbit, that sovereignty is ‘restored’, and that the UK is free to set its own standards, and make its own trade deals.

What will the Government do? So far, successive Governments have managed without even acknowledging the choices and trade-offs which inevitably lie ahead. We can maintain economic benefits while establishing the right to diverge. We can both have our cake and eat it too.

The big failure of Remain has been the failure to force the Government to confront these choices and trade-offs. Many don’t know, and/or don’t seem to care, that they exist.

The idea that economic rationality will now win out seems unduly optimistic. It hasn’t been a prominent feature of the UK’s Brexit debate to date. Yes, things might now change... but I am not sure that they will.

That is in large part because of the politics. Johnson has united Leave. Those who agitated for Brexit, who fought to ‘take back control’, and to end EU interference, are backing him... for now.

But if he makes ‘concessions’ to the EU, they will (again) cry betrayal.

I can’t see Johnson deciding to challenge them. That would involve crushing many Brexit dreams. And for what? For an inherently unstable rule-taker relationship with the EU which no-one is enthusiastic about.

If that is right, Johnson is likely to push (as he said in his manifesto) for a hard Brexit.

Remainers have few, if any, mechanisms to deploy to seek to push him in a softer direction. They will no doubt make the economic case for proximity, but the Government will not be listening. Brexit will happen, and it will happen on Johnson’s terms.

As I see it, the key task for Remainers is to explain the nature of the choices the Government is making, and point to the adverse consequences which result from those choices.

It is far too early to talk about rejoining the EU. But it is crucial that the Government’s Brexit choices are subjected to rigorous scrutiny.

This is Johnson’s Brexit; he has to be made to own it.

Tweets posted on 27 January 2020 by @syrpis.

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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 28 January 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - PM Boris Johnson. | 22 Jan 2020. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)