The referendum has exposed the divisions in our society and the rottenness of the political system. It’s as if an earthquake just took place. We are now surveying the damage. The structures of the political world are still standing, but some are unsafe to enter – their foundations have been shaken, their facades are cracked. Watch where you stand – bits are falling off.
Behold the Labour Party. The party is split between a progressive, metropolitan elite and a Corbyn-supporting camp, while its traditional heartlands have deserted. However the Westminster party settles its infighting, will it be anything other than a head in a jar, its existence unnaturally prolonged, but dead in any meaningful sense?
The Tories have shown a greater semblance of unity in the aftermath, but we cannot be sure this edifice will stay up long. Cameron is to go. Osborne is in hiding. Only Boris has a clear path to leadership, but he will have enemies, and anyway, what does he really stand for? Did he think he would win the referendum? Does he have a plan to extricate the country from the quagmire? Time will tell.
Not only the political parties have been shaken. The British people as well, the demos, is teetering. The middle class have been defeated by a working class revolt. The metropolitans, who as a rule know Barcelona, Madrid and Paris far better than Boston, Middlesboro and Preston, are horrified to find themselves outvoted by a mass of people they had pretended didn’t exist.
The Leave voters, however, lack leadership. They are not homogeneous in any case. An In/Out referendum reduces a complex matter to that binary choice. Once held, the simple A or B unravels again into its fiendish complexity.
Britain and the other countries of Europe, both within and without the EU must find a new settlement. This necessity has come to us now, because of the historical blunder made by the British government of Edward Heath to take Britain into the EEC based of a false prospectus.
There were always two models for European co-operation. There was the model favoured by the post-WWII British governments, both red and blue; inter-governmental – the Europe of nation states, in which sovereign countries work together on a voluntary basis. And there was the model at the heart of the so-called European Project; the supranational, federal model, the aim of creating a United States of Europe, where each sovereign nation would be subsumed, and would hand over its most fundamental power to the central authority.
Either model could be argued rationally, with advantages and disadvantages to be traded on both sides. In the case of the supranational, federal model, one of the disadvantages was always that the majority of the people of the various countries of Europe would not support it, and thus if it was to stand a chance of success, it would have to be advanced through cunning and disguise. This was never more so than with the UK’s membership. To this day, its most ardent British supporters will not make the case for a federal Europe. Rather, they usually scoff at the notion that this was any more than the goal of a few starry-eyed idealists. In truth it was the goal of the very architects of the EU, and remains so for the most powerful figures of its structure.
When the UK joined the EEC, EFTA – the European Free Trade Association – had seven members to the EEC’s six. Had Britain never joined, it is possible that EFTA could have developed alongside the EEC/EC/EU, offering a viable alternative for those nations that preferred not to “pool” sovereignty in the emerging superstate.
Despite the UK’s abandonment, EFTA has continued to exist. Its membership today comprises Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It has agreements in place with the EU over access to the Single Market. As such, it could provide a relatively simple vehicle for the UK to extricate itself from the EU without crashing the world economy. Unless I am mistaken, this is the position advanced in the FLEXIT plan. It would require a compromise on free movement of people which would not satisfy some of those who voted to leave – but you can’t please everyone.