Back in early September I told readers to standby for the deception election Well it’s now getting into full swing and, sure enough, deception in the name of Brexit is at the heart of the campaign. It’s time to demolish the myths that are being peddled.
Deception myth number one is that the election is necessary to resolve Brexit. Poppycock. If that was the case, then the issue should have been put to the country in a referendum. Myth number two is that the election is needed to unblock a parliamentary logjam. This is closely allied with myth number three which is that parliament was blocking Brexit and wasn’t representing ‘the will of the people.’
The reality is that Parliament passed Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) by a 52% vs 48% majority of MPs at its second reading, exactly mirroring the votes in the 2016 referendum. Far from being at odds with “the people”, the vote in Parliament was very much a reflection of the referendum vote. The electorate should firmly reject the negative and dangerous ‘parliament versus the people’ rhetoric being spouted by Brexiteers.
Indeed, the 2016 referendum result can hardly be portrayed as the absolute “will of the people” that Brexiteers rant on about. Only 37.5% of the wider electorate decided to go along to the polling stations to vote to leave. Since then ‘the people’ rowed further back on Brexit in the 2017 election by reducing Theresa May’s majority and, with it, her Brexit mandate. Many opinion polls indicate that, if another referendum were held today, ‘the people’ would vote to remain.
The reality is that Johnson has pushed the country into an election because he is scared of the alternatives. He was scared of subjecting his WAB to the close scrutiny of Parliament in October, aware that the absurdities and disadvantages of his Brexit deal would be exposed. And, most of all, he is scared of letting the people have a final say on his Brexit deal in a People’s Vote referendum.
Instead he hopes the distortions of our ‘first past the post’ election system will give him an increased Commons majority, even though he is very unlikely to win the majority support of the voters. If he gets more Tory MPs, it will allow him to push through his destructive Brexit with less scrutiny and challenge and with less pressure to put it back to the people.
And this brings us on to myth number four – the election is needed to “get Brexit done.” It’s a clever slogan as it appeals to the vast majority of people who are thoroughly tired of the whole, tiresome Brexit business. But, of course, the reality is that, far from getting Brexit done, Johnson’s deal would be only the beginning of years and years of wrangling and negotiations, not just with the EU but the rest of the world.
What the country really needs is not a decade of Brexit wrangling but, instead, a complete break from Brexit. A break from Brexit would give the chance to really tackle the things that matter to people and a chance to recover from the damage inflicted in the last three years. Business and citizens alike would get more certainty and the country would have the opportunity to be normal again.
Johnson has already poured millions of pounds of public money down the drain on no-deal planning. Hypocritically, after years of austerity, he now also claims he has found a magic money tree to invest in the NHS and the police while also cutting taxes.
This is perhaps the biggest deception of all. Johnson’s deal, or indeed any form of Brexit, would not offer the chance for the NHS and public services to recover from austerity. Instead, Brexit would usher in a new era of austerity. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research reports that Johnson’s Brexit plan would shrink the economy by 4% compared to remaining in the EU. That amounts to a new recession and a major erosion of the fiscal base that is needed to invest in public services. Johnson is too scared of publishing the Government’s own estimates.
There is a strong appetite for a return to a normal country, that is not obsessed by Brexit and one that can focus on the pressing issues that people really care about such as social care, the NHS, transport, the economy and the crisis of the environment and climate change. Brexit has always been, in essence, a Tory project. There is no need for the opposition parties to be complicit in it. Instead they should clearly rebut Johnson’s Brexit election myths and give the country a break from Brexit.
By Dominic Byrne, Nottingham People’s Vote campaigner