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Facing up to Brexit realities

The Brexit negotiations stumble along with the occasional rumour of progress but no sign of a solution for the Irish border issue that all sides agree has to be found. Officially the Cabinet backs Theresa May’s Chequer’s plan but sufficient Tory backbenchers oppose it to ensure that it will be rejected here even if it isn’t rejected by the EU. Distinguished public figures such as Lord King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, are criticising the Government’s handling of the negotiations whilst a Mumsnet poll found that 80% were dissatisfied with it and 60% thought they had been misled by claims in the referendum.

It is only six months to the Brexit deadline and the starkest reality that has to be faced by all involved is that support for Brexit is collapsing. The polls reveal that all age groups under 50 now favour remaining in the EU and amongst the under 25’s 80% back Remain. The referendum result in 2016 was clearly influenced by the higher turnout of older voters but pollsters tell us that the Leave majority is shrinking by 1000 a day as older voters die.

Whilst it is legitimate for the Prime Minister to insist on respecting the will of the people, there is an increasingly plausible case for questioning whether it is still the will of the people that we should leave the EU, or at the very least, to do so on terms that damage the economy and make the poorest even worse off than they already are. An analysis by Cambridge Econometrics for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that the poorest families will see no gain from Brexit as the cost of living is projected to rise whilst real wages fall.

Committed Brexiteers will dismiss all this as ‘project fear’ and urge the Government to press on with its negotiations to leave the EU next March. The biggest obstacle to that are the divisions within the Conservative party.  Between 60 and 80 backbenchers led by Jacob Rees Mogg, with support from ex Ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis, will seek at the party conference to kill Theresa May’s Chequers’ plan and aim for a ‘clean’ Brexit.  The business community are convinced that will damage the economy and lead to major job losses. Whoever is right or wrong about this, it is too late in the day to be having these arguments.

A series of rallies are being held to demand that the people, not these squabbling politicians, have the last word. The first was in London in June and others have followed in Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Cambridge and Cardiff. The aim of these rallies is to hear the will of the people and they are demanding a People’s Vote on any final deal.  Polls taken at the rallies show a clear majority for remaining in the EU but their critics will say the sample was too small and unrepresentative.

Leaving the EU will be the most significant national political decision since the Second World War but the nation is deeply divided now and our politicians are failing to give the confident leadership that Winston Churchill gave in 1939-45. Whatever our opinions about Brexit, the need for committed prayer for the nation is as great now as it was then.

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