Monday 17 June 2019 5:36 am

Cut the obfuscation and let Britain move beyond Brexit

Gone ’til November.

The lyrics of rapper, activist and one-time Haiti presidential candidate Wyclef Jean. And it is the view of the great many of those vying to be Prime Minister: while we might be in the EU until October, we will be gone by November.

You’d be forgiven for raising an eyebrow. Groundhog Day continues much as it has for the last three years. Or as our outgoing Prime Minister might say, “nothing has changed”.

Over at our friendly neighbourhood parliament the “yah boo” accusations and counter accusations continue, with no apparent end to the prevarication of our legislature.


For never in the field of human conflict have so many words been used to say so little. Never has it been more transparently obvious that beneath these weightless words hides the truth that parliament might have legislated for us to exit the EU, but in its heart it doesn’t want us to. And it can’t bring itself to say so.

The result is utter obfuscation that has led to further division. Heed the words of another great leader, Abraham Lincoln, who said that you can fool some people all of the time and all people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

Brexit Britain is the playbook for this. The lack of any real drive to commit to Brexit, one way or the other, has pitted parliament against the nation.

It’s quite something that, after decades of being accused of being woolly and indecisive, right now it is the Liberal Democrats in parliament who have taken a clear position that the nation really understands. Better off in and “bollocks to Brexit”.

In the meantime, both Labour and the Conservatives have spent three years blitzing us with waffle. Never mind the quality, feel the weight. If words were a measure of GDP, the UK would be the undisputed superpower of the world.

The rise of the Brexit Party has changed all that for the Conservatives. It is the harbinger of doom and it has given them the fright of their lives. The Peterborough by-election provided a chilling ghost of Christmas future: some 650 seats where anyone but the Conservatives could race through the middle to claim victory.

The fiercely urgent issue for one of the oldest political parties in the world is simply this: deliver Brexit or die. And if the leadership contest has done one thing, it has been to bring a much missing survival instinct to the fore.


But while for many Conservatives the moment of real clarity has finally come, parliament ambles on as before.

Welcome to filibuster, the smash hit of the summer. Expect any manner of delaying tactics, votes of confidence, and ancient procedural jiggery-pokery not seen since Henry II went full Tony Soprano by encouraging his knights to knock off a turbulent priest.

In the meantime, the noise bombardment will continue. Endless queues of politicians will take to the microphones to tell us, well, not very much at all.

It was Einstein who said that nothing changes until something moves, and the leadership contest represents that movement.

While many have been quick to criticise the number candidates, with them has come a diversity of thought and the sign of a very real debate not only about Brexit but about the future of the nation and the future of the Conservatives as a political force. One that goes beyond soundbites and policy paralysis.

So, buckle up and brace for impact. Because love it or loathe it, Brexit is getting closer and it’s coming to an economy near you.

No amount of anguished gnashing of teeth or lofty disdain will dissuade the new captain on the bridge of Number 10 to alter course. For aside from Rory Stewart, all the rest are like a heavy armoured flotilla bound for exit on the designated day, and even the slowest ship in the Brexit fleet speaks of delays in terms of moments.

Which brings us to the origin story and its consequences. David Cameron was the “nearly there” Prime Minister. He did many things right: he got the enterprise agenda moving and he mastered coalition government. But the referendum was the mess of his making and it is his legacy.

It has paved the way for the three of the most indecisive years in our nation’s history. On his last day in Downing Street, Cameron’s enterprise adviser, Lord Young, spoke to me about his work, saying, “we’ve got a good thing going as long as we don’t mess it up”.

But messing up has been the story of Brexit ever since.

So, for those that did or didn’t want the referendum in the first place; for those that did or didn’t want to leave but now accept the decision; for those that just want to get on with life – for them and many more, it’s time to put this mess right.

We need to know where we’re going as a nation. And we can’t afford to wait until November to do that.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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