Eurosceptic argument – as it was – held together rather well around a single unifying idea: that the UK could not historically, culturally, spiritually, politically go where the EU is heading….to (crudely) “a country called Europe”. Thread…. /1
Britain’s opt-outs and exceptions were testament to that fact.
‘Brexitism’ then grew out of euroscepticism in the 2000s because of the feeling that despite opt-outs, the integrationist ratchet was still dragging us where we didn’t want to go. /2
Yet the eurosceptic movement (as it was still called), still roughly held together despite the narcissism of small differences. /3
But somewhere in its “policy”, euroscepticism had a dirty secret (to match Remainers’ dirty secret – more on that another time)…
Specifically, Eurosceptics didn’t have a well-formed idea of how to leave the EU or indeed whether any alternative was really palatable. /4
From about 2011 onwards, some Brexiters explored exit methods. EFTA/EEA featured heavily, including for Farage. Liam Fox even suggested continuing CU and single market. Davis did similar.
The IEA offered a Brexit prize in 2013-14 to try and resolve the point. /5
But the IEA competition proved how difficult and contentious the method of exit was. EEA-based entries were kicked out, while the winning entry from an obscure civil servant quickly sank without trace. /6
The IEA competition spawned ‘Flexcit’ – an EEA-based solution from @richardaenorth, rejected by the IEA panel.
EEA-based proposals were nothing new but from 2013 to 2016, Flexcit went much wider & deeper than anything before. /7
But like all exit methods discussed within the eurosceptic movement, as the detail formed, it simply turned off a whole load of sceptics. Flexcit thus became a minority sport (although Owen Paterson promoted it in 2014). /8
In 2015, as the referendum drew closer, Flexcit was by far the most detailed workable solution on the table even though it had plenty of enemies.
Dominic Cummings and Arron Banks were intrigued by it. Banks briefly adopted it for LeavedotEU. /9
Banks had assumed Farage would be OK with this, not least because Farage was still toying with EEA in 2015. But the backlash against Banks’ decision was quick and Flexcit was swiftly dropped. /10
Cummings went the other way and deliberately adopted no plan in particular, preferring to focus the Vote Leave campaign on what it didn’t want.
He could see that trying to get eurosceptics behind a plan had a history of failure, and just fostered division among Leavers. /11
Indeed the only thing that united Leavers was to leave the EU.
Despite the WTO Option being dismissed for years (and was why Leavers sought an exit method), it represented “Just Leave!” – the fallback that was closest to full sovereignty and so required little explanation. /12
That is why, in the final analysis, ‘WTO’ has gained traction. It drives a coach & horses through awkward detail, explanations and nuance which have flummoxed thinking Leavers for years.
It’s the I-have-no-solutions-and-can’t-be-arsed-to-think option. /13
The WTO Option is not only the default/fallback, it also represents the end of the road for Leavers, where all options and thinking have run out. A scream into the void of “Oh F*** This!” /14
May’s mistakes were:
- a) to follow the Vote Leave playbook/red lines AND
- b) to then come up with (or rather stumble into) a specific plan to resolve them.
Eurosceptic history should have showed her that any exit plan loses Leavers’ support the moment it is made flesh. /15
Because the awful truth should now be clear: there is no exit option that “works”. The history of trying to find one should have proved that. /16
2016 may have been seen as “our last chance to leave”, but Flexcit was, in my view, the last narrow & precarious ledge by which to do it.
With that gone, there is no purpose in continuing to try. /17
If Brexit is stopped, there would then need to be a truth-and-reconciliation moment, where all sides and ‘wings’ of sides (including mine and including Remain) confess to their own mistakes and culpability in this mess.
Only then can we all move on. /ends