Esteban Gonzales Pons: speech on Brexit, European Parliament – 2017

Europe is currently bound to the North by popularism, and to the South by refugees drowned in the sea. To the east by Putin’s tanks, and to the West by Trump’s wall. In the past by war, in the future by Brexit. Today, Europe is alone more than ever, but it’s citizens do not know it.

Europe is, however, for that reason the best solution and we do not know how to explain that to our citizens. Globalisation teaches us that today Europe is inevitable, there is no alternative.

But Brexit also tells us that Europe is reversible, that you can walk backwards in history, even though outside of Europe, it is very cold.

Brexit is the most selfish decision ever made since Winston Churchill saved Europe  with the blood sweat and tears of the English.

Saying Brexit is the most insidious way of saying goodbye.

Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together. Leaving Europe is not leaving a market, it is leaving shared dreams. We can have a common market, but if we do not have common dreams, we have nothing. Europe is the peace that came after the disaster of war. Europe is the pardon between French and Germans. Europe is the return to freedom of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Europe is the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe is the end of communism. Europe is the welfare state, it is democracy.

As Fintan O’Toole has pointed out Theresa May’s much heralded White paper is devoid of any understanding of what the EU is about, or any vision for what the UK should strive for outside the EU. It has satisfied neither Brexiteers nor Remainers and is most unlikely to be agreeable to the EU.
Having lost no less than 10 Ministers and many votes in the Lords, together with some close calls in the Commons, the name of the game for Theresa May now is survival until the summer recess during which time it becomes much more difficult to oust her as Tory Leader or as Prime Minister.

She will then have the opportunity to use the recess to negotiate the best deal possible with the EU and put that to a vote in the Commons once it returns. If she loses she can either resign or go to the country.

I suspect the deal will be so unpopular with both Brexiteers and Remainers that she would lose the Commons vote and any general election to Corbyn. The trick, from a Brexiteer perspective, is to force her to resign as PM before she can go to the country. That way Boris or some other Leaver can replace her and proceed to a no-deal “clean” Brexit.

Boris rivals Trump as a denier of reality and would probably get away with his bluster for quite some time. He could form a temporary alliance with Trump. Perhaps he thinks he can force the EU to concede him much better terms than they will offer May, but why would they? He has built his career on belittling the EU and all who work for it.

Corbyn, on the other hand, has few friends in the EU and many potential hard right enemies on the EU Council. The EU will also hardly offer him a better Brexit deal than they offered May. So he too, would be faced with a choice between May’s deal, a no deal Brexit, or a second referendum.

Given that he will have campaigned against May’s deal in the election and that his victory represents a popular rejection of that deal, the Referendum will effectively be a choice between a no-deal Brexit or a decision to stay in. He could offer the EU the option of giving the UK much better terms of membership – from his point of view – as the price of persuading the UK electorate to vote remain.

The EU might actually be amenable to many of the reforms Corbyn might seek – tighter control of external immigration, Increased funding for social and regional funds. Greater accountability and transparency in decision making. So the second referendum would be a straight choice between a no deal Brexit and continued membership of a “reformed” EU.

If the reforms are credible, they could offer the UK a way out of it’s current predicament without losing face. The A. 50 notification could then be re-framed as a clever ruse to force the EU to mend its ways and voters could feel they are now being offered a better deal.

But there are two problems with this scenario: Firstly, would the EU, increasingly influenced by hard right parties, agree to a substantial “reform” of the EU on largely social democratic lines, and secondly, would UK voters buy into it, with many previously having bought into Brexiteer dreams of a free and global Britain?

But there are two further imponderables for this scenario to even come about. Firstly, May must survive long enough to actually negotiate a deal and call an election before Brexiteers can oust her. And secondly, Corbyn would have to actually want to remain in the EU, even one remodelled somewhat more to his liking. Would he buy into a vision of Europe such as outlined by Esteban Gonzales Pons?

History is often misleadingly written as determined largely by the actions of great (or not so great) leaders. Much more often it is determined by hard military, economic and political realities. But there are also times when the choices made by leaders can be decisive. What futures will May and her successor choose?

For me there are still too many “ifs”,”buts” and “maybes” for the scenario of the UK remaining within the EU to be credible as the most likely outcome. What has changed for me is that the whole Brexit process has been so chaotic and incompetent, it is now possible to envisage a scenario whereby Brexit might be reversed. Still an unlikely outcome perhaps, but no longer incredible. The whole process really has been handled that badly to date.

My problem is that I really don’t have all that much faith in either May or Corbyn to rise above narrow and immediate personal and partisan concerns. They may also not have the authority or ability to deliver such an outcome, even if they wanted to. The most likely scenario still seems an absolute train-wreck no-deal Brexit. But maybe the summer sun is getting to me. We can but live in hope.

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