The Dreamers: Doubts About Brexit on the Rise in Britain – Jörg Schindler | Der Spiegel

The Dreamers:  Doubts About Brexit on the Rise in Britain

It has often been said that Brexit means Brexit. But does it? With Prime Minister Theresa May showing weakness and the negotiations dragging, some are hoping that Britain’s departure from the EU can be warded off.

Jörg Schindler | Der Spiegel

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Bedfordshire is an extremely British institution. For the past 128 years it has dedicated itself to protecting endangered species such as the black-legged kittiwake, great crested grebe and the wood warbler. And now the society, with a membership of 1 million, has another mission: Stopping Brexit.      

That at least, is the proposal from Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats, who is regarded as one of the most prominent pro-Europeans in the United Kingdom.

The 50-year-old has just published a 140-page handbook for civil disobedience, entitled “How to Stop Brexit.” He suggests that those who want to prevent the UK from exiting the European Union should join an existing large organization and persuade the other members that Brexit is a man-made disaster heading right for them. Bird enthusiasts, architectural conservationists and other volunteers and members of charities form a “ready-made army” of allies and supporters waiting to be mobilized, he writes in his manifesto.

Has he gone mad? Not at all. In fact, Clegg is just one of many prominent people working to stop the runaway train that is Brexit. Something that was unthinkable just a few months ago is now being discussed openly: Reversing Britain’s Decision to Exit the EU.

For the time being, they are just individual voices of opposition, but they are coming from all parties and groups in society. And they are making their pro-Brexit adversaries increasingly nervous.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently voiced their concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May in which they said the government was not pursuing Brexit energetically enough. May, they insisted, had to do everything she could to make Great Britain “a fully independent self-governing country by the time of the next election.”

There followed a list of demands, as though it was a ransom note from hostage takers rather than a memo from members of her cabinet. It’s no surprise that the supposedly secret missive was leaked. Another euro-skeptic, the UKIP politician Nigel Farage, has even gone so far as to warn pro-Europeans in the government against committing “treason.”

A ‘Political Decision’

Ahead of the crucial EU summit in mid-December, the lines are hardening in British politics. There’s less talk of “soft,” “hard,” “extreme,” or “glorious” Brexit. Instead it is now a choice between a full Brexit with all the ensuing consequence or no Brexit at all.

Both sides are making their positions clear. And caught in the middle is Theresa May. No one can be sure if the besieged prime minister has the strength to really lead the country. And the fact that the EU has effectively given her an ultimatum to come up with 60 billion euros as part of the Brexit settlement doesn’t exactly make her position any more comfortable.

Earlier this month, Lord John Kerr gave a speech not far from Downing Street in which he explained that Brexit was reversible. “At any stage, we can change our minds if we want to”, he told the assembled guests. The 75-year-old former diplomat should know. After all, the former UK ambassador to the EU was one of the authors of Article 50, the clause in the European treaties that allows a member state to leave the union.

Kerr said that the government was misleading the British people regarding Article 50, with May acting as if Brexit was irreversible from the moment she told the European Commission in March 2017 that Britain was leaving.

“It is always possible at a later stage to decide that we want to do something different,” he said. To claim the opposite was a “political decision.” His intervention left the hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative Party seething.

It shows that on the pro-Leave side, nerves are on edge, according to Clegg. The Brexit campaign has repeatedly resorted to false promises, he said. “They have lied and they are still lying. Their narcissism won’t allow them to admit mistakes,” he told DER SPIEGEL.

Clegg, on the other hand, has had no other choice but to confront his own mistakes. In 2010, he was one of the most talented and popular politicians in the country. But that was destroyed by his decision to lead the Liberal Democrats into coalition with the Conservatives. Five years later, he was severely punished by the electorate for that government’s brutal austerity policies. He stepped down as party leader and then, in this June’s snap election, he lost his seat. He is now an author and speaker, but in his office in South London, he still exudes the self confidence that brought him to the upper echelons of the British political system. He isn’t done with politics and wants to use his influence to reverse what he sees as the most disastrous decision of recent British history.

Brexit is too important to leave to a Conservative Party which is increasingly spiraling into chaos, he argues. And Boris Johnson should not be in a position of power. The foreign secretary has openly backed leaving the EU with no deal if the other member states do not give in to British demands. That, Clegg says, would be a catastrophe for Britain.

“Johnson’s ego is so insatiable that he would prefer to drive the car into the wall than make any kind of compromise,” Clegg says. That is why it is so important to make it clear to the British that it’s still possible to stop Brexit, he continues.

Door Is Still Open

And there’s a growing number of Brexit opponents who share this view. Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, said recently that Britain could reach a “crisis point” by next summer. He suggested that there could be “scope for a reassessment,” as people begin to realize that many of the Leave campaign’s promises cannot be fulfilled. Those within May’s own party who oppose Brexit are also becoming more vociferous. The Daily Telegraph featured 15 Conservative rebels last week on its front page beneath the headline: “The Brexit Mutineers.”

Activists are now planning a social media campaign in which young people are asked to call their grandparents to warn them about the dangers of Brexit. They are following the example of the Irish “Ring a Granny” campaign that formed part of the successful push for equal marriage in that country in 2015.

Many of these “Remainers” feel emboldened by the steady stream of politicians in the other 27-member states who have said that Britain could still change its mind. One of the most prominent is Donald Tusk of Poland, the president of the European Council, who said in late October that it was now “up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.” He also quoted John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

For the British government and its cheerleaders in the tabloid press, these are dangerous signals. Even before Brexit has become a reality, it is increasingly clear that it will cause serious damage to the British economy. The business community is fast losing patience and has demanded a recognizable plan by the end of the year. They say they cannot continue to delay decisions on whether to relocate some of their operations outside of the UK, though several banks have already made the decision and shifted many jobs away from London.

‘The Will of the People’

But the Brexit hardliners in the government are sticking to their guns. The people have spoken, they insist. And the “will of the people” expressed in the June 2016 referendum has to be respected no matter what. Any attempt to torpedo the decision of the 52 percent of voters would be “undemocratic.”

The response from Labour politician Chuka Umunna, one of the most Europhile members of parliament, is that the British people were lied to. “You can’t tell people they are getting a new Audi with all the extras and then, after they sign on the dotted line, deliver a piece of junk and claim a deal is a deal.” Umunna is convinced that if the British public had known in the summer of 2016 what they know now, they would never have voted for Brexit.

But it’s hard to tell from the current polls. On the one hand, there’s a growing number of people who are not happy with the way the government is handling – or rather, not handling – Brexit.

On the other hand, there is no majority for another referendum. And if there were to be a new vote, it would likely still be extremely close.

Among those who backed Leave, almost two-thirds are prepared to accept “significant damage” to the economy in the event of Brexit.

Meanwhile, 20 percent of those who wanted to stay in the EU would be happy to see Brexit end in chaos in order “to teach a lesson” to the other side.

One completely confusing survey found that a significant majority of British people wanted to essentially remain EU citizens after Brexit, with all the rights to travel and work wherever they want in the European Union.

Some people, it would seem, still don’t fully understand the implications of their country’s decision.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 11/22/2017 at 12:29 pm

    Divorce can be messy, costly, and painful.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/22/2017 at 7:30 pm

    Rosaliene: Hilarious Laughter …. from this side of the pond – Ask Quebec .!!

    I suppose, I am a Doubting Thomas ….

    Here is the 20-percent that did not learn anything from the ‘Protest Vote’ – but willing to teach: What? About Chaos?

    The saying goes: – Be careful what you wish for ….

    Meanwhile, 20 percent of those who wanted to stay in the EU would be happy to see Brexit end in chaos in order “to teach a lesson” to the other side.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/22/2017 at 8:05 pm

    Brexit Countdown: Key Dates on the Way to December’s Deadline

    Ian Wishart | Bloomberg

    The U.K. and the European Union want negotiations on their post-Brexit relationship to start by the end of the year. For that to happen, the two sides must first overcome a stalemate over the financial settlement and the Irish border.

    If there’s no breakthrough, the prospect of talks collapsing without a deal rises significantly.

    After a summit in October ended in failure, hopes are now pinned on a gathering of the bloc’s leaders in mid-December. EU governments need to conclude there’s been “sufficient progress” on the most pressing divorce issues before attention can turn to trade. Here’s a guide to the most crucial few weeks yet in the Brexit negotiations.

    Nov. 22: Ambassadors Gather

    With just three weeks to the summit, the EU’s Brussels-based ambassadors gather to talk about the likelihood of a breakthrough. They will also assess the internal preparations being made on the EU side for the transition arrangement and future relationship.

    Nov. 27: More Negotiations?

    No further talks between the U.K. and the EU have been confirmed, but a British official says the two sides are discussing holding another round of negotiations in Brussels. The last week of November is a likely date. After that, just 13 days remain before the summit. EU diplomats will want to use that time to draft their response to a potential U.K. offer, which they are going to present to leaders. This week isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline, and the U.K. will have some wiggle room right up until the actual summit, but the EU will probably consider it too late if May waits until then to present an offer.

    Nov. 29: Prep Starts

    Ambassadors have penciled in a possible meeting in Brussels to start drafting the summit conclusions. These words will hold the key to whether the second phase of negotiations — the trade talks — can start.

    Dec. 4: Dinner, Again?

    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will have dinner with Prime Minister Theresa May, according to the FT, which says an offer on the bill could be presented then. A European Commission spokesman declined to confirm, saying only that constructive talks are ongoing. Previous dinner dates haven’t gone so well.

    Dec. 6: Heads Down

    With a week to go, the ambassadors get serious. Whatever the state of the negotiations and the EU’s view of any British concessions, they get to work drafting the conclusions.

    Dec. 11: Sherpa Session

    Summit week. From the 27 national capitals, the presidents’ and prime ministers’ right-hand men and women travel to Brussels to cast their eye over and revise the draft conclusions. They’ll come with important messages from their leaders about whether to give Britain what it wants.

    Dec. 12: Dotting the ‘i’s

    European ministers come from the capitals to put the finishing touches to the summit conclusions. By now we should have a firm idea of whether the U.K. will get sufficient progress at the summit.

    December 14-15: D-Day

    It all comes down to this. 28 leaders locked in a room. While the discussion can go in any direction when they all meet face-to-face, leaders rarely rip up the preparatory work done in Brussels in the weeks before. The EU doesn’t want May to go to the summit to negotiate. Instead, they just want to deliver a verdict.

    — With assistance by Viktoria Dendrinou, and Zoe Schneeweiss

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/23/2017 at 11:27 pm

    UK Officially Falls Out of World’s Top Five Economies, Government admits

    ‘Britain is the world’s sixth largest economy,’ Chancellor Philip Hammond says

    Josie Cox | Independent UK

    The UK appears to have officially lost its coveted spot on the list of the world’s five largest economies.

    During Wednesday’s Budget, Philip Hammond, in a series of statements aimed at highlighting the strength and health of the British economy, admitted that the country has slipped to sixth spot, trailing France.

    The other four countries that make up the leaderboard are the US, China, Japan and Germany.

    “London is the number one international financial services centre. We have some of the world’s best companies. And a commanding position in a raft of tech and digital industries that will form the backbone of the global economy of the future. Those who underestimate Britain, do so at their peril,” the Chancellor said.

    UK productivity and growth forecasts slashed, Hammond admits

    But he also admitted, “Britain is the world’s sixth largest economy”.

    There are several ways of measuring the size of an economy. According to data from the World Bank, ranked by gross domestic product for 2016, the UK still easily outpaced France with a GDP of $2.618 trillion. But according to IMF forecasts for 2017, France has leap-frogged the UK.

    Separately on Wednesday, the Treasury’s official forecasting dramatically slashed its growth predictions for this year and next for the UK, delivering its worst forecast for economic expansion for the country in its history.

    The Office for Budget Responsibility said that it now sees the economy growing by 1.5 per cent this year and 1.4 per cent next, down from a previous estimate of 2 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.

    Budget 2017: What you need to know

    Back in March, the OBR had said that it expected the economy to grow by 7.5 per cent in the next five years. It now expects that figure to be just 5.7 per cent over that period.

    Productivity has been an Achilles heel of the UK’s economy since the financial crisis, and on Wednesday the OBR said that while it expects productivity growth to pick up “a little” in future, it will “remain significantly lower than its pre-crisis trend rate throughout the next five years”.

    Earlier this year, the professional services firm PwC said that the UK could be down to 10th place in the list of the world’s biggest economies by 2050.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/23/2017 at 11:31 pm

    I like this comment from ‘Dave’ –

    UK GDP 3rd Qtr £ 509.5 bn
    FR GDP 3rd Qtr 573.4bn euros

    The above are equal at £1 = 1.1254 euros

    When the chancellor stood up at 12:30 £1 = 1.128 euros

    When article posted this morning 09:23 £1 = 1.1225 euros

    Thus the French economy literally overtook the UK overnight.
    This must be quickest that any Chancellor’s prediction has come true.

    Josie you have turned dancing on the head of a pin into an art form.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/27/2017 at 3:20 am

    Brexit Britain’s Two Tribes Refuse to Move

    Leave supporters dismiss concerns on economy and demand May calls Europe’s bluff

    Joshua Chaffin in Pontypool | Financial Times

    Britain’s government is badly divided over Brexit, its economy is slowing and the latest official forecasts suggest living standards will be squeezed for years to come.

    Yet as the government prepares for a critical phase in negotiations to leave the EU, Steve Musto is brimming with optimism. This is because Mr Musto, an ardent Brexiter from south Wales, is convinced the UK is holding all the cards.

    “They’re frightened to death of us leaving!” he exclaimed on a recent afternoon as he stuffed cash into envelopes for his staff at the King’s Head, a pub and hotel in the town of Usk that served as a clubhouse for Welsh Brexit campaigners during the EU referendum.

    The gregarious 67-year-old had ready advice for Theresa May, the beleaguered prime minister, who has steadily ceded ground to Brussels in the Brexit talks:

    Walk away. Leave the negotiating table, and watch as the Germans come
    grovelling for a deal. “It’s like buying a car,” Mr Musto said. “If you play a game of bluff, you’ve got to have belief in the strength of your hand.”

    His buoyant mood about Brexit is common among fellow Leave voters in south Wales and contrasts starkly with the deepening gloom felt by many Remainers, particularly in metropolitan areas such as London, who look at the same situation and statistics and can only see disaster ahead.

    It is a reminder that the deep split in the British electorate has not healed since the referendum in June 2016. Its competing tribes continue to inhabit separate universes.

    A series of recent surveys conducted by polling firm YouGov suggested they had different views not only about the merits of the European Court of Justice but also steak, sex, the BBC and much else.

    “There is very little evidence, if any, that Leavers and Remainers are changing their minds,” said Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at the University of Kent. “While all voters have become a little more pessimistic about the economic effects of Brexit, we need to consider that against evidence that for Leavers the vote for Brexit was driven chiefly by NON-ECONOMIC factors.”

    This may explain why Wales — which contains some of the poorest areas in the UK — supported Brexit by 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent in spite of receiving EU funding aimed at reducing income disparities.

    Laura McAllister, a political scientist at Cardiff University, argued that for many in Wales the referendum was less about the EU than a sense of social and economic alienation. “It was a rebellion against the status quo and the poverty that many people in Wales feel,” she said, adding:

    “The people who voted Leave are still Leavers.”

    Such divisions have left Mrs May on difficult ground as she prepares for a summit next month where her government is hoping to convince the other EU member states to settle divorce issues — particularly money — in order to move to negotiations about a future relationship. Concessions that seem reasonable to roughly half of Britain may invite scorn from the rest.

    There are already signs of that, with many Leavers complaining that the prime minister — who quietly favoured Remain but did not campaign for it — is preparing to disappoint them.

    “I don’t trust Theresa May. I don’t think she’s strong enough,” said Mel Eason, 69, a King’s Head denizen whose hearing has been dulled by the years he spent working in south Wales’ coal mines. Mr Eason views Brexit as a patriotic sacrifice to preserve Britain for his grandchildren. He takes umbrage at the notion that the UK should pay the EU tens of billions of pounds — as Mrs May is preparing to do — to settle previous commitments. “I don’t think we should pay them a penny!” he fumed.

    To Kevin Boucher, a recently retired autoworker from Pontnewynydd — a neighbourhood just down the road from a now shuttered colliery — Mrs May’s behaviour is traitorous.

    “She’s a quisling as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We have a strong hand . . . [but] she doesn’t want it.”

    One thing underpinning many Brexiters’ confidence in Britain’s position is the belief that the country will be just fine without any preferential trade deal with the EU securing access to the bloc’s single market.

    So they argue the UK — not the EU — has the leverage in the Brexit talks. They tend to dismiss the warnings of major job losses by banks in the City of London and the CBI, Britain’s biggest employers’ group, if there is no post-Brexit transition deal with the EU – as just more of the scaremongering they believe Remainers engaged in during the referendum campaign.

    The fact that the sky has not fallen and life has changed little on the ground in south Wales since the Brexit vote has only deepened their conviction. “There are people queueing up to have trade deals with us,” said Mr Boucher’s wife Sue, citing Australia and New Zealand. Neither Mr or Mrs Boucher trust the BBC — and its reports of mounting Brexit costs — so they seek alternative sources of news.

    “He’s constantly on YouTube, looking for stuff,” Mrs Boucher said of her husband. During the referendum, she was the secretary for the anti-EU UK Independence party in Torfaen, the south Wales county that encompasses Pontnewynydd.

    Her Ukip membership has lapsed but her Brexit fervour remains strong. In fact, her only apparent regret is that the fall in the value of the pound since the EU referendum may foil the Bouchers’ plan to sell their house and retire to Spain.

    ** Here is the thing: I started to read this essay, and stopped short – abruptly – after the last paragraph. I know of at least two Guyana-born individuals who voted Leave and have one-leg in Spain. Why?

    Something is very wrong with this picture they are painting for us, methinks. But, what do I know? I failed geography lessons.

    Or, perhaps, they are traitorors …!!

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