Is the alternative to Brexit simply the UK remaining a member state of the European Union? Or is there a case for a more imaginative and democratic option that could appeal to both leavers and remainers?
It’s worth asking these questions because Brexit is clearly a multi-layered challenge that will dominate politics for the foreseeable future.
Labour and the Tories remain wedded to the Brexit process. They hope to make it more palatable to their constituencies by offering options such as negotiations that protect workers’ rights or freedom for the UK to trade anywhere in the world (delusions of empire or what?).
Both parties have significant internal divisions over Brexit, which could easily explode in 2018 while trying to reverse Brexit would would add fuel to the fire of a mushrooming constitutional crisis.
Alternatives, therefore, ought to be considered by everyone – irrespective of which way you voted in the 2016 referendum because turning the historical clock backwards never works, neither in life nor politics.
Leave voters were obviously unhappy with the EU for a variety of reasons. Generally, it is accepted that a majority felt they had nothing to lose as they were already the victims of low wages, job insecurity and austerity. A notion of “taking back control” seemed attractive.
Remain voters hardly came across as fervent admirers of the EU; many were critical of its bureaucratic, undemocratic, corporate-driven character. However, many also believed that Brexit would make things worse, especially in relation to freedom of movement and the loss of a sense of pan-European identity.
The 72.2% turnout was higher than in any general election since 1992. People felt they had a real stake in the outcome.
So, developing a democratic, creative alternative to both Brexit and the EU could satisfy and unite both camps against their common enemies:
* a fake democracy in the UK and EU
* gross inequality of wealth
* austerity without end
* crumbling public services
* a market-driven economy heading for the rocks (again).
Favourable conditions for taking this approach are quickly emerging. The political system is in constitutional difficulties over Brexit. Giving the electorate a referendum was a gamble that not only cost David Cameron his job but also weakened an already flawed Parliamentary system and therefore the existing constitution, which is better understood as the institutional arrangements for state rule.
Representative democracy, in which elected MPs and the governments they form, make decisions for you was set aside in favour of the referendum. Parliamentary sovereignty abdicated in favour of popular sovereignty and it’s difficult to see how the genie could be put back into the bottle.
A large majority of MPs are against Brexit but they still felt bound to honour the referendum result, in fear of the unpredictable repercussions of rejecting the vote’s outcome as much as anything else. A future vote in Parliament to reject any deal made by the Tories would likely as not lead to the UK exiting the EU in March 2019 without any transitional arrangements as further negotiations have already been ruled out.
Overriding all this is the major constitutional change that Brexit itself will introduce (without a referendum, of course). After more than 45 years of subordinating the UK’s political sovereignty to the EU’s overarching power in terms of law-making and judicial authority, Brexit signals a tectonic change.
These repatriated powers will not, course, be transferred to the “people” but to the state that, as we know, rules for and on behalf of global corporate and financial interests, irrespective of EU membership. All this is set to enforced through a single piece of legislation that enables the government to scrap any EU rules it inherits without a vote in parliament. This is autocracy disguised as Brexit.
In place of a renewed UK corporatocracy. we should set out an alternative with concrete proposals about transferring decision-making powers to the majority – thus choosing popular sovereignty on a permanent basis. This could prove attractive to remainers and leavers alike. We should demand a citizens’ convention to draw up the principles of a truly democratic constitution that embodies the power of the 99%.
A similar approach should be taken towards the economy because the Tories are deluding themselves if they think there’s a global market out there just waiting for the UK to come knocking. In any case, trade deals take years to negotiate and the aces are held by countries like China and India, not the UK. The likelihood of a major economic shock around Brexit increases on a daily basis.
Better to take the levers of economic power out of the hands of the corporations and hedge funds so that any shock is minimised by exercising democratic control over resources and taking action to protect the majority.
In effect, we are talking about making what seems to be a negative into a positive: taking advantage of Brexit chaos and uncertainty to make a democratic revolution. This can be the alternative to the shot in the dark the Tories are proposing and in the absence, as yet, of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.
Significant sections of society in different parts of the UK have in effect rejected the status quo, in particular in the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, the vote in favour of leaving the European Union, the massive increase in Labour Party membership as a result of Corbyn’s leadership election campaigns and the backing for Corbyn in the 2017 general election.
The growing desire and aspiration for substantial change cannot be fulfilled through Parliamentary procedures and occasional general elections alone, however.
Real democracy and self-determination will be achieved when active citizens transform and remake our present forms of rule and power. Their aim should be to build a democratic system that allows the majority to decide what’s best for their communities, towns, cities, regions and countries.
Local Assemblies, conventions on the constitution, strikes, occupations and campaigns can, if coordinated and focused on creating a real democracy, challenge and replace the present undemocratic power. It would be a novel way of dealing with Brexit too and inspire the rest of Europe to follow suit!