The upcoming General Election is first and foremost about Brexit. On one side of the battle are the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, fighting for Boris’s deal or no deal. On the other are the Liberal-Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru opposing Brexit. And somewhere in the middle is Labour, with the promise of a new deal, with a second referendum with their deal and to remain on the ballot. The Brexit Party and the Conservative Party are campaigning together on the position of Hard Brexit. Johnson is campaigning on his deal, which would see a break from the European Union customs union for Great Britain, with a confusing situation in Northern Ireland. Farage claims he wants a ‘clean break’ and has said in the past that a no deal Brexit is the best way forward. The Lib-Dems, Plaid Cymru, and Greens have formed an electoral pact, meaning they are officially working together to stop Brexit. This means that if they, and the SNP, can get a majority in Parliament, then we will remain in the EU.
Most people fall into one of these camps and find the opposing one totally unacceptable. Those who want Hard Brexit say it is the only real Brexit and that we must honour the results of the referendum. Those on the remain side believe that Brexit is a mistake full-stop and point to the economic downsides of Brexit and the political instability it would bring to Northern Ireland.
I am inclined to say both sides make some strong points and some serious mistakes. The remedy for this impasse should not be to fight it out and see who wins, but rather to come together and compromise with a Soft Brexit.
The reason it has been so difficult for Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson to get their customs union-less, Hard Brexit deals through Parliament is the border situation in Northern Ireland. To appeal to the DUP, May proposed a UK-wide backstop. However, hardline Brexiteers claimed that doing so would trap the UK in the customs union indefinitely, leading to her deal getting voted down three times in Parliament. Johnson’s deal essentially creates a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, while Northern Ireland is left in the EU customs union, subject to many EU laws and even still having to pay the EU’s VAT on goods.
For all his complaints that May’s deal would leave the UK a vassal state of the EU, Johnson is more than happy to do the same to Northern Ireland. Hard Brexiteers are treating Northern Ireland as a problem, not an equal member of our state.
The decision to remain has many problems as well. Many people say they just want to move on from Brexit, and don’t want it to be the defining political issue for years to come. The only way then for Remainers to argue that revoking Article 50 would put the issue of Brexit to bed is to argue that most people who voted to leave the EU have changed their minds. This is simply not true though, as according to the BBC there are as many remain voters who support leaving with no deal as there are leave voters who support remaining in the EU. Leavers will keep fighting for Brexit, and they will be fighting even harder and more vigorously than in 2016 because they will have been ignored.
Soft Brexit is the compromise we need, but unfortunately not the one very many people want. As with any real compromise, it is hard for people to feel passionate about it. Hard-Brexiteers may claim that Soft-Brexit is “not really Brexit,” to which I would use a modified version of one of their own refrains back to them: “The ballot just said leave, not leave under specific circumstances.” Remainers may ask, “What is the point of leaving under these circumstances?”, to which I would reply, “We should honour the results of the referendum if we can do so without drastic consequences”, and that leaving is the only way for us to move on as a country.
Soft Brexit, like any compromise, is not perfect, but it is the least-bad option at this point.