As the Brexit clock ticks, the social media slanging match about what counts as ‘Brexit’ and what does not, intensifies. Several months ago I posted a long and somewhat desiccated post about the logical status of the EU Referendum result which you can read here; but this is a short version meant for anyone who, inexplicably, is not turned on by formal logic.
Jokes aside, we cannot be certain why a particular chicken crosses a road. Non-human animals tend to ‘act’ for a limited number of reasons, viz. fight, flight, flock, food, flourishing and f*cking. In other words the chicken’s movement is likely to be about having a scrap with a rival chicken (fight), to escape from such a scrap (flight), to join a group of chickens (flock), to seek sustenance (food), to seek a sunnier spot (flourishing), or to reproduce (f*cking). Even so, her motivation may still be complex to an extent: e.g. she may seek to feather-peck another bird in competition for food (fight and food).
Human beings are also animals and so many of the reasons we can find for their behaviour will correspond to the same 6 Fs. The difference is that human beings are rational animals, which means that our motivations frequently involve calculation. A non-human animal will not refuse food unless it is either satiated or sick, but there are all sorts of reasons why a human animal might not eat available food: religion (e.g. no meat on Fridays for Catholics), ideology (e.g. veganism), health (e.g. trying to lose/gain weight/muscle), cultural norms (e.g. not eating ice-cream for breakfast), justice (e.g. the food does not belong to me), weighing the present against the future (e.g. not ‘spoiling one’s appetite), etc. Similarly, human animals often eat and drink for reasons that are not immediately connected to nourishment and hydration. The ‘couple of pints’ (i.e. about six) that you enjoy with your mates are as much about conviviality as they are about quenching your thirst, and it would be churlish to refuse a slice of wedding cake on the grounds that leaden fruitcake and tooth-shattering icing is disgusting. Wedding cake eating is about celebrating one’s friends’ marriage, not about nourishment.
So although we might be able to suggest reasons why a chicken crossed a road, being certain about that reason (or those reasons) is still inexact. With rational, human animals, it is all but impossible. Go to any mid-range restaurant and look around you. Why are your fellow diners there? Well, for one, you are there to conduct a philosophical observation; but what about the others. Some will have come due to hunger, to fill their bellies. Some have come to give a treat to their families, others to escape from their families. There will be couples on first dates — perhaps someone has even asked a waiter to drop a diamond ring into a glass of fizz — other couples might be discussing their impending divorce. If it’s a hip sort of place, some people may be hoping to be ‘seen’, others may be hiding from attention. Some will be there because going for a meal is a conventional way of celebrating. But celebrating what? A job, a relationship, a recovery from illness, a crime? For some diners, this is an occasional luxury whilst for others it is part of a daily routine. The precise motivations are complex and ineffable. All that we can say for certain is that each and every diner is dining in that restaurant.
And so to Brexit. In the EU Referendum of 2016, a narrow but decisive majority of those who voted voted for the proposition that ‘the United Kingdom [should] [L]eave the European Union’.
Politicians of all stripes have since competed to show that they are keen to ‘honour’ the result of the Referendum. But they have smuggled in hidden and imaginary premises. The EU Referendum ballot did not ask voters to explain their working, or to give reasons; nor did it ask people to vote for a particular sort of Brexit settlement. It was a matter of accepting (and therefore rejecting) a binary proposition.
Some, undoubtedly, voted because they wished to see more control over immigration. But what sort of control, in which manner, and over what kind of immigration? In 2016, I canvassed in the east end of Newcastle upon Tyne and as one would expect from an area that has one of the lowest levels of immigration in Britain, immigration was not a big issue on the doorstep. If immigration was mentioned, it soon became clear that the concern was more about non-EU immigration — returning Jihadis and the like. No one seemed to resent Byker’s single Polski Sklep or Spanish doctors. Far more alive in the local folk memory was the departure (in 2012) of Twinings Tea, closing their factory in North Shields to decamp to Poland, aided by an EU grant.
Some people voted for Brexit because they wished to see more money made available for the NHS. Some voted for Brexit because they feared the accession of Turkey. Some perhaps harboured a century-old mistrust of German power. Some felt that the EU is a fundamentally undemocratic organisation. Some feared the federalist direction of the EU and our eventual inability to resist the Euro and a common fiscal policy. Some were just pissed off with domestic politics. If you believe the #FBPE lot, then most Brexit voters were embittered elderly people who inexplicably wished to ruin the life-chances of their own grandchildren.
Whatever the case, we should be able to agree that there were many, many reasons why people voted as they did (on both sides).
It is true that there have been many subsequent polls regarding people’s motivation for voting (and interestingly, ‘sovereignty’ has usually topped the reasons for voting to leave the EU). But we should know by now that opinion polls are unreliable — the mind, and its motivation(s) for voting, are only really concentrated in a democratic vote that makes a difference. If you doubt this, then compare those opinion polls which ask whether people want higher taxes to pay for increased public services against General Election results for parties that promise significant tax rises.
What we are left with, then, is the simple proposition that a (narrow but decisive) majority of those who voted in June 2016 voted for the UK to leave the EU. That is all. On the ballot paper, there was no mention of the single market, or immigration, or any specific form of Brexit.
In order to ‘honour’ the Referendum result, all the UK government (and parliament, which voted for the Referendum in the first place) has to do is leave the EU. However, because of politicians pushing their own ideological hobby-horses or dodgy psephological analysis, this aim has been complicated beyond measure.
Theresa May (Con) who, one suspects, had never really given the EU much thought before July 2016, decided (or was told by Nick Timothy) that the vote to leave the EU “really” meant a vote to leave the Single Market too. If that is the case, then a full EEA participant (like Iceland) must logically be a member of the EU — something that would surprise the EU and serious piss-off Icelanders. Former (rather uncritical) EU-philes like Caroline Flint (Lab) have decided that the vote was about immigration and has adopted an anti-Freedom-of-Movement rhetoric that would delight Nigel Farage. This would surprise Switzerland, which has free movement of labour with the EU (it’s even part of the Schengen Agreement) and yet which is most determinedly not a member.
Logically, this is what it comes down to. If being part of the Single Market (EEA) and having Freedom of Movement (FoM) means a nation is actually/effectively/as-good-as a member of the EU, then how should we view Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland? If safeguarding our economy by exiting the EU via EFTA and the EEA is BINO (‘Brexit in Name Only’) then should we refer to NO, IS, LI and CH as “NEIUMO” (Not EU in Name Only)?
There are some attributes that EU members have in common. They pay a contribution. they elect MEPs to send to Brussels, they are subject to the ECJ, and EU legislation has direct effect, to name but four. The fact that EEA membership and Freedom of Movement are features of states which are not EU members should really be enough to convince us that these two are not essential features.
The question, therefore, is simple. Next time a politician (or ‘commentator’) talks of such-and-such a Brexit solution ‘not honouring the Brexit vote’, then ask yourself — is s/he talking about the Brexit vote (to leave the EU) or about their own interpretation of it?
My own view? Well, the EU tempted Twinings Tea away from North Shields. Therefore any Brexit deal that does not mean forcing Twinings to build an enormous new factory in North Tyneside will be BINO and must be rejected.