Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

If We're Not out of the EU by the Next Election, We May Never Go; the Leave Campaign Won the Initial Battle for Brexit but They'll Need to Keep Winning as the Political Playing Field Keeps Changing

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

If We're Not out of the EU by the Next Election, We May Never Go; the Leave Campaign Won the Initial Battle for Brexit but They'll Need to Keep Winning as the Political Playing Field Keeps Changing

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Bradby

FOR most journalists working in Britain today and certainly, I would venture, all broadcasters, there has never been a subject like Brexit. Most of us think of what we do as something akin to being a football referee: attempting to call out the political fouls -- from lies, to spin to arguments ill-supported by any kind of fact -- in the face of players and fans who like nothing better than to question the ref's integrity.

If that has always been true, it's got worse with Brexit. From the start we have been comparing what we know -- the status quo -- with what we don't. We have had to balance empirical facts against a leap of faith. It's like refereeing an argument between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

After the referendum it did at least seem that the matter was finally settled. But now I am not so sure. It seems to be gradually dawning on all sides that Brexiteers won an important battle with that result but they didn't necessarily win the war.

On one level this is an absurd suggestion. We exit automatically in March 2019 and transition arrangements have not yet even been agreed. We are out and that is that. But some kind of interim arrangement will almost certainly be devised -- and Brexiteers' most visceral fear must be that this might be extended and then extended again. If the Europeans are intransigent and slow and seem only inclined to offer us a deal that is all on their terms, then why would walking off a cliff edge be any more palatable in 2022 (just before an election) than in 2019? At the moment the consensus seems to be that we are most likely to join (or remain in) the European Economic Area -- the so called Norway model -- in 2019, on the grounds that the EU will have neither the time nor the inclination to design a bespoke transition model for us. This would mean that, as we approach the next election, we would have had to accept the outline of a divorce settlement without any meaningful change to our relationship with the EU itself.

So here's a thought: what would happen if the Labour Party decided at this point to break ranks with the current consensus and make staying in or rejoining the EU its official policy, with or without another referendum? At the moment the Brexit vote is treated by both main parties as a tablet of stone handed down by the people to their parliament, but if we were to have four or five years of continued uncertainty and, in the words of the Governor of the Bank of England last week, a "sluggish" economy (and that is still a big "if "), then it is at least conceivable that the public mood might begin to change.

The Labour Party appeared to benefit at the last election from a clear shift to it by both Remainers in general and young people in particular, and it is currently going through an agonising internal argument about whether or not to support staying in the single market and the customs union. …

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