As a complex argument gets batted back and forth it is sometimes salutary to stand back for a while and review what is going on and where the outcome might fall with as objective a pair of eyes as it is possible for most of us mere mortals.
Brexit or no Brexit or, something in the middle with a flabby, loquacious (and largely meaningless) pledge about compromise or concession. These are the pressing options Britain is facing up to as the clock ticks on toward its prescribed final moment on 31st October. And the trouble is - naturally - that we are no nearer any consensus on a course of action now than we were three and a half years ago. The arguments for, against and middle ground go around and around but never quite touch base. And to add to this connundrum, everyone in the country is having their say in ways that prolong the process to the bitter end. So, we might ask, what has caused this most extraordinary division of impassioned feeling in Britain ?
Perhaps the simplest answer is a one worder: Referendum. The idea that on certain, specified matters, the course of a nations future strategy can be or should be determined by a mass public vote appeals to the very roots of a sense of democratic involvement and practise. After all, don't we British espouse constantly the very freedoms that democracy encompasses ? So why not have referendums, the retort might be, permitting the people to have their say ? This is where the problem might begin to occur because as a nation we are extremely diverse in social, economic and political thinking, all of which influence our outlooks and preferences, our values and underpinning belief in ourselves as a nation state. Let's consider quite what we are - for good or bad - so that we might begin to recognise this immense scope of diversity...
We are a kingdom, with a monarch and a parliamentary system of applying governance. We have a constitution that is not written down - anywhere - and one that was forged in an era of nation building almost a thousand years ago. It is imprecise, it is often dictated by historical convention and precedent, and, perhaps above all, it is interpretable with no absolute definitions of objective. We are a grouping of four quite different national entities - the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the (Northern) Irish - all of whom have historically grown from different external influences which have imbued those nations with quite different national characteristics. We have a distinct north-south cultural divide exaggerated by economic bias and we have an economic cycle once dominated by industrial manufacturing that is now dominated by a less well prescribed service sector where the transience of employment is a hallmark of new and highly mobile social structures. The list may easily go on and on, but those above possibly highlight that the very notion of achieving consensus through the mechanics of a public referendum is pretty unlikely. In short, we are never likely to see a definitive choice in a political referendum. We will remain divided and we will remain encamped within our own perceptions of the 'tribe' we think we belong to. It is human nature to wish to belong to something, so posing a huge and life-changing political decision upon such a broad spectrum of our population is almost certainly going to produce opposing camps around all points of the compass. And it has !
A second referendum on Brexit would achieve the same outcomes - division, resistance, hostility, endless discourse and positioning and a fracturing of the political process. Whilst we have the political and parliamentary systems we have, this is counter-productive and resolves nothing and though some of us might aspire to significant reform of that political machinery we are some way off that becoming a meaningful course that might have solutions to the eternal Brexit issue. As the saying oes, 'we are where we are'.
How Britain might satisfactorily tackle these current challenges is, of course, the stuff of sleepless nights and deep thinking by those we entrust to lead and govern. Not everything they do will be to our liking, sometimes they will do stupid things and sometimes they will do the right thing. They are human like the rest of us with all the same frailties but unless we stand with our government to enable them to push a way forward without daggers being drawn at their backs, the process will not advance and we will default to the wish of the most vocal and organised factions of opposition to Brexit. And that is not in the spirit or intent of democracy. Brexit is mainly about our vision of democracy. It embraces many other collateral feelings alongside, but the root of it lies in our expectations of what democracy delivers to the people. If Brexit fails - for whatever reason - then we have failed in upholding our interpretation of British democracy and we will all be the worse for it. Whilst deciding such matters through public referenda is crucially flawed, we do now need to get done what has to be done and learn from this episode of chaos not to repeat it again. To repeat, 'we are where we are', so let us handle where we are with vigour and purpose and deliver that which was mandated.