Chris Grey is Emeritus Professor of Business and Management Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He previously held professorships at Warwick and Cambridge Universities. Since 2016 he has written the Brexit & Beyond Blog, and he is the author of Brexit Unfolded. How no one got what they wanted (and why they were never going to). His work on Brexit has been widely cited in the media and by governmental bodies, and he has given expert evidence to the Scottish Parliament on the Brexit trade negotiations
Ruth Woodhouse : Why is it that the Tories will not acknowledge the damage caused by Brexit and that it has been a failure? Is it really just a case of not losing face? Similarly, why will Labour not acknowledge the reality?
For Tories (assuming we are talking about MPs), I think there are some diehards who genuinely still think it was the right thing to do and, to the extent they see its problems, genuinely believe they are because it wasn’t done properly. Others, I’m sure, who once thought it was a good idea, secretly realise what a mistake they have made. Still others never supported it. But, apart from any psychological barriers to admitting what a failure it has been, there are huge political pressures not to. The Conservative Party, and especially its local membership organisations, is very different even to what it was in 2016. Criticising Brexit would be the death knell of their careers now: it would be the equivalent of a Labour MP saying the NHS should be abolished. As regards Labour and Brexit, I’ll fold that question in with Steve Wilson’s, below.
Steve Wilson : The Labour Party insists it can make Brexit work. Is that really possible and do you think they will shift their position once in power?
Making Brexit work is simply a slogan to signal that Labour accepts it isn’t going to be reversed and there will not be another referendum, along with a commitment to try to improve the Johnson deal. Is that possible (within Labour’s constraints on the single market, etc.)? Yes, in marginal, though not trivial, ways. In a general way, a more harmonious and trusting relationship is possible. That may sound vague, but it’s important. Specifically, a dynamic alignment deal on sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) is possible, and, if done, that would also set a precedent for cooperation that entailed an ECJ role, most obviously as regards security, but also possibly things like linking the EU and UK chemicals regulation (REACH) and carbon import (CBAM) regimes. A mobility deal of some sort could be done, and the UK might participate in Erasmus. There are good reasons to think that the EU would agree on SPS and security, while its agreement on mobility, Erasmus, REACH and CBAM, though less clear, looks possible. Is this Labour facing the reality of Brexit? Well, yes, to the extent that it is the most that it believes is realistic in terms of both domestic and EU politics. Does it repair the damage of Brexit? No, not by a long way.
What, if anything, could Rejoin campaigners do differently to improve their chances of success?
A while back, I did a list of Dos and Don’ts on my blog. This is a heavily edited version (see here for the full thing):
Keep going … it is going to be a long haul.
Keep pointing to the failures of Brexit. That may be negative, and, ultimately, the campaign case for rejoining needs to be positive, but we are not in that campaign yet.
Be prepared for support for rejoin and opposition to Brexit to fluctuate in the opinion polls.
React positively to leave voters who openly express regret.
Avoid getting tangled in issues about whether rejoining means joining the Euro, or Schengen, or what it would mean for budget contributions.
Configure the issue as ‘joining’ rather than ‘rejoining’: it’s about the future, not resurrecting the past. Both the UK and the EU will be different.
Keep banging on about the 2016 Referendum having ‘only been advisory’ or how ‘only 37% of the electorate voted to leave’.
Assume that individual EU politicians saying that the UK is welcome back any time it is ready is the same as that being the position of the EU or its members.
Dismiss any progress short of rejoining as a waste of time.
Anon : Do you think the result of the forthcoming election will be as bad for the Tories as generally predicted, or could they claw their way back into power?
Predictions are a mug’s game … so here goes! I think it will be closer than the current opinion polls suggest but, barring something big and unexpected, I think they will lose, simply because there is a general mood, among those who are not much interested in politics as well as those who are, that their time is up. That can be analysed in all kinds of sophisticated ways but, sometimes, politics really is as simple as that indefinable but tangible mood. Labour’s task in government is to convert that into something which becomes seen as an ideological sea-change – I say ‘becomes’, because it’s really only in retrospect that those judgements get made. That’s why, in and of itself, Labour’s current caution doesn’t tell us anything either way about whether it is going to oversee such a sea-change.
Susan Scarrott : With all the various factions and continual infighting, are the Tories finished?
It would be far too bold to say that they are finished but, assuming they lose the election, it seems all but inevitable that they will lurch to the populist right and pull themselves apart with battles over purity and true belief. How long that will go on for is hard to say – I suspect at least until they have lost another general election, maybe two. But whether they do that also depends on how a Labour government performs.
Lisa Burton : Your Brexit Blog ‘Brexit and Beyond’ is highly valued by many. Did you imagine it would turn into the immense piece of work it has become, and how long do you intend on keeping it going?
Thanks for your kind words. No, I never expected it to become what it has. I really only started it, in September 2016, for a kind of ‘personal therapy’, and at first it had very few readers. Then, I started using Twitter to publicise it – that was February 2017 – and it suddenly got picked up, by lucky chance, by a few high-profile people. Very quickly the readership expanded to many tens of thousands a week, including just about every journalist covering Brexit around the world, and politicians from every party in the UK (including several prominent Brexiters) and many in the EU, plus many in the EU’s negotiating team, diplomats, thinktank people, etc.
Its popularity has slightly declined in the last couple of years, but not by much. All that is good, but it has put pressure on me to keep writing it regularly, and to a decent standard. I’m well aware that its profile means that if I make, say, some serious error of fact, I could get pounced on. Anyway, I’m proud of it, and especially of the fact that many people say it will become a resource for historians. I don’t know if that’s true, but it is true there is nothing quite like it as a contemporaneous record of what has happened. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep going, but I’ve no immediate plans to stop. It has become a labour of love!
Anon : The Tories have made so many assaults on British democracy and have avoided transparency. Is there a particular assault on British values that stands out for you?
So many to choose from, as you say. I suppose the Prorogation was the most direct assault on democracy, but at least it was ruled unlawful. The most grotesque thing, to me, was the Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ headline. It was disgusting and totalitarian in its formulation and implication. OK, that was done by a newspaper, not the Tory Party, but it should have been unequivocally condemned by every single Government minister including the then PM Theresa May. In fact, shortly afterwards, its author (who also, reportedly, wrote the actual headline) was appointed by May as her official spokesperson.
Formerly the Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrat Party, Lord Rennard was elevated to the House of Lords in 1999. He was Director of Campaigns and Elections for the Liberal Democrats from 1989 to 2003 and Chief Executive of the Party from 2003 to 2009. If you wish to submit a question for consideration, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Saturday 9 March.