Saturday, 25 June 2016

A cunning plan

I have a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

A plan so cunning, you can brush your teeth with it.

A plan so cunning....

OK, so it's not actually a plan as such, it's more a pipe-dream. Or a case of A la recherche du temps perdu. Just go with it for now. Humour me.

The first dust is still swirling in the air after the EU referendum, and already the leading proponents of Brexit (Johnson, Gove, Farage et al) are backing down on the things they claimed during the campaign. To absolutely nobody's surprise, that "£350 million we could spend on the NHS" is total balderdash. Which must be a bit annoying for the 80% of Leave voters who apparently reported that spending more on the NHS and less on EU membership was one of the most important factors in their vote. And it turns out that one of the most likely forms of "Exit", as explained by an Exit campaigning MEP, is going to be becoming a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) with free movement of goods and labour. That's right. Free movement of labour (otherwise know as "people" to you and me). Which is another of the single most important issues that we were told we were voting on. So, all the people who care passionately about reducing immigration, and spending more on the NHS by spending less in Europe have been lied to. They have voted for something that they couldn't have.

If I can be phoned up several times a day for years on end over the issue of having been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance, it shouldn't be beyond the bounds of possibility to complain about being mis-sold an electoral choice in the biggest wool-pulling incident of modern times. This may not be what is usually meant by electoral fraud, but it certainly feels like fraud from here. The scale of the lies and disinformation is staggering.

So I propose the following...

1. The Tories sort out who is in charge Right Now. And if that means bringing Cameron back to tidy up the mess he created, then so be it. No fannying around until October though.

2. We (the UK) send a delegation to the EU, comprising the best political negotiators our cabinet has, and they sit in a locked room with the rest of the EU Council and they hammer out what our options are if we leave. I don't mean write the full treaty, I mean get the bare bones of whether we will be in the EEA (like Norway) or a completely separate nation that happens to neighbour Europe (like the Ukraine) and what the borders, trade tariffs, labour movement etc would be. Including our relationship to Scotland and N.Ireland if they were to secede from the UK. In fact, I think Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland should explicitly be present in the negotiations.

And I would expect our elected representatives to do their job in choosing what the best strategy would be for leaving, whether that be a Norway or a Ukraine route. I would expect (and you can laugh at me at this point) them to make the best decisions for us as a nation, for the people they represent, and not the best choices for their pockets or political futures. The plan they hashed out wouldn't be binding, but it would paint a picture of the truth behind what we could expect. And I want those politicians to stay in that room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until we know what we could be getting. And then I want them to stay in there a bit longer and hammer out a deal for what changes we could see within the EU if we stay.

3. Then the politicians come home, and they sit down with both sides of the political divide and they draw up an unbiased document, upon which everyone agrees, within which the facts and figures of the best Exit they can devise are laid out, alongside the current facts and figures of the EU and the changes proposed. This is an issue too important to be divided on party lines, and too important to allow the back-stabbing, lying and viciousness this recent campaign has exposed. Our politicians are adults, they should be capable of agreeing a set of facts and proposals to place before the electorate. 

4. While the politicians are busy doing that, during their summer recess I reckon, since they don't really deserve a long holiday after the balls up they've made of the country, I want a full Register of Interests drawn up. I want every single group, team, club, organisation, research department, school, hospital, charity, company, trust, farm, fishery and factory to declare how much money they receive every year from the EU in grants, subsidies, funding, equipment or labour. We know how much we pay into the EU, we know how much we get back in rebates, but I don't think any of us know how much actually comes back in other formats. And I think we deserve to know. Until this week, I didn't know the EU subsidises free school milk for under-5s for example. And how many people actually know the scale of the funding of our film and television industry? I know I don't. I do know that 16% of our universities' research budgets comes from EU grants. That's quite a lot. Without it, will universities simply have to increase fees even further so only the very richest can afford a degree? Only by knowing where EU money is going within the UK can we have any hope of assessing whether it's making a positive impact on our lives.

5. Once steps 3 and 4 are complete, every household in the country will receive the mutually agreed upon fact sheet, and a list of the funding we as a population receive, broken down by geographical area if possible.

6. And NOW we get to vote. We get to vote on an actual, real question, with real facts about what we are being offered. We have voted on an abstract concept of nationhood, on vague ephemeral notions of "control" and "Britishness". People have voted passionately and with conviction on both sides, but with a horrible paucity of information about the shape of Exit. It's clear that a significant proportion of the country is dissatisfied (but not actually a majority remember - on a 72% turnout it actually works out that 37% voted to leave, 35% voted to stay and 28% didn't vote). So now we should get to choose between a real-world Exit offer, and a real-world Remain offer. All the people for whom immigration was the over-riding issue can discover what the immigration rules would be in each case before they vote. All the people who firmly believe the EU provides us with a great deal would have a list of exactly how much they provide us with. And we would all have a chance to decide whether the chance of gaining that which we desire is worth the things we will lose in return.

Told you it was a Cunning Plan didn't I?

It would have been nice if that had been what happened. Instead we got a divisive, vitriolic campaign that was in essence an amplification of an internal power-struggle within the Tory party, instead of a mature, informed debate about a matter of national importance.

I would like to think that when Boris says there's no need to rush into invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and that we should start "informal talks" he's also thought of my cunning plan. But that's because I'm a fantasist who's still in denial about the result of this referendum.

And just to give you a smile at the end, here's the extra bit, that I admit is even less likely to happen than steps 1-6. But a girl can dream, can't she?

7. This is a tricky bit. Trickier even than relying on politicians to make the best choice for us and not for themselves. Newspapers are not allowed to print any opinion pieces in the run up to the vote. They can report verbatim what the official representatives of the two campaigns say. Nigel Farage does not get to be an official representative. Ideally he should be locked in a padded cell for the duration, but I don't think I'll get away with that one. Meanwhile, the newspapers can report news and events. But they cannot report anything that is deemed by the Electoral Commission to be undue bias or influence in favour of either side. And if they do print anything untrue or against my draconian rules, then they must suspend their website for a day with a notice instead simply declaring they have breached electoral rules, and they don't print their newspaper for a day. Every lie loses a day of circulation. OK, so there's a few piffling issues with a free press, and overseas and on-line publications and the like, but I'm sure we can sort something out. If not, I'd be happy if we just implemented steps 1-6.

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