Following Tony Blair’s speech calling for EU enthusiasts to ‘rise up’ and try to thwart Brexit, his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell issued a challenge to Brexiters. This challenge came in the form of 48 questions that he claims us Leavers ‘can’t or won’t answer’. In the spirit of open debate, and ignoring the condescending tone of many of these questions (and indeed the article in general) I shall take it upon myself to answer them. I obviously cannot speak for all 17,410,742 people who voted leave, anymore than Campbell or Blair represent all 16,141,241 people who opted for Remain, but I shall nevertheless answer open and honestly, to the best of my ability.
Lay ’em on me Mr Campbell…
Do you accept that many people who voted Leave did so without knowing the full terms of Brexit?
Not just many Alastair, but all of them. There was no solid plan from Vote Leave, and even if there were, we were not electing Vote Leave (thank the lord). All 17.4m people who went into that voting booth and marked the box that said ‘Leave the European Union’ did so in the full knowledge that there was no concrete roadmap for what form Brexit would take. Leaving the EU was enough for them, and they left the means by which we did that up to the government and parliament.
Do you accept that it is open to the people to change their minds if they decide Brexit will in fact harm their own and the country’s interests?
I do. I am for consulting the public and taking their wishes on board at every possible opportunity. If we’d had a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, for example, we may very well have rejected those significant steps towards further political integration with our friends and allies on the continent. As it stands though, 68% of the public want the government to ‘get on with it’ and proceed with leaving the EU, according to ICM.
Do you accept that there is no monopoly on patriotism and that there might be a patriotic case for wishing to reverse the referendum decision, if enough people feel it will be damaging to the UK?
Absolutely. Though you will need to make that case in far better terms than you did prior to June 23 to justify reversing the referendum result. Rehashing the arguments each side made throughout the campaign (and have been making for years) serves no purpose. I fully accept that both sides of the debate believe that their respective positions are best for the country though.
Do you agree the government approach can now be defined as ‘Brexit at any cost’?
That may be a fair assessment, though as I’ve already noted, as there was no plan proffered by the official leave campaign, one could make the argument that Leavers voted for Brexit regardless of the cost. For many people that may well be the case, for others not so much. However your question assumes that the government is doomed to fail in it’s bid to secure a favourable settlement. I’d wager that if the EU frustrated those efforts in pursuit of it’s own political interests, many would take that as a vindication of their decision to leave.
Do you accept that people are entitled to be concerned at the scale of that cost, economically and politically?
Certainly, but as we have no idea what those costs are, or indeed if there will be any, that concern is rather premature. Overturning the referendum decision with no knowledge of those costs, even more so.
Do you accept that the financial cost of withdrawal, the UK having to pay for previous EU obligations but not benefit from future opportunities, could be as high as £60bn?
It’s certainly possible. But we are a nation who take pride in honouring our commitments and I fail to see that as a problem. Moreover, a £60bn settlement fee for outstanding commitments pales in comparison to the £8bn-£14bn (and always rising) we have been paying annually, continuing in perpetuity. There is also nothing to say we cannot benefit from future opportunities. Non-EU nations participate in a plethora of EU programmes, there is no reason why an independent UK cannot continue to participate in those programmes which we deem beneficial.
Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s former views that maintaining our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market on our doorstep fulfills rather than diminishes our national interest?
Fully and wholeheartedly, but subordination to a supranational government is not a ‘partnership’. It is in fact a partnership with the EU, rather than membership, we will now seek.
Is there not something surreal about the Prime Minister and Chancellor now claiming hard Brexit is a huge boon for the country when during the campaign they said the opposite, in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s case with real conviction?
Believe it or not the debate is not black and white. There are costs and opportunities in both remaining and leaving. The fact former remain supporters accept the result of the referendum and now seek to seize the opportunities afforded by Brexit, that for political reasons they denied prior to the vote, does not seem surreal to me at all. It’s a much more rational and grown up approach to the situation than refusing to accept the result and insisting we’re all doomed if we carry on.
Do you accept that politics, not economics or the genuine national interest, is now driving the hard Brexit chosen by May?
Completely, and it’s politics instigated and perpetuated by the Remain side that has resulted in the hard brexit approach. In order to prop up so called ‘Project Fear’, Remain repeatedly conflated leaving the EU with leaving the Single Market during the campaign. I and many other leavers who saw a transitional EEA arrangement as the economically neutral path to take find ourselves making the same arguments to hard brexiters now as we did to people such as yourself during the campaign.
That conflation was understandable, as merely arguing that we should be in ever closer political union with our European neighbours, continuing with a push towards a federal Europe, would have resulted in a Leave landslide. But it muddied the waters and made a soft brexit much less politically viable. It may have been salvaged still had there not been such a huge call from disgruntled remainers – which you yourself are now continuing – to ignore or overturn the result. This meant that leavers were sceptical of remaining in the single market, seeing it as representing efforts by the remain side to keep us in the EU by the back door.
Had there been an honest debate about EU membership – not conflated with EEA membership – during the campaign, and an immediate acceptance of the result followed by constructive discussion of an EEA/EFTA position as a means of facilitating Brexit, a hard brexit would have been infinitely less likely. But the path yourself and the remain side have taken has rendered it politically unviable.
Are you seriously saying the PM’s vision of Britain as a ‘great open trading nation’ is best served by leaving the largest free trading bloc in the world? Might her vision of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the US be more realistic if we remained part of the EU?
Are you seriously saying that remaining in the Common Commercial Policy, outsourcing our trade policy to the protectionist EU, is more conducive to being a ‘great open trading nation’ than leaving, signing a deal to continue that economic relationship, and pursuing similar arrangements with countries the world over?
In what way will her call for a fairer capitalism be met by moving to a low tax, light regulation economy?
Lower taxes lead to higher investment, more jobs, and higher pay. A cursory glance at Ireland’s booming tech sector, for example, reveals this to be true.
Do you accept that if the right-wing ideologues pushing a hard Brexit so Britain becomes a low tax, low regulation, offshore hub have their way, we will need huge tax and welfare changes? Were they voted for in the referendum?
I do, and huge tax and welfare changes are long overdue. They weren’t voted for in the referendum no. It is up to government and parliament to pursue policies that they believe are best for the country. In a post-brexit scenario, if reducing the tax and regulatory burden on businesses results in higher investment, higher employment, and higher pay, then that is a policy the government is right to pursue.
Will this approach in fact lead to less not more public money for the NHS? Less not more protection for workers?
Only if you believe Laffer was incorrect. Lower tax rates often yield higher tax revenues due to increased productivity and investment. This approach could thus result in more public money, including for the NHS, not less. Workers are protected by the multiple ILO conventions to which the UK is a signatory, and we often go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Their rights will be unaffected by brexit.
Is it not the case that the UK government could make these changes now, but wouldn’t because they know they do not have public support for them?
They could, and there’s many who would like to see them do so. There will be an election in 2020 in which we can choose between a freer market approach and Corbyn’s centralised philosophy. That will determine whether those plans have public support.
Is there any chance at all that Brexit will lead to £350m a week more for the NHS?
Absolutely not. But I have yet to meet one leave voter who believed that would be the case. The British public is not as gullible as you think. The referendum wasn’t fought between hyper-informed remainers and thick-as-two-planks leavers. I daresay the level of understanding was similar across the board, but people analysed the claims made from both sides, found many of them to be wanting, did their own research, had their own discussions with friends and family members, and came to a conclusion. We all knew that the £350m figure was based on gross numbers and thus inaccurate. Similarly we all knew brexit wouldn’t lead to world war three. Voters saw through a lot of ludicrous claims during the campaign.
Please define the ‘big argument’ that Tony Blair says is missing from this pursuit of hard Brexit, and how it will benefit Britain economically.
As someone who favoured a soft-brexit interim, I can’t do that. Unfortunately, your side’s poisoning of the EEA argument in an attempt to win the debate on EU membership has made a hard brexit the only politically viable one in the wake of the referendum result. Well done.
Do you agree that of the many arguments put forward for Leave in the referendum, only immigration and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are still really being pursued?
Absolutely not. The immediate establishment of a Department for International Trade shows that the ability to be that open, global trading nation the Leave campaign envisaged, is a cornerstone of the government’s approach to brexit.
Do you accept that the Leave campaign deliberately conflated the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)?
Actually the only instance I can recall of leaving the ECHR being conflated with leaving the EU is this pro-EU video from the Guardian.
Can you confirm that that ECHR is not and never has been a EU body?
I can. Thanks for helping me set the Guardian straight on that one.
Can you name any laws the UK government has not been able to pass because of the ECJ?
We couldn’t abolish the tampon tax thanks to EU law mandating female sanitary products as a luxury item and thus subject to a minimum 5% VAT. Had we gone ahead and abolished the tax, we would’ve undoubtedly been hauled before the ECJ and made to reinstate it. There’s just one example.
Can you confirm that of net immigration into the UK in 2016, over half was from outside the EU?
Do you accept that as May wants to keep those EU immigrants who come with a confirmed job offer, and students, this leaves around 80,000 who come looking for work without a job?
I’m not sure where you’re getting those figures from but I’m still happy to stipulate to that.
Do you agree that of these 80,000, roughly a third come to London, mostly working in the food processing and hospitality sectors; and that the practical impact of Brexit on our ‘control’ of immigration is on analysis less than 12% of the immigration total?
Sure, why not. I’m failing to see how this makes a case for ignoring the referendum result given that the number one priority for people was sovereignty, not immigration.
Do you agree that most of the immigrants we are talking about in this 12% work hard and pay their taxes?
Absolutely. Immigrants contribute an awful lot to this country. Wanting to control the numbers that come here does not equate to pulling up the drawbridge.
Do you think the biggest constitutional, political, economic and social change of our lifetime is merited by such numbers as set out in questions 23 to 26?
I don’t, but the referendum was not fought on immigration alone. If it had been, I daresay leave would have lost by a sizeable margin.
Do you accept that the immigration most people worry about – that of people determined to challenge our security and way of life, in the name of a perverted view of Islam – is not affected by Brexit?
Given the recent attacks on European soil in the wake of the migrant crisis, having greater control of immigration from Europe will reassure people worried about the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists.
Do you agree that the post Article 50 negotiations are going to be as complex as any we have experienced, covering a vast number of areas?
Absolutely. Forty years of political and economic integration cannot be done overnight. But ‘negotiations will be complicated’ is both blindingly obvious, and a woeful argument for staying in anyway.
Do you accept, as a matter of fact, that the Single Market covers around half of our trade in goods and services?
46%, down from 56% a decade ago, and in continuing decline, but yes.
Do you accept that leaving the Customs Union may adversely impact on trade with other countries like Turkey?
I do not. The customs union is primarily concerned with the administration of the common external tariff. Leaving it simplifies our trade negotiations with other countries, it doesn’t complicate them.
30. Can you confirm that we will need to negotiate the replacement of over 50 Preferential Trade Agreements we have via our membership of the EU?
Not so. There is, cited by authorities on international law, a “general presumption of continuity”. A proper dissection of this particular falsehood can be found here, but in summation, the UK would merely lodge a formal notification of succession with the depository of each treaty as set out by the Vienna Convention on Succession of States, to establish itself as a party to an existing treaty. More simply, we could negotiate with the EU notional membership status exclusively for the purpose of taking advantage of the third country treaty provisions.
Do you accept that EU-related trade is actually two thirds of the UK total?
EU related trade? That is so broad a term as to be irrelevant. Though for argument’s sake, one does not need to be in political union with a country (or bloc) in order to trade with it.
Do you accept scientific research and culture are both going to suffer as a result of Brexit, and indeed already are?
I do not. Non-EU countries already take part in EU programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020, there is no reason why the UK could not continue to do so in a similar fashion.
Are you content to have the WTO as a fall back strategy should we fail to reach a satisfactory deal within two years?
I am not. The fall back strategy should be to remain party to the EEA agreement via EFTA membership. A bespoke deal is spectacularly unlikely to be concluded within two years so a transitional EEA position should be part of negotiations, or we should request an extension to the talks immediately before negotiations actually begin. If you were more concerned about ensuring a smooth transition out of the EU, rather than frustrating the referendum result and keeping us in the EU, liberal leavers and former remainers would command a significant majority and could better help dictate the terms of brexit.
Do you accept this too has enormous complexity attached to it; that we would need to negotiate the removal not just of tariff barriers; but the prevention of non-tariff barriers which today are often the biggest impediments to trade?
Yes. These things are precisely what the government will be negotiating over the next two years.
Do you agree that the fall in the value of sterling against the euro and the dollar as a result of Brexit is an indication that the international financial markets believe we are going to be poorer?
No, it was an over-correction by a market that had betted on the wrong outcome of the referendum, and sterling has now fallen by roughly the same amount that economists had been suggesting it was overvalued by pre-referendum.
Do you accept that therefore the price of imported goods is up and so will be inflation?
Sure, if you’ll accept that the price of exported goods will be down and thus productivity will rise to meet the increased demand, rebalancing an economy that was already far too reliant on imports. The fall in sterling isn’t the disaster many make it out to be.
Do you agree that the Single Market and enlargement were huge foreign policy successes for the UK?
Yes, and by leaving the EU and regaining an independent voice on the top tables of global trade, we can help shape the emerging global single market, influencing the rules at places like the WTO, UNECE and a plethora of industry specific bodies before they get anywhere near EU level.
Do you agree that the Single Market has brought billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and major investment opportunities for the UK?
Yes. Do you accept that the EU and the Single Market are two separate entities and you were wrong to conflate the two during the referendum campaign?
Do you agree that enlargement has enhanced EU and NATO security?
No, EU expansionism has provoked Russia into it’s current belligerence. I am no apologist for Putin, but there’s no denying that the EU’s overtures to Ukraine poked the Russian bear and contributed to it’s aggressions in the region.
Furthermore, EU plans for a European army undermine NATO, not strengthen it.
Do you accept that in the early 21st century, most countries are seeking to forge rather than break regional and economic alliances?
Certainly, but there is no need to be in political and judicial union in order to form those alliances.
Do you agree we can do more on issues like the environment with others than alone?
Of course, but again, we don’t need to be locked in a political union, with a supranational government, to pursue and co-operate on common interests.
Do you agree that the route taken on and since June 23 has helped revive the argument about Scotland leaving the UK?
In the sense that the SNP have been using it as an excuse to beat the independence drum a little louder sure, but consistent polling shows there is still a majority in Scotland in favour of remaining in the UK. This is probably why, for all her grandstanding, Sturgeon still hasn’t called for a second independence referendum. Scottish independence is no more likely post-brexit than it was last May.
Do you accept that the failure to address the question of how to maintain EU freedom of movement without a hard border between Ireland and the UK is destabilising the peace process?
I do not. There have been no rumblings from the IRA since June 23. It is a complicated question for sure, but there is no appetite to return to the troubles in Northern Ireland. I’m sure a solution can and will be found.
Do you accept the government is obsessed with Brexit, and has no choice but to be so?
Certainly, and rightly so. As you pointed out earlier, it is the “biggest constitutional, political, economic and social change of our lifetime”.
Do you accept that the scale of government focus on Brexit is having a detrimental impact on their ability to deal with other issues, such as the NHS, education, the new economy, crime, prisons – and, er, immigration policy?
That is an argument for smaller, more efficient government, not less brexit. Also, is ‘leaving the EU is too difficult’ the best you can come up with?
Do you accept there is a cartel of right wing newspapers skewing the debate in the broadcast media, and whose support for May is contingent on her pursuing a hard Brexit policy?
I do not, nor do I believe that newspapers, right wing or otherwise, with their increasingly deteriorating circulations, have anything like as much influence as you would like to attribute to them in the age of the internet and mass communication.
Do you agree that had the business survey mentioned by Tony Blair said the opposite – namely huge confidence in Brexit – it would have led the news because the cartel would have splashed on it, not ignored it?
Newspapers do tend to splash on news that supports their editorial position and ignore news that contradicts it. It’s the same reason left wing newspapers haven’t led issues with the positive economic news stories that have surfaced since the vote.
Do you accept Brexit has divided the country across its nations, regions and generations, contrary to May’s claim to have 65 million people behind her?
A debate on issues of this magnitude, and so fundamental to the course our country will take over the next 5, 10, 20 years and beyond, will always be divisive. I don’t believe 65 million people are behind Theresa May, but her attempt to move the debate on to how to get best deal for Britain will do far more to unite the country again than the approach taken by yourself and others in calling for the referendum to be ignored or overturned because you believe the plebs have been duped by right wing media.
Perhaps if you treated us with a little more respect, accepted the result and earnestly looked to participate in the dialogue that follows, seeking to take advantage of opportunities that brexit affords us, we might just heal those divisions a little quicker.