Big decisions need big consultations

We are now weeks away from leaving the EU with a deal that hangs in the balance between an EU of 27 and a UK Parliament respectively approving and likely to reject the deal on the table. We were just as split then as we are now with Enoch Powell and Michael Foot waving the Commonwealth flag and the ‘No’ camp and Heath and Jenkins waving the ‘let’s join the European Community flag’ . It amazes me that we seem to have learnt nothing at all from the lessons of the past. Then like now Ted Heath did not involve within those negotiations the relevant sections of the Labour Party and the liberals whose continuing support was vital to get the deal through. He of course managed it as the parties were split such that the Yes camp then had an obvious majority in Parliament a least. But there was a vision then of swinging towards a genuine common market and against on the right our colonial past and on the left the doggedly pro-Soviet left. It was a real feeling of optimism and elation at this new found collaboration between nations who only 26 years before had been at war with each other. How quickly the sands of time obliterate the memories, as to many Europe had become an imperfect lair for the Euro cats.

Move on 36 years and we are reminded of Christopher Voss’s belief that the art of good negotiation isn’t simply about getting to ‘yes’ (as I was taught at mediation school), but its about mastering ‘no’ and understanding what the path to an agreement is. That may be about diametric opposites coming towerads the centre ground. So negotiating to opt out of Europe was always going to be an immensely complicated process that would inevitably involve the push me pull you effect of opposites; somehow there seemed to be no centre ground between the EU ‘no cherrypicking’ mantra and the ‘out means out’ bland leap of faith into the unknown by the arch Brexiteers – who never really believed that a compromise was possible anyway. Those arch negotiators like me looked on and only wished we had turned the clock back and reformed Europe from within.

Where pray was the consensus building that ought to have involved as many parties who believed in seeking a compromise between June 2016 and today; an apparent minority in a minority government negotiates a compromise deal without consulting the largest party in Northern Ireland; without consulting the opposition (whose current position on Europe appears ambivalent in any event); and all this shrouded in secrecy. The result may be if the runes prove correct, that the compromise meets nobody’s vision of a brighter future in or out of the EU. As a result the two opposing wings become more polarised than ever with the Lib Dems asking for my contribution towards the campaign to stay in, and the blue rinse brigade dreaming of a unilateral pull the plug. The baffled majority are somehwere in the middle of this visonless torrid mess thinking what possible way there might be to ensure our kids do have a future. There’s a compromise out there to be had and if tweeking what we have been offered and getting the sensible wing of labour to support it that might, just might build up a consensus that out as I said have been utilised way back in 2016. From an arch Remainer like me that’s compromise indeed.

20th November 2018

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