Appeals for calm come from heavyweights on opposite sides of the Brexit debate, but to reach opposite conclusions..

In a joint article in the Observer, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern ask Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to sink their other differences and follow the example of opposite sides in the Northern Ireland peace process. They should “encourage calm amid the chaos”, agree an EU withdrawal deal and submit the results to a confirmatory referendum.

“….we feel duty-bound, a generation on, to stress to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn the ongoing significance of the Good Friday agreement, to add context to the Brexit debate and to set out our shared view of what should happen to protect peace and prosperity, between now and the newly announced EU “flextension” to 31 October

First, May and her colleagues in parliament must learn from previous mistakes and use this extension to encourage calm amid the chaos. Over the next six months it is likely that elements within the Conservative party will seek to oust her and push for a new prime minister to fight for what they call a “proper Brexit”, the details of which have never been spelled out by Boris Johnson or anyone else. Whatever criticisms people may have of May, her party should reject such manoeuvring…

At Martin (McGuinness’s) funeral in 2017, Bill Clinton said about him that he had “expanded the definition of us and shrunk the definition of them”.

On Brexit, it is time to do the same; to elevate the discussion above individual interests to the collective, to expand the definition of us and shrink the definition of them. It is also time to be brutally honest about the real choices and their consequences. There is no variation of Brexit that can strengthen the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is no variation of Brexit that will grow the UK economy any time soon. Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit with the risk of a hard border, is both the most serious threat to the Good Friday agreement since it was created, and to the union in our lifetime. It is time to acknowledge the reality of these challenges and to work collectively to overcome them. It is our belief, or at least certainly our fervent hope, that the Good Friday agreement will survive Brexit…

Part of that nationalist aspiration is to have an open border between north and south; which then leads to broader questions about single market access and a customs union. Therein lies the problem. It is no coincidence that several universities and thinktanks are now examining what a united Ireland would mean and how it would happen. You cannot walk around the island of Ireland without being asked about the future of a united Ireland – and that has resulted from the position on the border taken by Brexiteers.

It is precisely because of such issues as the border that there should be a confirmatory vote on whatever now emerges from the Brexit process in parliament. The Irish border question is a metaphor for the entire negotiation. It is not possible for the UK to have frictionless trade with the EU if it remains outside the single market, so the question is how much friction is compatible with the Good Friday agreement, and that in turns defines any Brexit agreement that will pass through parliament.

Such is the variation of Brexit deals that have been debated, and the vastness of the Brexit promises made in 2016, that any agreement is unlikely to be what the public voted for. The UK people should have the final say. They should be asked if now, knowing all that they do, they still wish to proceed, on whatever basis is agreed by government and parliament.

Following the Good Friday agreement, there were two referendums. The referendum in Northern Ireland, on the agreement, based on facts not promises, clarity not ambiguity, received a 71% yes result. The related referendum in the Republic of Ireland achieved a 94% yes. There is now time for a confirmatory referendum given the EU has expanded the Brexit deadline to 31 October. It is this that must be pursued, and May should take the lead in that process.

It was not solely through the signatures we scribbled on 10 April 1998 that peace came to Northern Ireland. It was the values people ascribed to it as a result. Reconciliation. Tolerance. Mutual trust. Respect for the views of others. A shared desire to reach the right conclusion on terms that all but the most extreme can live with and accept. That is the approach needed on Brexit now. The extension gives us another chance. We must not waste it. We must use it. wisely, and deliver the three Cs – calm, clarity and a confirmatory vote. Only then can come the fourth C: closure”.

From the diametrically opposite viewpoint on Brexit, Boris Johnson makes a similar appeal for an end to division within the Tory party at least.  He makes a shrewd appeal as a social conservative who as London mayor worked across divides with a Labour dominated London Assembly.  He conjures up a vision of when “ the distortions of Brexit will come to an end,”   designed to boost the  plummeting morale of Tory grass roots and his own chances of becoming Conservative leader and prime minister .

“The sooner we leave the EU, the sooner the name-calling will end.

I know it may not feel much like it at the moment, but some day soon we are going to get out.

Unless we MPs have taken leave of our senses, we will honour the wishes of the people. Unless the PM has some secret plan to stifle Brexit with a series of ever more ludicrous delays, it seems to me all but inevitable that we will eventually respect the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the European Union.

So don’t despair. Don’t give up. It is going to happen, and at that wonderful moment it will be as though the lights have come on at some raucous party; or as if a turbulent sea has withdrawn to expose the creatures of the shore. We will suddenly see things differently, and in that moment of clarity – when we finally get this thing done – I hope and believe that one of the distortions of Brexit will come to an end.

The argument in the past few years has become so all-consuming that it has introduced a ridiculous polarity into political discussion. By dividing the country into Leavers and Remainers, the debate has tended towards stereotype. It is assumed that your view on Brexit is a likely guide to your views on almost everything else. So, by a lazy process of association, a composite picture has been built up of the “average Leaver” or the “average Remainer” – when that picture may have little or nothing to do with reality. Leavers are now assumed to be anti‑immigrant, reactionary, of advancing years, and they are regularly described as “extreme” or “Right‑wing”. Remainers are assumed to be metropolitan, liberal and probably in favour of high and progressive taxation.

Neither stereotype is remotely accurate. I can think of Left-wing members of the Green Party – like my old friend Baroness Jenny Jones – who were firmly in favour of Brexit; and there are lots of hard-nosed, tax-cutting Tories who have been passionately in favour of Remain.

You can decide for or against Brexit and yet occupy almost any position on the Left-Right spectrum. Yet the polarising effect means that whole suites of irrelevant opinions are ascribed to one side or another, with bizarre results.

Take yesterday’s peculiar outburst by David Lammy, the Labour MP, on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show. If I understood him correctly, he said that I was an “extreme hard-Right fascist”, on the grounds that I was “with Steve Bannon”, the former Trump aide. I have always liked David Lammy, but I have never seen such a ferocious grip of the wrong end of the stick. Whatever you may think of my time as mayor in London’s City Hall, or as foreign secretary, I don’t think you could say that it amounted to a fascist regime.

Lammy and I worked together for years. He knows that I was for a long time just about the only politician willing to stick up for the benefits of immigration. So why does he say this stuff? Why does this conspiracy theory carry credence on the internet? Because of Brexit, and the whole gamut of misplaced associations that go with it.

The sooner we can deliver Brexit, the sooner the nonsense will end, and the current Brexchosis will gently fade from the population. And then – faster than I think we now believe possible – the Tory party will find that the polarising effect has gone.

The distortions will vanish, and suddenly I believe there will be an outbreak of unity, and violent agreement on the way forward. Just as there is a great pent-up tide of cash waiting to flood into this country, as soon as we have got the thing done, so there is a pent-up tide of Tory ideas and energy that for the past three years have been kept out by the Brexit monomania.

Now is the time to focus on the real priorities of this country: fighting crime, and especially tackling the scourge of knives and gangs; investing in our health service and our schools – and driving home the message that you need a dynamic economy to fund them all.

Now is also the time for Tories to rejuvenate our economic thinking, to set out a strategy for growth, for backing entrepreneurs and start‑ups, for making the judicious tax cuts that can actually stimulate revenues.

Now is the moment – if we can deliver Brexit – when we will be able to concentrate on fixing the housing market: cutting stamp duty, addressing the planning problems and coming up with inventive mixed tenure schemes to help young people purchase their own homes.

Soon, if we can get Brexit over the line, we will finally be able to begin the positive narrative about Brexit Britain – the world leader in so many fields, set to overtake Germany, by 2050, as the largest and most prosperous economy in Europe. That is the opportunity. We cannot afford to fail.

If my fellow Tories want to understand the political risk we run by refusing to deliver a real Brexit then they should look at the reception accorded the new Brexit Party this weekend in Birmingham. There is a sense of disillusion out there, and we must disprove it now. I believe that we can and we will.

But the only way to cure our Brexchosis is to do what we promised the people – to leave the EU, and do it properly.

The sooner we can deliver Brexit, the sooner the nonsense will end, and the current Brexchosis will gently fade from the population. And then – faster than I think we now believe possible – the Tory party will find that the polarising effect has gone.

The distortions will vanish, and suddenly I believe there will be an outbreak of unity, and violent agreement on the way forward.”

Boris is pitching strongly here to disarm  those critics in his party and the media   by reminding him he is Heineken Man, who reaches parts others can’t reach when he sticks to cheer leading and steers clear of the boring stuff about trade and stats and mere facts generally.  It was  straying into such unfamiliar territory that got him into trouble after last week’s Telegraph  column which the passionately Brexiteer paper tried – unconvincingly   –   to explain away.

“The Telegraph has been forced to correct a column by Boris Johnson after the Brexiter MP and potential Tory leadership candidate falsely claimed a no-deal Brexit was the most popular option among the British public.

The claim was made in a column (£) published in January but has since been removed from the online version after a complaint by a member of the public to the press regulator Ipso

In its defence the Telegraph said Johnson was “entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions”.

It also suggested that claims in Johnson’s column should not be taken seriously as the piece “was clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”.

Mitchell Stirling, a statistician from Reading, said he made the complaint because he felt “a potential prime minister shouldn’t be able to make things up in a weekly column”.

 

 

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