The Queen’s call this week for the country to find “common ground” has widely been interpreted as a comment on the current Brexit mess. Some Remainers and Brexiteers have decided it is an unwelcome hint to row in behind Theresa May’s deal and have gone out of their way to tell the Queen to mind her own business.
I respectfully disagree. The Royal Family isn’t left with a very substantial role in the unwritten British constitution but it does sill have the right “to encourage and to warn”. Above all, the Queen is a symbol of the unity of our country, rising above the fray, in sharp contrast to the shabby politicking of Donald Trump.
Looking out over her Disunited Kingdom, Her Majesty has every reason to feel concern.
The 2016 Referendum was highly divisive. It was won by only a narrow margin by the side which lied, cheated on the rules and was run by admirers of the country’s #1 enemy, Vladimir Putin, who may well have intervened in the campaign both financially and in more hidden ways.
Since then, the divisions have widened and the wound isn’t healing. Voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all say they believe that Brexit makes their nations more likely to abandon the UK. Brexit thus threatens the viability of the Realm over which the Queen reigns. The government’s negotiations have been a disaster and it has suffered the biggest defeat in Parliament by any ruling administration, ever. That’s not just a minor inconvenience, as Theresa May seems to think but a catastrophe, with the clock ticking down to a train Wrexit.
So, the Queen’s comment is relevant, timely and correct. We need to find a way to get through this without descending into acrimony or violence, in word and deed. The latter is not necessarily a given, with several Remain-backing Tory MPs now under police guard after receiving credible death threats and some Leavers actively using the threat of mass violence in order to threaten the Commons.
But what did the Queen really mean by “common ground”? As with most coded royal comments it is ambiguous enough to be widely open to interpretation. The royals are well advised and politically cautious, so the idea that she is really calling on MPs to unite around the most heavily defeated proposal in British history is, well, a bit far-fetched.
The Queen has seen a lot of changes in her life and has had to swing with the punches. Flexibility is what’s kept the Family in place for hundreds of years; a very visible difference from the tunnel-visioned occupant of No 10 who keeps on going regardless of whether anyone wants her to.
If we are to find Common Ground, it isn’t around Theresa May’s deal. So, where is it? As with all these problems, it is easiest to focus on eliminating the moving pieces. We know that the vast majority of MPs (probably 85% or more) and around 70% of the population (as well as the virtual entirely of British business) don’t want the No Deal Wrexit. A similar proportion don’t like the messy compromises and vassal state-us of the May deal. Neither of these can possibly form the basis for Common Ground.
That leaves us with several other options: Canada+ (essentially, full third-party status with regards to the EU – though that will not resolve the Irish border problem); Norway plus (essentially an EEA/EFTA solution which doesn’t solve the vassal state issue) and Remaining in the EU.
The problem is that none of these commands a majority in Parliament either. Canada is unlikely to do so at any time soon with nearly all of Labour, a significant portion of the Conservative Party and all the other MPs except the DUP against it. Norway has some momentum but is unlikely to win support in the country given that it keeps free movement (a bugbear for many Leave voters), doesn’t give us the (dubious) benefit of freedom to sign trade deals on our own; and takes away a major benefit of membership, the ability to frame the rules under which the EU works.
Remaining, in contrast, does have majority support in the country and has done in the polls for a year or more. It also enjoys a majority in Parliament, though the implacable opposition of the Maybyn axis is preventing that being heard.
So we are stuck. That’s why more and more MPs are falling behind the idea of a Final Say referendum which could bring closure to the grief-ridden process upon which we have embarked.
And it’s not actually that complicated. Parliament can decide which of the multi-coloured dreamcoat options for Brexit it supports – Norway, Canada or the Wrexit. It can put that to the country in a ballot versus the option of Remaining.
For sure, both sides would accept the result because both sides would see that the people have voted, unlike in 2016, based on informed consent.
It is not a perfect solution – but we are with Her Majesty – let us come together, as we always do, and find common ground through the ballot box.