Brexit: We need some common sense discussion - Euan McColm

“These are my principles,” goes the line, often attributed to the great Groucho Marx, “And if you don’t like them, I have others.”

It’s a joke that’s endured for decades because it perfectly captures a truth about a certain type of person, usually a politician.

Which brings me to Liz Truss, the Tory MP currently on course to be our next Prime Minister. Back in the foreign country of 2016, Truss was a staunch Remainer, campaigning for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. Brexit, she insisted, would do nothing but damage the economy and reduce the nation’s standing in the world.

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But lots of Truss’s colleagues didn’t like her principles. Fortunately, for the sake of her ambitions, she had others.

Labour must make a priority of rebuilding a respectful, productive relationship with the EU, says Euan McColm. Picture: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Now Truss is a born-again Brexiteer, with all the zeal of the convert. I listen to the foreign secretary proclaim her new found faith and think of those reformed alcoholics who preach the gospel outside Marks & Sparks on a Saturday afternoon. If they keep repeating their new truth, perhaps the sins of their past will be washed away.

Truss is now the preferred candidate of those hard-right Tory MPs whose pathetic little obsession with the European Union they mistake for the politics of big ideas.

Unless pollsters have got things wrong to an unprecedented degree, Truss will comfortably beat Sunak in the vote among Tory members to select Boris Johnson’s successor.

And once she’s in office, we may expect her to continue to pander to the crank right, insisting that Brexit - despite the chaos it has already caused - must be defended at any cost.

Should Sunak - a true blood Brexiteer - defy the odds and win this contest, things will be no less bleak. His latest attempt to secure the affections of his party’s members is to praise and pledge his continuing commitment to the repulsive and inhumane policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. This national embarrassment of a scheme will continue until this awful Tory government is brought down.

For those of us who believe cooperation with our European neighbours to be a positive thing, the defeat of the Conservatives in the 2024 General Election does not guarantee much of a change of approach when it comes to our relationship with the EU. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has made it quite clear that, under him, his party will not seek to persuade the British people - despite polls showing a majority now believe Brexit to be a mistake - that it is better to be in than out.

Rather, the Labour Party promises to make Brexit work, which is rather like me promising to re-animate my late grandmother.

I understand why Labour is taking this position. Democracy means allowing voters to make a catastrophically stupid mistake and then, if not quite respecting it, living with it. Were Starmer to start talking now about reversing Brexit, he would open up a line of attack from the Tories which might just shore up their haemorrhaging support for long enough to give them another General Election win.

But, while Starmer can’t try to persuade voters that a return to the EU would make sense, he can - and, indeed, must - try to inject some common sense into the discussion about our relationship with our neighbours.

While Brexit damages businesses and costs jobs, Starmer should be making the case that compromise is in the national interest.

Yes, even this would open him to attack from a Tory party that cares nothing for the damage it has wrought but if he is unable to deal with that, he is not fit to be Prime Minister. No leader of the Labour Party can ignore or accept circumstances which make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. That’s page-one-of-the-instruction-manual stuff.

It’s true, of course, that the SNP at Westminster has no compunction about pointing out the folly of Brexit but I’m wary of trusting the commitment on this issue of a party which, in the 2014 independence referendum campaign, called for result which would have seem Scotland automatically excluded from the EU. The SNP’s opposition to the result of the Brexit referendum is a political pose.

For now, a strange cognitive dissonance over Brexit exists. Many of those who bought into Johnson’s self-serving and utterly dishonest campaign to take the UK out of the EU now see him for the lying charlatan he is. Yet they do not stop to ask themselves whether, that being so, he was not being honest when he claimed that Brexit would mean endless having-cake-and-eating-cake uplands.

I suppose for some, it’s just too embarrassing to admit that they’re nothing but a mark, a mug who bought into a pyramid scheme or told themselves they could find the lady.

Perhaps, as it becomes clearer that Brexit will continue to harm their employment prospects and undermine the Good Friday agreement, they may come to see things differently but, until then, we may be certain they’ll continue to blame those who fail to believe in Brexit for the consequences of the choice they made in 2016.

Until he ran out of personally convenient positions to take, Boris Johnson’s appeal frequently transcended traditional left and right politics. His force of personality was enough, after all, for him to win two consecutive terms as Mayor of London, a city in which Labour MPs comfortably outnumber Tories.

Liz Truss is unencumbered by personality. All she has to offer voters is a right-wing agenda devoid of compassion or wisdom.

This, all things being equal, should mean we’ll be rid of the Tories soon.

And, when they go, Labour must make a priority of rebuilding a respectful, productive relationship with the EU.

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