Given the lack of support for the prime minister’s Chequers deal, the public must get to decide how best to proceed.
RN's Dr Charles.
Leave-backing commentators speaking out in favour of continued membership of the single market and/or customs union are hard to find; most voices one hears advocating that position are longstanding Remainers arguing for what they see as the least damaging Brexit option. It’s important then, for politicians to realise that there are Leave voters like me for whom leaving the economic (as opposed to political) mechanisms of the EU was never an ambition.
Faced with a choice of a “Brexit in name only” or a more economically (and socially) damaging harder Brexit, including a bespoke trade deal, a number of us would choose the former.
It is striking how a Leave vote has come to be taken by many as a clear expression of a desire to leave the single market, when the two are a long way from being synonymous. Many advocates of a harder Brexit pursue a referendum narrative which makes it seem as though this is what all Leave voters demanded – this is simply not true, in many cases.
The key point here is how Leave voters like me reacted when it became clear that cake and eat it Brexit was impossible – did we want to double-down on Brexit, pursuing it even as the costs started to rapidly outweigh the potential benefits? Or did we want to pivot and instead look to reinvigorate our relationship with the EU whilst remaining as EU members? In my case, I strongly wanted the latter.
And what about the NHS? In 2016, many argued that the NHS would be better off outside of the EU, not least because of the threat of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Ironically, President Trump has now binned TTIP, and the prospect of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US – which would expose the NHS to the risk of soaring drug costs and further privatisation – is instead looming ominously. I personally believed Brexit would be fairly neutral for the NHS, as long as we undertook to continue free movement for health/social care workers and academics (for starters), and guarantee equivalent funding for any EU-funded research. In reality, the consequences of Brexit for the NHS are already proving severe, risking adverse consequences for real patients and real staff. The threat of Brexit is not helping the staffing shortages I encounter several times a week as an emergency department doctor. Be under no illusions, Brexit is proving extremely dangerous for the NHS.
Given the range of possible types of Brexit, it is essential that we gain some democratic legitimacy as to how Brexit happens (if indeed it does now happen).
Crucial considerations must be: preventing Leave voters who still want Brexit from feeling cheated; satisfying the demands of soft Leavers, and of course, those of Remainers.
It seems inescapable, and especially given the lack of support for the prime minister’s Chequers deal, that the public must get to decide how best to proceed. If we are going to cut off our nose to spite our face and insist that the option of remaining in the EU cannot be on the ballot paper in order to honour the result of the 2016 referendum, I will have to accept this, but there must at the very least be an option for continued membership of the single market and customs union, otherwise soft Leave voters will rightly feel cheated.
Once an exit deal with the EU has been finalised this autumn, there is only one course available that has any realistic chance of providing a decision on the future that the public as a whole can accept, and that is a people’s vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal. If we have any sense, the option of continued EU membership will be on the ballot paper - that’s why I’m supporting the Independent’s Final Say campaign.
Dr Charles Gallaher is a registrar in emergency medicine in South London