Kenneth Clarke has always been one of the British politicians I most admire. He’s honest, good humoured, clever, consistent in his views, and never afraid to criticise those who are the opposite. Because of this he’s been rather busy lately.
At the first Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament after Brexit, Clarke alluded to the fact that no one really knows what Brexit means.
Both sides are equally to blame for this mess. The Brexiteers should have released their detailed programme on their plans for withdrawal. A general election could then have been held so that the public could support this programme or some other form of ‘Brexit’ in the event of an ‘out’ victory.
I can already hear a chorus saying something like: ‘but that could have endangered the structure of the party political system in Britain’. News flash: it’s happening anyway.
Labour have become a public demonstration of Solomonic justice as the party isn’t doing much to hide the fact that the Blairite half hate the Corbynista half. The party may split in two.
The Tories are putting on a brave face but in reality they are divided amongst more ideological lines than Labour. There are those who actively want to reverse Brexit (including the elder statesman Clarke and the ever ambitious George Osborne), there are the Brexit ‘true believers’, best represented by William Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and then there are lots of others like Boris Johnson, who have plenty of principles and if you don’t like those the declare, no problem – they’ve got plenty of others.
All this is being led by a Prime Minister who in the words of Kenneth Clarke, “Doesn’t know much about foreign affairs”.
Suddenly the idea that the Brexiteers should have had a programme or programmes on which to stand in the event of a post-Brexit general election does not look fanciful; it looks pragmatic, ethical and efficient.
The Remain side also share the blame. If they were the responsible people they pretend to be then they should have worked with the Brexiteers to ensure that the transition out of Europe is managed in a measured, methodical and cooperative way. However so sure were they of victory that they didn’t bother to consult their opponents in a meaningful way.
Clarke is absolutely right when he says that the current Conservative government ‘have no policies’. When it comes to Brexit he’s also right to say that “Nobody in the government has the first idea of what they’re going to do next on the Brexit front”.
But it is not just in Britain where there is confusion.
In Europe no one really knows what is going on, and the enmity between the EU leaders and the UK leaders has more than an eerie resemblance to that between the Remain camp and the Leave camp during the referendum.
Angela Merkel has urged calm and restraint. I suppose her handling of the refugee crisis has taught her a lesson about jumping into things without preparation.
Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Parliament Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt have urged Britain to trigger Article 50 immediately, whilst the UK’s ‘Brexit Minister’ David Davis insists that both sides think the thing through prior to that event.
Recently former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that any thinking through should be done upon the triggering of Article 50, which he wants done immediately.
To make matters even more confused, Nigel Farage who is still very much the leader of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy faction in the EU Parliament, is making speeches agreeing with the EU leaders he built a career ridiculing. He agrees with Juncker and those who support him in wanting Article 50 triggered more or less immediately.
Into this fray, Kenneth Clarke seems to be the lone sensible voice.
I am a lifelong Eurosceptic because I am opposed to globalist one-size fits all solutions. I am also opposed to the exploitation of sovereign wealth, which leads to the suffering of ordinary people as has been done to much of southern and eastern Europe. I am opposed to the idea of a forcibly united militant foreign policy between putatively independent countries, and I am opposed to an EU army.
Unlike many of the more extreme Brexiteers (who have only recently come out of the woodwork) I am not now nor have I ever been opposed to generally likeminded people in a small section of the world having the right to trade, work and live together. This has helped many and harmed virtually none.
EU policy on Ukraine by contrast is very harmful indeed.
So whilst I disagree with Kenneth Clarke’s lifelong Europhilia, I have a deep respect for him as a politician.
In 2005 when the Conservative party had a leadership contest, I had hoped Clarke win. Had he won, David Cameron’s ill-thought out and ill-timed referendum would never have taken place and the subsequent confusion and chaos would have been avoided.