Yesterday’s Supreme Court judgement was the latest instalment in Britain’s inch towards Brexit, but if feels like the campaign is never-ending. Even as Leave campaign promises (£350 million for the NHS) and guarantees (staying in the single market) evaporate in thin air, Brexit needs an enemy to maintain momentum. And time and again Theresa May has shown that she would rather pick a fight than do the work.
The only puzzling thing about the Supreme Court decision was why the government actively courted defeat by pushing ahead with its appeal on the process for the triggering of Article 50, which will kick-start the process to take Britain out of the EU. The High Court judgement was clear. Parliament must have a say – something that Brexiteers were keen on right up until it became an inconvenient drag on their plans.
The time and money wasted would have been better spent preparing a Bill for MPs to vote on –or indeed for the inevitable EU negotiations to come. The government’s lack of preparedness and unwavering belief that a bit of optimism and colonial swagger will do it for Britain is driving our diplomats up the wall.
But rather than face the work, Prime Minister May chose to fight. In the face of a misogynistic and racist campaign against her, Gina Miller, who brought the case to seek judicial clarification on the issue of who gets to trigger Article 50, has done the nation a favour. We got to see rule of law in action.
The question at stake was bigger than Brexit; it hinged on whether the government can alter the rights of citizens without parliamentary consent. (No.)
The government has the power to withdraw from international treaties as it sees fit, but with so many of our laws and rights are now at stake – from freedom of movement to things like anti-discrimination legislation – it cannot trigger Article 50 without MPs getting a vote.
That’s not the only distracting battle Theresa May is engaged in. After last week’s Brexit speech it’s clear that the Prime Minister considers immigration as the Brexit bottom line. And we will give up everything – to the point of not even trying to make a deal and just crashing out of the EU – for immigration controls.
She repeated the usual lies – blaming immigration for housing shortages, lower wages and so on. Migrants didn’t cut everything for austerity but remain the easy punching bag for a politician in need of an enemy to rally the troops behind.
Since last year we’ve got lots of fancy words for this sort of thing. We have alternative facts for a post-truth, post-fact world. If people are increasingly disengaged from politics because all too often it seems like an elite game played for the benefit of the few – now we have politics that’s disengaged from reality.
The architects of Brexit have no time for facts, promises, experts or judges, and as the official Opposition nods along, the Prime Minister is crafting a painful exit from the European Union on the back of a narrow binary vote on a question that had no details whatsoever on what leaving the EU would actually look like.
So, what do you do when politics is divorced from reality? I don’t know if there’s a silver bullet but one thing we can keep doing is asking questions and keep puncturing the bubble of campaigning rhetoric.
Questions like, why is the Prime Minister willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of immigration control? Is it easier than taking the time to work out a deal that may leave her politically vulnerable if the public don’t like it?
Far from not talking about immigration enough, it’s all we ever do. But we don’t talk about the expansion of border control into the most intimate areas of our lives. The Schools Against Borders for Children campaign, now joined by Liberty, is pushing back at the government’s attempt to identify foreign children in schools – figures which will no doubt be used to bolster the hostile environment. Lest we forget, as Home Secretary Theresa May has done this before, playing up figures of benefit tourism and burying positive reports on immigration before the EU referendum
Now the never-ending Brexit campaign is dovetailing neatly with the hostile environment campaign that seems to know no limits.
Since December there have been a flurry of articles highlighting how so many more EU migrants are feeling the bite of the immigration regime that non-EU migrants have been subject to for decades: resulting in separated “Skype families”, immigration detention, arbitrary residence decisions, and above all, the unceasing drumbeat of hostility.
Solidarity has never been more important. If, as hoped, EU migrants already here get residence status, we should continue to campaign against the hostile environment and the border regime that non-EU migrant residents will still be subject to. Campaigns like Schools Against Borders for Children need to be front and centre. We need to care as much about deported Jamaicans and detained Nigerians as EU citizens facing the same plight.
Contrary to what the tabloids and right-wing press say about the judicial decisions on Article 50, it was never about frustrating the will of the people but about checks and balances in a democracy. Would you trust future governments to use such sweeping powers without oversight or accountability? Do you trust this one?
Theresa May has shown that she would rather pick fights than do the hard work of negotiating with the EU or marshalling parliament to vote for a Brexit deal, which they’re likely to vote through anyway because most of their constituencies did. Her attitude betrays a level of arrogance and unwillingness to submit to scrutiny.
We need to keep asking questions, and allowing reality to crash in on the political fever dream of the Brexit campaign. Put on your seatbelts folks, 2017 is going to be a hell of a ride.
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Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi