How to Halt Brexit (and Make Britain Great Again) by Nick Clegg: A Book Review
Nick Clegg offers a concise guide in How to Stop Brexit (and Make Britain Great Again). accessible book attempting to persuade the ambivalent or undecided as to why Brexit should be stopped; to suggest what the average voter can do about it; and to propose an alternative model for Britain-Europe relations. While this is an entertaining and lively read with a number of thought-provoking suggestions, Robert Ledger questions whether the book will succeed in changing minds on this contentious issue.
How to Stop Brexit (and Restore Great Britain) Nick Clegg Bodley Nose 2017
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How to Stop Brexit (and Make Britain Great Again), Nick Clegg's new book, is primarily aimed at the many 'Remain' voters who have been asking themselves a very similar question since June 23, 2016. Clegg, former leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats and, until the 2017 General Election, MP for Sheffield Hallam, makes a number of suggestions for how citizens can prevent Brexit, or at least the hard or cliff-edge variety.
Clegg's pro-European views are well-known and frequently expressed, so one might conclude that this book is aimed at Remainers. This, however, is not Clegg's stated goal. The book is "primarily for those people who don't hold particularly strong views for or against Brexit" and "who voted for Brexit knowing exactly what they were doing [...] but now see that Brexit is not turning out the way they were promised" (2). Clegg wishes to persuade these voters that "there is nothing wrong with revisiting a decision" (1).
This short, accessible book is divided into several sections: a broad analysis of Britain's current relationship with the EU; why Brexit should be stopped; what the average voter can do about it; and an alternative model for Britain and Europe. Clegg, on the other hand, is certain that Britain will remain close to the EU regardless of how Brexit plays out:
In the end, a simple truth will prevail: history and geography have condemned us to be allies, neighbors, and friends sharing the same space, seas, continent, and values (137).
Many readers will be familiar with the historical analysis of Britain's sometimes awkward relationship with the EU. Nonetheless, it provides a useful overview. In the 1960s and 1970s, British policymakers viewed the European Economic Community as a trade-based collective, viewed through a transactional and non-ideological lens. Because of the events of World War II, Britain never had the same attachment to the project. When the EU became more deeply integrated and expanded ever further, a hardline rump of British nationalists, conservatives, and Thatcherites — however unfaithful this interpretation is to the Iron Lady's actual views on Europe — waged a long insurgency to force the UK out of the European club. Despite Clegg's earlier ambition, this analysis will almost certainly diverge sharply from many of the narratives held by Brexit supporters. They may also point to a "democratic deficit," the suffocating effect of European bureaucracy, and the assault on British parliamentary sovereignty, as anti-EU opinion sees it.
(Photo by Steven Lilley, CC BY SA 2.0)
The 2016 referendum, why it was called, and the campaign's conduct are also discussed. The Leave Campaign's claim that the NHS would gain £350 million per week once Britain left the EU is one of several used to demonstrate that the British people were sold a false prospectus. Clegg also addresses the claim that Brexit is an anti-establishment effort, claiming that the referendum campaign was funded by a shadowy cabal of businessmen and financiers: "wealthy individuals with personal motives" (135). These are referred to as the "Brexit elite" (63) We also learn about the negative consequences of Brexit, particularly the no-deal version.
After determining that EU membership is in Britain's best interests and that the referendum was fought on disputed, if not outright dubious, promises, the former Deputy Prime Minister outlines how Brexit can be avoided. His main points of action revolve around political participation. Voters are encouraged to join Labour or the Conservatives and then lobby its politicians in favor of Europe. Although this is admirably nonpartisan — indeed, the leaderships of both parties are correctly described as being, at best, lukewarm towards the EU — readers may be surprised that they are not advised to join Clegg's own Liberal Democrats, who, after all, are Clegg's own party. are the mainstream parties that are most pro-EU Clegg claims that "if one in every 100 Remain voters joined the Conservative Party, they would outnumber the party's current membership" (103). A quick look at the numbers, on the other hand, shows that if one in every 35 Remain voters joined the Liberal Democrats, the party would become Britain's largest political party and would undoubtedly wield more power than it does now. When compared to the literary work of most politicians, Clegg's lack of partisanship is refreshing. Nonetheless, it is puzzling that the author, for the most part, does not include his own party in his strategy.
Finally, Clegg outlines a possible future arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and it is this section that readers will find the most thought-provoking. In the absence of full, core EU membership, the UK could be positioned in an outer 'concentric ring.' This is, more or less, the current - if unacknowledged - de facto situation in Europe, in which different countries sign up to various EU initiatives a la carte. Influential supporters of the idea include French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Angela Merkel has also indicated that she might be open to such an arrangement, at least in theory. Clegg also suggests that a new relationship could be arranged (according to the concentric circles theory) through a joint UK-EU Convention co-chaired by, for example, Sir John Major and current Dutch Prime Minister (and Clegg's friend) Mark Rutte. Major is an "honest broker" with prior experience negotiating at the European level, such as the Maastricht Treaty (122-24).
How to Stop Brexit (and Make Britain Great Again) will appeal to the general reader because it is written in an engaging and lively style and contains several thought-provoking suggestions. It is less certain whether it will be of interest to those who support Brexit or whether it will achieve its stated goal of changing people's minds. There are currently a plethora of books being published on Brexit, ranging from analyses of the 2016 campaign machinations to proposals for various future directions for Britain and the EU. Nick Clegg's book is a fast-paced commentary on the subject. However, due to the nature of the subject, it will not be for the majority of Leave voters, and it will struggle to break through the echo chambers that have formed around the EU issue.
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