The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 ‘prevents manufacturers, retailers or service industry providers from misleading customers as to what they are spending their money on’ (Wiki).
So, if I buy something online and it turns out to be not as described, or the wrong size, or there’s a bit missing or malfunctioning, I can cancel the deal and get my money back.
Sometimes, of course, I just change my mind (it’s what minds are for).
The UK version of parliamentary democracy also offers a form of consumer protection. If I don’t like how the party in government is acting, I have the opportunity – every five years at least – to vote for a different party.
Brexit does not work like this. And irrespective of whether you voted in the referendum to leave or remain in the EU, there is this godawful mess to be dealt with: in the last General Election the UK voted into power a party that wanted the UK to stay in the EU, and is now governed by a party committed to getting out of the EU.
The 2015 Tory manifesto of course played it both ways. Here’s the relevant passage, page 74: ‘We are clear about what we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market. Yes to turbo-charging free trade. Yes to working together where we are stronger together than alone. Yes to a family of nation states, all part of a European Union – but whose interests, crucially, are guaranteed whether inside the Euro or out. No to ‘ever closer union.’ No to a constant flow of power to Brussels. No to unnecessary interference. And no, of course, to the Euro, to participation in Eurozone bail-outs or notions like a European Army. It will be a fundamental principle of a future Conservative Government that membership of the European Union depends on the consent of the British people – and in recent years that consent has worn wafer-thin. That’s why, after the election, we will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then ask the British people whether they want to stay in the EU on this reformed basis or leave. David Cameron has committed that he will only lead a government that offers an in-out referendum. We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome.’
There are no arguments, there is no reasoning, here. ‘We say: yes to the Single Market’. No explanation of what that is. Capital letters, as if it’s a thing – like God, say, or Nature – that can’t be changed, a thing that’s just there. Wiki takes the capital letters off, because it is not a given, it’s something that has to be worked for, and in this case has been, for decades: ‘A single market allows for people, goods, services and capital to move around a union as freely as they do within a single country – instead of being obstructed by national borders and barriers as they were in the past. Citizens can study, live, shop, work and retire in any member state. Consumers enjoy a vast array of products from all member states and businesses have unrestricted access to more consumers.’
Freedom of movement of goods and services and capital without freedom of movement of people is not a single market. We know this; the Tories know it, and knew it when they constructed that manifesto, and said yes to the single market. And now, after being elected by the UK democratic process on the basis of saying yes to it, they are saying no to it.
The preceding sentence is hideous: ‘what we want from Europe’. ‘Europe’ is some other place entirely from which we demand things, even expect them as our right? Maybe history has got it all wrong, maybe the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and god knows that was hard to achieve, over centuries) really is some free-floating little continent all to itself.
The ‘will of the people’ – in this case 52% against 48% – is a fickle thing. On the whole, this system we live under allows for this: we can change our minds, we are protected against our own impulse-buying habits. In the case of Brexit we have no protection. And we’ve been sold a pup.