A lifetime ago, in my late teens and early twenties, I was a very busy young man but somehow found time to indulge a fascination with conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of US President John Kennedy.  That obsession provided a platform for discovering the intricacies of many arcane and sinister concepts, including the murky relationship between Organized Crime and the CIA, the anomaly of the supposed Pro-Soviet and Anti-Castro inclinations of Lee Harvey Oswald and, most fundamentally, the difference between bullet entry and exit wounds.  It is this latter expertise that I find myself reflecting upon as I consider the second of my examples of self-inflicted political damage.

You will recall that last month I described how the Trudeau Liberals had created a legislative discretion around criminal prosecutions of corporate wrongdoers that was virtually certain to create an ethical minefield for itself, independent of any opportunism or naivete that one would choose to ascribe to Jody Wilson Raybould.  The resulting wound is nasty and entirely self-inflicted, but, as a long-standing expert in such things, looks to me like an entry wound; neat and tidy.  Once the blood is cleared away it can heal and leave only a little mark reminding the party not to be so careless when handling guns.

This is in sharp contrast to the Brexit wound that the Conservative party in Britain has inflicted on itself.  That has blasted a hole in the party and sent blood and bits of skull and brain everywhere.  Healing that kind of wound is much more difficult.  Even if you can stop the bleeding, the bits and pieces that have been blown away are not easily refitted back into place let alone returned to function.  And all, again, because of careless handling of a firearm.

Back in 2015, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron (we coincidentally share two-thirds of the same name!) came up with a brilliant idea to address the minority caterwauling about the compromises that EU membership visited upon the UK: he would hold a referendum on leaving the EU to shut them up once and for all.  It was a little like when a parent packs a bag for a whining 8-year old that wants to run away rather than clean up his room and, lest we Canadians snicker too much at the foolishness of the strategy, not entirely dissimilar from the approach we have taken not just once but twice with respect to Quebec’s demands for independence.

The logic was simple:  such a disruptive proposal would meet certain defeat, and the United Kingdom Independence Party and anti-EU caucus members within the Conservative Party would thereafter see their platform evaporate as a question that had been asked and answered.  The question would also be simple: should the UK remain in the European Union, or should it leave?  However, much like asking the petulant 8-year old whether he wanted to continue to live under Mom and Dad’s rules or not, the question was a little too simple for an extremely nuanced issue.  While the resulting Yes vote was not razor thin (51.9%), it is not hard to imagine that it would have been materially different if it had included even just one of the multitudes of complexities that would obviously be part of giving effect to a Leave vote.  If the question had even just been “Do you support the UK leaving the EU even if it means breaching the Good Friday Agreement by establishing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?”, it is not hard to imagine that the risk of a return to sectarian violence would have been enough to shift the outcome. It would not have been hard to add a couple of other equally stark provisos with respect to other foreseeable outcomes of the vote that would have been equally sobering.

There is an oft-cited axiom with respect to the cross-examination of witnesses in trials – never ask a question if you are not completely sure of the answer.  That concept should have saved this process.  After all, many if not most politicians are lawyers.  As the politicians now fruitlessly attempt to sort through the painful details and risks inherent in exiting the EU, the problem becomes clear.  There are obviously too many solicitors and not enough barristers in government.


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