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Brexit: thoughts from an enemy of the people

October 20, 2017


Back in the days when I was an employer, my business partner and I took the view that there was no point in trying to keep people who wanted to leave the company. Even though we felt that our company was a great place to work, we understood that some people – especially those for whom we’d been the only employer – would want to branch out and broaden their experience of working life.

A number of them came back to us, after realising that the grass was not greener. And we welcomed them.

But would they have left in the first place if they had known that the grass consisted of a few desperate shoots in a field full of mud and putrefaction?

I’m beginning to think that the only way we will resolve the decades-old argument that culminated in Brexit versus Remain is if we crashed out of the EU with only the bare minimum of working arrangements in place.

Yes, the result would be economically difficult. I’m not going to use words like catastrophic and disastrous, though in hindsight we may see it that way. In fact I, like many others, fear that we will end up with a shrunken economy, diminished influence and a generation of citizens whose prospects of happiness and personal fulfilment will be substantially reduced.

In other words, we are in danger of discovering that the grass is not greener.

If that is the hard road that destroys the pretensions and credibility of the Brexiteers for ever, then perhaps it will be a road worth travelling down. In a decade or so, reduced, humbled, and finally stripped of any aspirations to be a world power, perhaps we can apply to re-join the EU as just another medium-sized European nation.

By that time, the EU will hopefully have reformed itself into an entity that no longer orbits around the dead weight of the current Brussels establishment, and is flexible enough to accommodate greater diversity in economic, political and social models within its membership, including the strange ways of us fractious Brits.

I don’t want that future.

I’m still counting on the likelihood that come 2019, there will be enough people in politics who will realise that although their careers may be crippled by overturning Brexit, at least they will escape the notoriety that will stay with them for ever as the architects of Britain’s most damaging mistake since Suez.

Again, should we slip off the cliff, the consequences would not only be economic. It’s entirely possible that our political order will disintegrate. The parties we know today may no longer exist. They might well be replaced by an extreme right, who, like Nigel Farage today, will look for any opportunity to blame others for the misfortune that they helped to create, and an extreme left, who will blame a rigged economic system for all our social ills.

One who apparently knows better than me is Iain Martin, who wrote in yesterday’s London Times:

This winter we are about to be treated to the spectacle of a large part of the British establishment (much of it unelected) effectively trying to overturn a referendum result that was at root a rejection of the British establishment view. If you want to reverse the referendum, this chaos might delight you. But for many millions of voters this will be “our betters” saying that what the country voted for should be vetoed.

Which perpetuates the myth that those who oppose Brexit are the “British establishment”. Not me sir, and not the millions of young people who voted Remain, including my kids.

He goes on to predict fire and fury if the supposed will of the people is thwarted:

…. I have a stark warning from the Leave side of the argument about the potential implications of keeping Britain in the EU against the wishes of voters. Those trying to stop Brexit are playing with matches in a petrol station. Right now, Brexiteers may be depressed by the difficulties of the talks and their own failures of planning but if the process is stopped or looks like it could be, those who campaigned for it are hardly going to sit back. They will organise, and quickly.

They will do so even if the evidence that we are making a terrible mistake is overwhelming? Perhaps. When faith trumps reason, all manner of demons come out to play. Martin claims that there’s plenty of money available from donors to fund a renewed campaign:

The capacity to facilitate new forms of political organisation and protest via social media is well observed here and in the US. A cross-party campaign outside Westminster could be put together very quickly. Think in terms of Momentum for Brexiteers but much bigger, with attempts at organising rallies on a vast scale to spread a pro-democracy, anti-elite message.

At the root of it would be latent anger with the liberal elite and the cosmopolitan contempt in which Brexit voters are held, too often finding themselves dismissed as decrepit racists or stupid dupes.

Ho hum. Pro-democracy and anti-elite? Liberal elite and cosmopolitan contempt? It sounds as though we’re in for a British Trump campaign. Stand by for the swamp drainers and wall builders.

But if you call out racist attitudes among leave voters, and point out the blatant lies peddled by influential (and wealthy) leave campaigners who were aided and abetted by shadowy data analytics companies and mischief-making Russian bots, does that mean that you are anti-democracy and pro-elite? Arrogance works both ways, I think.

Most of the arguments at the moment are about the possibility of no deal, something that the Chancellor and the Home Secretary describe as “unthinkable”, but which the fanatical Brexiteers view with glib complacency. They, of course, are not the ones who will suffer most from the economic consequences. I can’t see John Redwood, for example, applying for income support any time soon. Those who think that Britain under World Trade Organisation rules will be in clover should take a look at this Twitter thread launched by Jo Maugham QC, who is a barrister and a leading Remain activist. He quotes from the Treasury’s own findings pre-referendum. The scenarios are not pretty.

If no deal is not unthinkable, I can’t see how a reversal of Brexit is also beyond the pale, especially if the electorate vote for it in a referendum on the terms of departure. Failing that, as Yanis Varoufakis advises, we should adopt the Norway model which guarantees us access to the single market, albeit at a price. As he says, we would be far better prepared after five years under the Norway terms to work out what future relationship suits us and the EU best.

Even better would be to revoke our Article 50 letter, stay within the EU, and set up an independent advisory body that can help us ensure that should we choose to press the exit button further down the road we will have a coherent view of strategic options, we will be working with accurate data and will have contingency plans already in place. In short, all the things we’ve been struggling with over the past six months.

If, in the meanwhile, reforms to the EU institutions create an entity with which we are more comfortable, fine. But at least we will better understand how to leave in the future without falling into a black hole.

Either way would surely be better than the path we’re on right now. I bear no ill will towards the Brexiteers. But speaking as a committed traitor and enemy of the people, I long for the day when the angry ideologues at either end of the political spectrum fall silent. And if for that to happen they must get the chance to put their theories into practice, then so be it.

Let’s hope that afterwards we still have a country worth living in, and that we don’t burn too many martyrs along the way.

From → Politics, UK

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