It’s difficult to believe that, barely a year ago, lots of people thought it was in the UK’s best interest to stay in the EU.
People like Theresa May, who back in spring 2016, said:
“I think the economic arguments are clear. I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe.”
Or people like Boris Johnson, who said that Britain remaining in the European Union would be a:
“boon for the world and for Europe”.
Or virtually the whole of the Labour party, who did not even want the Brexit referendum in the first place.
And if, god forbid, we did have to leave the EU, our membership of the single market would be guaranteed anyway. No one would be that crazy or suicidal. Even the Leave Camp said so. Step forward prominent Leave campaigner and MEP Daniel Hannan:
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”
Or as Leave campaigner and sitting MP Owen Patterson said:
“Only a madman would actually leave the market”
Even the child of Huguenot refugees, Mr Farage, agreed:
“Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were really like Norway and Switzerland? Really? They’re rich. They’re happy. They’re self-governing”
Or Aaron Banks, the chief financier of UKIP and the Leave campaign, who agreed:
“Increasingly, the Norway option looks the best for the UK”
From the far right to the left, everyone concurred that leaving the single market, a grouping of 450 million consumers on our doorstep, would be economic suicide.
You would think that after a close-run referendum, some sort of compromise would be reached between leavers and remainers. A compromise such as leaving the EU but staying in the single market, for example.
But something glitched in the matrix, and we are now finding ourselves heading towards the hardest brexit possible. Theresa May’s Brexit speech came as a surprise. Not a complete surprise, mind you. We already had a flavour of this radicalism during her party conference, when the Tories advocated public databases of foreign workers. She’d mentioned her Red, White, and Blue Brexit, which I found confusing since those are also the colours of France, the Netherlands, Australia, the US, North Korea, Haiti, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nepal, and obviously Russia, amongst many others.
But this latest speech, supposedly revealing her real “plan”, advocated the hardest Brexit possible: Britain will leave the EU, leave the single market, and attempt to get some sort of tariff-free deal for some specific industries. No more jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, no more free movement, no more contributions, and no “associate” status (although, presumably, capital will still be allowed to move freely). And if Britain doesn’t get what it wants in negotiations, it will fall back on WTO rules and become a low-tax, Singapore-like, corporate dumping haven, stealing businesses from its European neighbours.
This is a harder version of brexit than anyone envisaged during the referendum campaign. This is a version of brexit that even UKIP was resistant to embrace publicly. This is the Daily Mail and the Sun dictating our foreign and economic policy. She might as well appoint Richard Littlejohn as Equality Minister and Katie Hopkins as ambassador for race relations.
The content of the speech was also completely nonsensical.
Britain wants a uniquely ambitious deal, that we’ve repeatedly been told is impossible to achieve. Britain wants to stop foreigners coming in, so that it can go “global”. Britain wants free trade with everyone, but will cut itself off from the most valuable free trade area in the world. Britain wants to remain friends and partner with the EU, by holding them hostage and threatening them during negotiations. It’s the fault of immigrants if the NHS is crumbling, the schools are full, and people use food banks, but we will turn ourselves into a low-tax, low-welfare, off-shore corporate dumping ground. Let’s be tolerant by kicking people out. Let’s be global by withdrawing and closing our borders. Orwell would’ve been proud.
The overall strategy seems to be based on a mixture of nostalgic patriotism and mindless optimism. As Edmund told George during an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, however, I’m not sure this particular brand of mindless optimism will add much to the proceedings.
It’s all completely contradictory and nonsensical. It also goes against everything the Tories used to stand for: liberalism, free trade, international influence, and economic credibility. The target of reducing the deficit is dead. We are withdrawing from our biggest export and import market. We are threatening trade wars and barriers with our neighbours. We are about to embark on a gigantic bureaucratic nightmare of processing millions of applications, residency permits, leave of stays, potentially kicking out people that have been paying taxes in this country for decades and separating families. This whole Brexit exercise will consume the UK civil service for the next 10-20 years. It might lead to Scotland leaving the Union. It is, in other words, completely suicidal and irresponsible.
This kind of base populism wouldn’t look out of place at a UKIP conference.
And while we’re on the logic of ripping up massive trade deals in order to maybe sign some smaller ones, it’s worth noting that Trump is now US president. We are now at the mercy of a guy who thinks a “deal” only works when one side wins (his own, obviously). I wouldn’t want to be on the end of a trade deal with Trump, especially after his rhetoric during the campaign, but we will have absolutely no choice. He’s won before the negotiating has even begun.
What has been most baffling, from a Remainer point of view at least, has been the reaction of the Labour party, which is still technically the opposition party, or so I’ve been told. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn basically said something about Theresa may giving the speech at the wrong location. It’s like criticising Trump for his plan to deport all Muslims from the US because he gave the speech from inside Trump Towers.
Even worse was Keir Starmer, who praised Theresa May for ruling out a “hard Brexit”. He must’ve been listening to a different speech. This sets the bar so low it’s not a bar anymore, but a future archaeological find. He then congratulated the Prime Minister for trying to have tariff-free access, as Labour has apparently been arguing. And… that’s it.
In fact, Labour are so keen on not upsetting the Tories that Corbyn announced a three line whip on the article 50 vote. Labour MPs, even if they campaigned for Remain, even if their own constituency voted Remain, will be forced to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
Can anyone remind me what the point of Labour is?
Because at this stage, all I can see is the right wing fringe of the Tory party leading us all to a hard brexit, without a mandate to do so, and without any dissenting voices from political parties or the media.
Who represents the 48% who voted Remain? Who represents the 2 million Brits living in the EU, and the 2 million EU citizens living in the UK? Who represents the 2 million teenagers aged 16-17 who weren’t allowed to vote in this referendum, and now see their rights taken away from them? Who represents Leave voters who wanted to stay in the single market?
Because make no mistake about it, leaving the EU and the single market means losing rights. It means losing our right to trade freely with countries in the EU. It means losing our right to work and study there. It means losing our right to be EU citizens. It means losing our right to take legal cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union. It means losing our right to be represented in the EU institutions.
As individuals, we will lose a lot of rights. And we won’t gain a single one.
It’s not just about rights, of course. It’s also about jobs, about security, and about our place on the world stage. It’s about identity. How we, and the rest of the world, see ourselves: closed, small minded, exclusive, or open, tolerant, welcoming?
The latter kind of view was pretty common a year ago. Today, you can’t find a political party that will articulate those values. Doing so would be to risk being labelled an “enemy of the people” by some extremist lobbying pamphlet, like the Daily Mail.
These are dangerous times for the UK. Politicians have traded the future of this country for a nice looking front page.
The upshot, if there is one, is that a hard Brexit will lead to more rapid and obvious disastrous consequences, which in turn might mean we overturn some of those decisions more quickly than if we’d been half in, half out. It might mean that people see the Tories for what they really are: the party that brought you 7 years of austerity, followed by 10 years of Brexit. All of it self-imposed. It might mean that we re-learn the lessons that our grand-parents learnt: nationalism is harmful, and hatred contagious.
And with Trump on the horizon, it could all go very wrong, very fast.
Thankfully there is this eagle, who clearly knows the score: