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The Season of Myths

August 19th, 2019

As we approach witching hour, a handy cut-out and keep guide to some of the more common Brexit myths.

Britain will be in good company outside the EU.

There are lots and lots of countries outside the EU, mostly surviving, many thriving happily, say Leavers. What are we so afraid of? Well, yes, there are. The majority in fact. (Though not the majority of countries in Europe.) But it’s a false comparison. The number of countries who have been in the EU for over 4 decades and left overnight is zero. The only part of the EU which has ever left was Greenland, and that after 12 years.  It remains an EU overseas territory subject to many EU laws; its citizens are EU citizens. So not that much of an exit.  Britain is not a Greenland, save possibly that Britain’s current government seems willing to barter parts of the country’s assets to get an FTA with the US, Greenland being rather firmer in stating that it and its assets are not for sale.

Of course, countries can thrive outside the EU. But there is a difference between having a society and economy which has developed outside the EU and having one which has developed inside it and then decides to cut all those ties overnight.  The latter will certainly be a case of British exceptionalism.  Quite what sort we will soon find out.

Brexit is a Conservative move.

Britain should never have joined the EU; Brexit merely corrects that mistake. Joining was a very unconservative act; it’s only right that today’s Conservatives should be the ones to restore national sovereignty.  So goes the argument. Arguably, the development of the EU over 43 years in many small steps slowly changing from what it was then to what it is now is a somewhat conservative approach to change: slow and incremental rather than one Big Bang.  But even if not, it is possible for both the original decision to join and the decision to leave to be mistakes.  An original mistake is not necessarily corrected by reversing it 46 years later.  And such a reversal – especially if done overnight as currently intended – is not obviously very conservative.  It is quite the opposite of slow and incremental. Rather revolutionary, in fact.

The Status Quo Ante.

This applies to both Leavers and Remainers. Some Leavers seem to think that life will be as it was pre-1973 (though without all the bad bits – inflation, strikes, dreadful food and bombs in Northern Ireland – oops! maybe scratch that last one). A misty-eyed romanticism involving the Commonwealth is usually somewhere in the background.

Remainers too have simply ignored the fact that, were Brexit to be reversed or were Britain to rejoin the EU in short order, its relationship with the rest of the EU would be irrevocably changed (even if all current opt-outs were maintained).  And the EU too is changing, as the new Commission President’s suggestion that QMV be used for taxation matters demonstrates. (How will “No taxation without representation” cope with that?) There is no going back for either side. Neither is really thinking about the future. This is a particular problem for Remainers/the “No to No-Deal Brexit” brigade. What do they want? No wonder all their focus is on short-term tactics. But what is their strategy?

We Have a Plan.

Contingency planning is being done; has been done even. (Or not, depending on whether the Leaver wants praise or to blame someone else.) There is no need to worry. Any concerns are just Project Fear: unwarranted and a slur on British pluck and self-belief.  “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” as Boris might have said, had he reached the letter “R” in his Big Boys’ Book of Quotations.  But there is all the difference in the world between contingency planning for one-off and usually short-term events (where quite a lot can be done) and planning for continuing disruption and change, let alone for the unknown unknowns arising from such change.  As the Gibraltar Government has said: “the fact that the Government has responsibly done everything possible does not mean that things will not be different…….That means changes even in the basic, underlying infrastructure of life.”  It can all be neatly summarised in their phrase “not a bed of roses”.  And that’s for 34,571 people in 6.7 kms².  Imagine what needs doing for a landmass of 242,495 kms² populated by 68,833,829 people.

A Wonderful Liberation for the Country.

Yes, well, only if one believes that the country has been oppressed by the EU. But let’s put that to one side. The author of that phrase, the current Leader of the House, a year after describing Brexit thus, said: “The overwhelming opportunity for Brexit is over the next 50 years.”  Which will be scant comfort to sheep farmers wondering if they will have a market for next year’s lambs or the elderly wondering if there will be care workers to help them get washed and dressed or any exporter to the EU wondering if they’re allowed to keep data about customers based in the EU.  Still, it’s nice to know that liberation now means not having to follow regulations you’ve had a role in drafting and agreeing to and not, as it has meant for most of Europe in the last century, freedom from brutal, violent dictatorships. What a marvellously supple language English is!

Parliament will not permit a No Deal Brexit.

A myth? Each and every MP is against something. There is no end to the list of things that MPs don’t want. What is proving mythical is finding the one thing that a majority of them do want and are able to enact.  Herding fat camels through invisible needles would be an easier task.

Desperate as everyone is to move on from Brexit, I fear I bring bad news. There are three issues which will dominate British politics for the foreseeable future:-

 (1) What the consequences of a No Deal Brexit will mean for our politics. Will those who voted for it benefit from it? And if not, how will they react? And how will those who bear its costs behave? 

(2) What the Remainers/Anti-No Dealers will do. Will they campaign to rejoin the EU? And, if not, where will their votes go?

(3) What sort of relationship Britain will have with the EU in future. And how it will get it.

 Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that Brexit will be over on 31 October 2019.  If only.

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