Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Brexit: unleashing a wildfire


Defending Brexit is not the easiest thing to do at the moment when we have a government hell bent on delivering the worst case scenario. It also doesn't help that the Brexit groupthink produces pretty feeble economic justifications rather than looking at the issue as a whole. Fighting on the enemy's turf is always a loser and the mainstream Brexiter economic justifications are collapsing

I have argued for a long time now that the economy is a secondary concern - and as far as that goes, the aim of the Brexit process should be to minimise what is bound to be economically stressful. Something this government is failing to do.

But then, I repeat, this isn't an economic question and it never was. It is political, cultural and constitutional. It is said that Brexit has divided the nation but in fact all it has done is exposed a deep cultural chasm that was not being addressed by the status quo. There is a gulf of misunderstanding between the factions and it's time we dragged it all out for examination.

When we look at that we find that it stems from a collapse of trust in UK institutions. And that can hardly be a surprise. Every major increment in EU membership has been done by subterfuge and deception. Direct consent has never been sought and our interactions in the EU have been yet more deception. Cameron's phantom veto and the bogus attempts at reform were quite obvious pieces of political theatre from an establishment with no regard to the wishes of the public.

This opens up broader questions as to whether the EU is dysfunctional or whether our own "democracy" is failing. I'm going to say both, but even if I sided with the remainers in saying it is a problem entirely with UK democracy, I would still choose to leave on account of there being no defence mechanisms or restraints on what the government can do to us in our name - especially in relation to the European Union. Brexit is an overdue corrective.

As much as the various ratchets in our EU relationship have left a scar on the psyche of the nation, I do expect that Brexit will do the same - and that will shape our future decision making. If nothing else we have lodged the issue of sovereignty and control into the political discourse and the lessons will inform whatever happens next.

I also expect that we are due for a deep and thorough clean out of politics. Neither party enjoys the confidence of the nation right now and Labour is only going to form the next government simply because the Tories will have to be punished for delivering a mess of a Brexit. There is no way that can last.

Ultimately politics has to find where the new centre is. It's too unpredictable now because Brexit has a polarising effect. One suspects, though, with a majority disapproving of the way Brexit is being handled, the far extremes are not in good standing with the country. A new order will have to establish itself and that is a very necessary thing.

What we can say is that things will have to get a lot worse before they get better. Brexit is poised to be a shambles and I have a feeling the next government is going to be worse than this one. With the Brexit vote we have bought ourselves a decade of political and economic restructuring.

As to what the new economics looks like, I really cannot say. It could well be that the remainers are right and that Frankfurt becomes the financial centre of Europe, leaving the UK government with fewer tax receipts to play with, triggering some more fundamental questions about what we expect of government and what it can realistically provide. I'm not going to complain about that. What it is certain to do is pop a few bubbles and open up a few doors.

After about ten years we should have established a base competence in trade matters and certainly the Brexit process will be a baptism of fire. We will have restored trade as part of the national political discourse and it will refocus political debate for the duration. The public will demand that the promise of more trade be kept, somehow, and that will be the obligation of any post-Brexit government.

With any luck this should see a renewed sense of focus and purpose in government, and it is my hope that we'll then see devolution of some of the functions that Westminster has confiscated over the years as displacement activity under EU rule.

Right now it's all looking and feeling pretty bleak. I share some responsibility for what has been unleashed and the toothpaste is out of the tube. It's not a good feeling knowing that what we have unleashed cannot be controlled. But then I remind myself that this isn't over yet and even when it's over, it isn't over. Politics is a continuum and the fight will go on for as long as it takes to reshape Britain as an independent democracy.

Ultimately Britain entered a new era at the end of the Second World War. A new order of British socialism was established, a new era of European relations was born. That settlement belonged to my parents generation. A hyperglobalised new world where the very nature of commerce and communication has changed requires a wholly new settlement - and a politics more befitting of the internet age. We have undergone a technological and cultural revolution but Britain hasn't had a political revolution in decades. 

This is why I won't make an economic argument for Brexit. Revolutions are not known for being economic necessities. They are entirely political, and economics always takes a back seat - because it has to. My case is simply that Britain must reinvent politically lest we be locked into a gradual managed decline. Culturally and economically.

Those who hold the real power and those with the most to lose from Brexit will continue to make this an entirely economic argument. If they can win the economic argument then they may forestall the revolution that threatens their political control. They may not be in office, but their stranglehold on the narrative and public institutions is as strong as ever it was.

As it happens, I think the remainers are fighting a forlorn hope. What's done is done. I don't see that they have any opportunity to stop this chain of events, and polling would indicate that there has been no significant shift in attitudes. There can be no going back so now it is a question of opening a new dialogue as to what the new Britain is going to look like and who is going to run it. On that score I will probably have more in common with remainers than those on the hard right.

It may well be that Britain sacrifices a good deal of influence and prosperity for having done this, but those arguments will ring hollow. Britain's influence in Europe and beyond is not exercised on behalf of the people - and a poorer Britain could in many ways lead to a healthier society. Britain has a soul sickness that prosperity cannot cure. Collective affluenza you might even call it.

What I am sure of is that we could not have continued as before with half the country ignored, despised and rejected by the wealthier half. They say that Brexit is Britain turning inward. I can argue that it isn't, but in some ways it rings true. I don't mind. I don't see that a little introspection is necessarily a bad thing. A little reappraisal of who and what we are can go a long way.

It would be a bonus if we can get through this without the Tories torching all of our trade and good relations with the EU, but as just about everybody is keen to remind me, that was always a risk and one I opened the door for. I can live with it. Democracy carries risk and the alternative political stagnation was not without risk either.

It would appear that what remainers object to most is the inconvenience and the perturbation. That much is not my problem. They can either get with the programme and be part of the renewal process, or they can sit on the sidelines and do what they do best; whinge. I'll just be getting on with it. Brexit is now ours to define. Opt out at your peril.

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