Friday, 12 July 2019

Brexit: Resigned to the inevitable


There have been plenty of dire warnings written about the danger to democracy of the UK doesn't leave the EU. I've written a fair few of them myself. Some even predicting low grade civil unrest. Some even read like implied threats. We should not underestimate the strength of feeling. But then one gets a sense that the tide is shifting.

On Twitter, leavers overwhelmingly support leaving the EU without a deal. Every online poll puts the WTO option in the lead. This, though, is a self selecting minority on hardcore Brexit activists. More reasoned minds are taking a second look. Many supported of the EEA Efta option are now backing remain over no deal. If we did end up remaining, more than a few leave voters would heave a sigh of relief. I'm not one of them though. Remaining isn't much of an answer.

Ever since the Brexit vote, the EU has been keen to show to the world that Brexit is not a mortal blow and that Britain's departure will not monopolise the EU's agenda. The vibe post euro-elections is o onwards and upwards - back to business. They're getting busy with other things.

Among those things are moves toward greater defence integration, consolidating their trade powers and making big moves  toward tax harmonisation. In many respects the EU is showing a vitality we have not seen for some time and it certain is getting its PR act together. While the UK is struggling to roll over FTAs with minor countries, the EU is making big moves, pouring cold water on the Tory "free trade" delusions. Almost as though Brexit never happened.

You might have thought a major member deciding to quit the Union might have given them some pause for reflection but that has never been one of the strengths of the EU. The show must always go on and the answer to any problem is always "More Europe". One might then ask what role there would be for the UK remaining in the EU when at heart it doesn't want to be in the EU. The gradual shift toward remain is less to do with a new found enthusiasm of the EU, rather it is resignation to the fact that our own government cannot execute Brexit without bankrupting the country.

At some point there would need to be a referendum to confirm the UK's remain position which would hardly be a landslide in favour of remain. It would play out in much the same way as the last one with the remain camp displaying all of their worst attributes leading to yet another anti establishment surge. I can't imagine that there would ever be a positive mandate for continued membership but remain would scrape a win. We'd be reluctantly accepting that though we don't want the EU there's nothing we can usefully do about it.

That then puts us back at square one which then establishes a populist party akin with Ukip as a permanent feature in British politics and puts us in a permanent state of culture war. The same stalemate that brought us to this place to begin with. All the while the EU races ahead with Britain as the unwilling ball and chain.

I am still of the view that Britain cannot begin to progress until this schism is resolved. Our centre of political gravity will always be London and we will always have a more transatlantic outlook. EU politics is something we don't engage in, don't understand and show little interest in. Britain has to find its own role in the world and for too long the EU has theen the sticking plaster in the absence of any bigger vision.

The problem with Brexit, however, is that we still do not have a vision or a credible destination or any idea what comes next. Brexiters have never devised an alternative path for the UK. As far as they are concerned, leaving is the alternative and instead of policies and ideas we get mantras like "sovereignty" and "free trade". This is enough for them to win a vote but not enough to win the argument.

 As it happens I would rather not leave without a deal but what I think is neither here nor there. That is the current trajectory and Britain will have to learn first hand from its miserable failure. Only when we've got the bad ideas out of the way, clearing the air, can we shove the noisemakers to the side and have a serious conversation about the future of the country. It looks like we have to let the wreckers have their way for now. Only when they stand utterly discredited can we progress.

If there is one argument for a no deal Brexit is that it serves as a much needed humbling. Much of where we are stems from an overestimation of Britain's power and importance on both sides of the debate. Leavers think we hold all the cards and they need them more than we need them while remainers think we are important and powerful because we are in the EU when in reality our international voice has been impotent for quite a long time. Brits really do suffer from their narcissistic delusions. Brexit is a much needed corrective. We can only agree on a realistic role for Britain if we have a realistic self-image.

For a while now we've been telling ourselves that as the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, we are a powerful influence in world and EU affairs. The latter is the remainer delusion. We don't influence the EU. We send our own functionaries to the EU who then go native to the point where there is little observable difference. The EU has a life of its own that is not in any way affected by shifts in politics.

I have no doubt that a no deal will at the very least decimate the economy, but as a first world nation and a sophisticated economy of 65m people, we can only go so low. It is as a midranking power we are more likely to get back in touch with who and what we are.

Remaining in the EU is an answer to our immediate problems but it isn't a very good one. It just means putting all the structural and cultural problems back on the shelf and pretending they aren't there, limping on as we are with nothing resolved. The state of our politics alone tells you why that is unsustainable. As bad as Boris Johnson is, you only need look at the opposite benches for a sense of perspective. Even if Labour ridded itself of its leadership problem it is still essentially a party of imbeciles and preening narcissists. Britain is just about functioning in that the bins get collected but if we scratch the surface we find a decline and dysfunction in just about every area of governance.

What's lacking in our politics is a sense of drive and purpose. Our politics and culture is decadent while society is fragmenting with nothing on the horizon to arrest the decline. We can ride it out as we are for a few more years, a couple of decades even, but the longer we kick all these issues into the long grass the greater the future repercussions. Britain's politics and its institutions are not in any shape to meet the challenges of this emerging century. The knowledge, vitality and vision has evaporated leaving the dregs to fight over the scraps.

This week I remarked that there's only really one reason to welcome Boris Johnson as PM. He's the perfect figurehead for an utterly degraded politics of a politically immature, decadent country informed by an ignorant and incurious media. The ideal captain to steer the Titanic to the bottom of the sea. Though I may feel a sense of urgency in preventing a no deal disaster, when I look at the alternative, there's a strong argument for letting the chips fall where they may.

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