Friday, 19 May 2017

Brexit fatigue

As a leaver I'm going to find little agreement with Professor Chris Grey, but his latest blog is right on the money.
Theresa May framed the calling of the general election in terms of Brexit, but what is truly remarkable is in how little it is actually being discussed. You have to take a step back to see just how peculiar this is. Whatever side you were on in the referendum, leaving the EU is the biggest national event since the Second World War – far bigger than the decision to join – and it’s also possibly the most unusual political event in any developed democracy in living memory. When else has such a country decided unilaterally to re-write almost all its foreign and economic policy, and to seek to simultaneously detach and re-attach itself on unknown terms to the global trade system?
In those circumstances, one might expect an intense debate about the ins and outs of what Brexit will mean and how it will be pursued. It is no good saying that this was settled by last year’s referendum. That vote, whatever else can be said about it, only opened up new issues. It was a vote to leave the EU, certainly, but it was not a vote for anything else in particular. The way it is now taken forward will affect every single area of daily life, from air travel through to nuclear waste disposal, and every industry from fishing to computer game design. And the very existence of the country as a United Kingdom will be called into question.
So where is the detailed discussion of different options and their consequences? What exactly does the government’s White Paper Brexit plan, endorsed in the Tory manifesto, mean? Is ‘no deal better than a bad deal’? How would a ‘bad deal’ be defined? What does a ‘no deal’ scenario look like? Most extraordinary of all, where is the discussion of the costs of the Brexit plan? Every single other policy, from whatever party, is relentlessly scrutinised for affordability. How will this or that spending pledge be paid for? 
The professor is not alone in his complete bewilderment at this non-Brexit election. The paucity of debate though should not come as any surprise. Our media and our political class is simply not equipped to take on the tough topics. Firstly it requires a base level of knowledge of how the EU works which is largely absent among leavers and reminers alike. Secondly, our media doesn't do complexity. 

Whenever it comes to complex issues the media will always retreat to the comfort zone, picking up on the trivia. It knows how to do normal elections, churning over the familiar old topics, rehearsing the same old arguments and recycling the same old memes but when introduced to a new concept it will fold under the pressure. 

As to the politicians and party hacks, the last thing the Tories want is a Brexit debate because anything more than a surface level discussion would reveal the gaping contradictions and technical complexities for which they have no substantive answers. Labour's disarray lets them off the hook and the unsubtle "remain at any cost" splatter gun approach of the Lib Dems is tuned out.

Then, of course, there is Brexit fatigue. This blog has touched on most of the topics Chris Grey raises, but how many times can you revisit the same issues? I can already feel my neural pathways ossifying and my soul recoils at the thought of writing yet another essay about non tariff barriers. We are up against tribal politics where that which they don't know, they don't want to. One thing that has marked the entire Brexit is the sheer unparalleled and determined ignorance of Brexiteers. Today's glistening example is from Brexit Central, citing Norwegian Airlines as an example of success outside the single market. I could go to town on that but what's the point?

What has made these last three years so utterly draining is that as well as the opposition, I have had to fight my own side every step of the way. There are no creatures on earth more impervious to detail than Brexiteers. No matter how many hours you spend patiently outlining the issues, it bounces off like a shell from a Sherman tank. And you wonder why I call them morons? The harder I work the more pointless it feels. 

There is one overriding factor that explains the lack of debate. The government is not listening. It is far too wedded to its simplistic notion of "clean Brexit" and despite the mountains of evidence presented to select committees, they are still under the illusion that there are simple solutions to complex questions. Nothing in this world will disabuse them of that. Only when they are confronted with the scale and complexity in negotiations will the penny drop, and even then, the jury is still out on that one. Our lot might well report back that Brussels bureaucrats are just being difficult and clouding the issue with what they consider minutia. 

In light of that, why even bother having a debate? All that remains is to see just how much of a pigs ear they will make of it and whether they can even get past the first hurdles without a trainwreck. But then as much as I would prefer to see a rational and stable departure, part of me wouldn't mind seeing Britain slapped with the full force of Brexit. Such ignorance, hubris and wilful negligence deserves to be rewarded. Maybe then we will have that hitherto absent Brexit debate. 

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