Brexit, ignorance and lies

Nadine Dorries, a middle-aged white woman white grey and white hair wearing a light grey top under a light brown coloured jacket.Last week, a draft agreement for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) was published; it was some 500 pages long and, as could have been predicted, really pleased nobody. It prompted two Cabinet resignations, a few other junior government resignations and a few threats and talk of a back-bench no-confidence motion in Teresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party but, so far, this has stopped of the 48 letters required to trigger a ballot. Jeremy Corbyn has finally shown a bit of backbone and has said he would not support the deal in Parliament as it does not meet his “six tests” but also has not committed himself to a second referendum on either the deal or on Brexit itself. The main sticking point has been the status of Northern Ireland, where the Irish government and many in Northern Ireland seek to avoid a return to a hard border on the island, while many Tories and hardline Unionists insist there not be a “sea border” between two parts of the UK, or a different relationship with the EU for Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK. What has stuck out for me has been the sheer ignorance and dishonesty displayed by Brexiteers both in the country and in Parliament.

Pro-Brexit intellectuals such as Matthew Goodwin, whose piece on populism and Brexit I responded to a month ago, are fond of lecturing us that, contrary to the ‘myth’ that people voted for Brexit because they hankered for the old days when “faces were white”, many young and prosperous people and many people from ethnic minority backgrounds voted for it. But the old 50s and empire nostalgists are a significant proportion. The other day Eddie Nestor, the BBC Drivetime presenter on their London station, interviewed people in Romford, part of the borough of Havering where some 70% of people voted to leave (London as a whole supported Remain). The people interviewed sounded old, and talked about how Britain never used to have to be a member of the EU and we got on fine then, and we were an empire once so why do we have to be part of the EU now?

The Empire nostalgists conveniently forget that it was not a British empire but a collection of other people’s countries, and we “did without the EU” because other countries had empires or their own (France, Portugal) or were vying for bits of other people’s countries so they could have one of their own (Germany, Austria, Italy). Part of the idea behind the founding of the EEC was to make sure that European nations traded with each other rather than preferring their respective empires at each other’s expense. By the time we joined the EEC, most of our empire had become independent (not only because native peoples wanted to rule themselves but also because maintaining it cost money) and Commonwealth countries often had more convenient local trading partners than us. Britain has not always stood on its own. That is a myth.

On the subject of lies, Teresa May proclaimed that the draft deal was a good one because it ended freedom of movement and gave us back control of our money and borders. Last I checked, we still had our own currency because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Euro. We still have control of our borders because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Schengen accord. True, people from anywhere in the EU can come and work in the UK but we can do the same in other countries as well, which is why there are no visa issues when we holiday in Greece, Spain or Portugal. The deal does not, of course, end “freedom of movement”; it ends it for us. EU citizens will still be allowed to live and work in the remaining 27 member states, none of which now retain the restrictions on eastern European nationals which they had in the few years following the 2004 accession. Those who are already here, and even those who arrive during the transition period, will be allowed to remain (and these, quite possibly, are whom a lot of people who voted to leave the EU wanted to see go).

In the last couple of weeks it has become apparent that not only were some prominent Brexiteers lying (that was obvious in 2016) and that the official campaigns were taking funding from overseas, but also that some of them did not know what leaving the EU would entail themselves. First we hear Dominic Raab, the MP for Esher (a wealthy constituency in the Surrey commuter land), telling us how he was just now discovering the importance of the Dover-Calais ferry connection to British trade with Europe, something that has been obvious to the rest of us for years (perhaps he only flies) and only today, the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, complained that the deal was worse than the present situation because we would have no MEPs or commissioners, which is exactly what leaving the EU always did mean, and even when the “Norway option” was discussed both before and after the referendum, this drawback was made quite clear.

I’ve always been a Remainer, and perhaps in 2016, just after the referendum when the first shocks were being felt as the Pound lost a chunk of its value, which it has not recovered, it was premature to say that there was no need to respect the result, although I was saying it then (and the impediments, such as the narrow result, the difficulties with the Northern Ireland border and the status of Scotland and Gibraltar, were well-known then as well). In 2018, when the politicians have shown that they never knew what they were talking about, when their incompetence and duplicity has been revealed time and again and when we are only on a draft proposal more than two years after the referendum and four months before we automatically leave, we know that leaving the EU with this lot in charge will be disastrous and most people have not much more faith in Jeremy Corbyn, who presides over an equally riven party, either. There needs to be a second referendum so this country can save itself from disaster next Spring.

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