My brother, an ardent Brexiteer, complained to me recently that the Remainers were complaining that it might take weeks to get everything sorted, when in fact it will probably take months or even years, and surely that was obvious? Well no, it wasn’t at the time of the campaign and it isn’t now, except that the current logjam of political impasses makes it so. When it was being argued, the implication was that we’d get through the transition without much noticeable disruption, to be followed by the freedoms that were well broadcast.
I pointed out that for some people the next couple of weeks are pretty crucial, let alone months, and God forbid, years, and the fall in living standards will not be popular, no matter the future reward. We notice when our purchasing power goes down by 15% or more. The effect is limited to import and export trade, and 84% of UK trade is internal, but even a lot of that will eventually be impacted by a fall in the pound. The fact is, the leavers made it all sound like it would be fine and dandy, a smooth transition and a return to a UK that would feel good – Make the UK Great Again. I even saw a couple of pre-referendum videos of Nigel Farage and others suggesting we’d take the Norway or Switzerland deals, neither of which in fact work, as proved, and for the reason that they grant freedom of movement to all EU citizens, which was and still is a major issue for the Brexit voters. You’d think they might have noticed that. It’s that they didn’t know it weeks before the vote (unless they were deliberately hoodwinking us, heaven forefend). I know Brexiteers hope for a successful exit from the EU, and foresee a beneficial effect on the economy, and from the economic point of view (but solely that), I understand why, but really, one wonders what they must make of the process so far and the people they have entrusted with the task.
Would the vote have gone as it did if the Brexiteers had announced that the process would involve a steep dive in the purchase power of sterling, followed by months and possibly years of readjustment, but not to worry, it’s all going to work out fine (they could have used the Manfred Mann song as their anthem)? My position now is that, if leaving the EU is a good idea, we should have waited until the EU falls apart, because then everyone would be looking for a good outcome. Failing that, I do not think it unreasonable to expect that a workable plan would be in place in at least one person’s head before they went campaigning to have a referendum, let alone actually conducted one.
As it is, we now know there is no plan nor ever was one, and apparently not much chance of one any time soon. All they had was a bunch of ideas and possibilities, none of which had been properly researched or substantiated. Where I come from, Due Diligence is the first duty of management. Of course the EU cannot but do its best to make sure being out is worse than being in, at least as far as it can control that. As with the Free Market, it’s all about confidence and loyalty backed up with some fundamentals, for sure, but it is surprising how often that is the least consideration.
For the vast majority of us citizens the principal requirement of government is efficiency and continuity. The back and forth is all about who can make the better promises and offer the most viable economic plan. You’d think conservatives at least would understand that. Instead, in the Brexiteers we have revolutionaries. I say this because they share that ultimate source of failure, they require a switch of direction so swift no one feels it, and so complete all of its benefits will be immediately apparent. It doesn’t happen; never has, never could. The day after (literally) the Brexit vote one of my daughters met a neighbour who asked why the Polish builders in the street were still working. Ridiculous, right? But far too many people were thinking at that level. Karl Marx predicted that in a capitalist society, everyone would be politically aware, and in a modern western techno-democracy everyone has a way to express their awareness, and they certainly feel entitled to their political opinions. The trouble is, there is no threshold for forming opinions, everyone can do it, ignorance or stupidity are no bar. That’s why this should never have gone to a referendum. The people elected to do the job of arguing about and steering our society’s direction are paid to do that kind of thinking. Most people don’t have the time, let alone the inclination. All the blather about the lack of information during the campaign comes down to the fact that it’s all out there but outside the world of politics and government (if anyone does there) no one reads all of it, and only a few conscientious citizens read part of it.
If there had been a plan, say for it all to take a year, or even five years, we’d know where we stand. We might not like it, we might not be here if that had been said, but with a plan we would know where we stand. To start out with not so much as a note on the back of a fag packet is absurd, not to mention catastrophic. But let’s face it, even the sloppy ideas they did have are failing. Right now, Minister for Trade Liam Fox promised 40 new trade deals by the 29th March, but in fact he has got none in place yet, with a little over five weeks to go. WTO rules will kick in with all the default tariffs and drive everyone mad, though hopefully that time of chaos will finally knock heads together and things will move faster, a working trade deal will be negotiated with a reduced tariff, for instance, and we all will own up to the fact that there has to be a noticeable border in Ireland, and that the infrastructure needed will take months to complete, until which time it will be a messy business of closed roads, diversions, and queues. The UK do prove themselves a nation of shopkeepers in all this. For the Irish on both sides, that border has too much history for it to be suddenly a footnote to an international trade treaty, a mere matter of money. The Irish were fighting the British, and then a civil war, only a hundred years ago. The border will be a problem, no matter what is done.
The truth is, a bunch of rich folk who can deal with such losses (I’ll never forget the insouciant shake of the head a multi-millionaire Brexiteer friend of mine gave me when I asked if losing 20% of his income would hurt!) are making a very long term prediction of future prosperity, a look into the future of such an extent, as much as ten years, that even professional economists would fear to offer any certainty. And for this potential reward they will accept the misery of those for whom the market upheavals will be life-altering at the very least.
Such long term predictions are patently unreliable in any circumstances, and particularly now, when we are in the middle of a worldwide technological disruption. Who knows where anyone will be in ten years? Technology is moving at accelerating pace; democracy is descending into the cacophony of a zillion voices on social media; the temptation of authoritarianism, especially nationalist versions, looms before us, and we have an inexperienced American president, a sucker for flattery and ego-massage, who is dealing with two of the wiliest politicians ever to strut the world stage, Putin and Xi Jinping. America is the best defender of the freedom of the individual, a European cultural concept, but President Putin sees a way, at long last, for Russia to gain access to the Mediterranean and political hegemony in the Middle East, targets she has nursed for centuries. I expect Trump will turn a blind eye to more ex-Soviet territory taken over, in return for being left, among other things, to invade Venezuela, and being able to bring home the boys from Syria and Iraq, and possibly Afghanistan, the invading armies that got the whole mess started.
And it is interesting, is it not, that the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has disappeared from public discussion. Extra-judicial assassination is a weapon Putin likes, and it is probable, surely, that all governments keep a black ops option in their pocket, and always have. But to get away with such a public and obvious murder complete with grizzly soundtrack, is new in the modern world, and beats even the attacks on enemies of the Russian State in London and Salisbury. The Crown Prince was probably given a sharp talking to, ordered to do these things more discretely in future, and told to stay out of sight for a while, which he has done, at least insofar as western media cares.
That’s the world the UK is Brexiting into. Ho-hum.