“No deal” Brexit: are people thinking this means things carry on as before?

There are grounds for believing that some people see a “no deal” Brexit as meaning things would carry on as they before, as if it’s refusing imagined future encroachments from Europe, rather than a rash leap into the unknown.

This article was originally written at the start of 2020, but it gives a perspective on why Brexit supporters are not (yet) switching away from support for Brexit, even with the threat of no deal — or a very bad one (and why they don’t seem to share others’ horror at the Internal Market bill, even though this breaks what the British Government agreed last autumn and presented to the electorate as an “overn-ready deal” in the 2019 General Election, runs foul of our commitments under international law and has led the EU to begin legal action.

No deal

A “No deal” Brexit would mean leaving the EU without the benefits of any of the trade deals the UK currently enjoys. The UK would immediately face tariffs on international trade, major disruption along the border with the Republic of Ireland, and significant damage to all the businesses currently using just-in-time delivery chains that cross borders. Failure to recognise its seriousness make it easier for supporters of Brexit to dismiss any adverse predictions as “project fear” and fuels the claims of people like Nigel Farage, that the softer forms of Brexit are “Brexit in name only”. Both introduce an unhelpful level of unreality into the process around Brexit.

The evidence

In February 2019 a Yougov poll suggested that just 4% of people actually think “no deal” means “Remain in the EU”, implying that the problem is minimal.
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Did Dominic Cummings pull a fast one in his lockdown-bending trip to Durham?

He’s (rightly) been criticised — but has an uncanny knack for mobilising people’s frustration to his advantage. Has he done it again?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority — even though the tiny increase in the Conservative vote makes it look more like a vote against a Corbyn government than support for a Johnson one.

His Durham trip has been roundly condemned, but he’s survived. I fear that, once again, he has done something I think is foolish, but which might just work to his advantage.
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Dominic Cummings: denying reality over lockdown and Brexit?

Breaking the lockdown was bad, but what about the damage Dominic Cummings has done to the country over Brexit?

Dominic Cummings at press conference after trip to Durham

People are rightly angered at Dominic Cummings’ decision to visit family in Durham when the rest of us were following the government’s advice to “stay home — protect the NHS — save lives”. But this is a fraction of the irresponsibility he’s shown over Brexit. People should be looking at all that he has done — and they should be angry.

As I write this [26 May], people are angry at his decision to travel from London to family in Durham during the lockdown. Apparently his uncle died from Covid19 while he was there which doesn’t really cut it with people who’ve been unable to visit loved ones dying in hospital from Covid19 or going to their funerals.

Keir Starmer has been right to criticise loudly. He says that, in not sacking Cummings, Boris Johnson has “treated the British people with contempt”. He has a point. The contempt is about more than the lockdown.
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“Getting back” what was never lost: the tragedy and the impossible task

Brexit “gets back” what was never lost — Boris Johnson has set up himself (or his successor) for failure when this becomes obvious. The consequences will be serious.

The vox pops in my social media feed on 31 January sent a shiver down the spine. There were comments on getting back “our freedom” (that we never lost), “our independence” (that we never lost), our “sovereignty” (that we never lost), our “democracy” (that we never lost) and “our industry” (that we have lost, but not because of the EU).

That’s a heady mix. On social media people were quick to lampoon these positions — with good reason — but people are believing them.

Economics

The brutal reality is that these positions show the depth of the failure thinking that has accompanied Brexit. We can’t get back what we never lost. But globalisation is changing the world radically. The real loss of sovereignty and the real limit on what governments can do is nothing to do with the EU, but does come from increased global connectedness.
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Rejoining the EU will be right… but it’s too soon to push for it

To bring over people who supported Brexit we need to expose the failings of the Johnson government as it unravels, so that “Rejoin” is the response to LeaveLies coming into focus.

Nothing has emerged since the start of the referendum campaign to suggest that Brexit promises anything more than serious harm — to the British economy, British culture and Britain’s standing in the world. That didn’t change at 2300 on 31 January.

But the way forward is more complicated than switching from #RevokeArticle50 to #RejoinEU — and not just because the process for rejoining is not so simple.

Polling suggests that the majority have been opposed to Brexit for a significant time. But to re-join the EU we need to bring over those who supported Brexit.

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Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief

The arrival of Brexit is the triumph of nostalgia and folly. It’s Britain launching on a rash denial of reality with serious consequences. It’s turning our backs on an institution built to secure our future. It’s ripping us from our cultural heritage. It has dangerous historical associations. “Get Brexit done” is the political lie since the claim that the Great War would be “over by Christmas”.

As it happens I was in London on “Brexit Day” (though thought better of going near Parliament Square in the evening). I saw someone selling The Big Issue, with a front cover asking “Would the Kindertransport be welcomed now”. Yes, that is a reference to the Dubs amendment, rejected by parliament, that would have offered protection to unaccompanied children. But the xenophobia unleashed by Brexit is ugly. The stories of people who have lived in the UK for years being denied settled status brings up unsettling associations with the treatment of minorities — most especially Jewish people — in Hitler’s Germany. It’s easy to say that is “totally different”. But is it?

On a news stand I saw a copy of Le Monde. The headline “Brexit: L’Europe entre dans l’inconnu” (Brexit: Europe enters the unknown) fits with the front cover of The Economist — a ship captioned “into the unknown“. That’s a more realistic assessment than None of Boris Johnson’s crazy optimism.
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The age time bomb around Brexit

In the referendum the highest level of support for remaining in the EU was among young voters. Ignoring them sets the UK up for serious difficulties in the future.

In December 2018 I blogged a demographic analysis of the 2016 referendum result. The conclusion was that the deaths of older, predominantly Brexit-supporting voters leaving the electoral register, and predominantly Remain-supporting young people passing their 18th birthdays meant that the majority for leaving the EU would be gone by the end of 2019.

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General Election 2019: Labour’s failure dressed up as a Tory mandate

The surprise result of the 2019 General Election says more about Labour’s failure than the Conservatives’ success. It’s a mandate for not-Labour rather than an endorsement of the Tories. This is dangerous.

This was an election where Labour promised huge increases in borrowing, championing “the end of austerity” a “green industrial revolution” and a large number of nationalisations. Those with long memories will think of the situation the country was in during the 1970s. It’s a message that caught the idealism of young people. The snag is that it’s an idealism that risked also doing real damage.

On the Conservative side there was the option of Boris Johnson, full of confidence and bravado, promising an unattractive Brexit, avoiding media scrutiny and producing campaign claims which rarely survived the attentions of fact-checkers.
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Brexit party standing aside for the Tories coinciding with a Chinese investment decision — both are parts of a much bigger picture

Early in November 2019, the news that a Chinese company was buying what’s left of British steel injected some reality into the seriousness of Brexit party’s decision not to stand candidates against the Tories.

Jingye Group: buying British Steel

Sometimes the coincidence of what happens to appear in the same news broadcast is startling. 11 November 2019 saw the news that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was not going to stand candidates against the Tories, and that the Chinese Jingye Group was to buy British Steel.

In the past many people voted Conservative because they saw it as the party of stability, and have had a rude awakening recently as it has abandoned that position for a strongly pro-Brexit and economically reckless position. It was looking as if the Conservatives’ chances would be reduced by Brexit party candidates siphoning off the pro-Brexit voters. Standing those down removed that threat and, by focussing on Labour seats, put pressure on Labour to support Brexit.
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Repercussions of a sadness around Brexit

The People’s Vote march on 19 October 2019 had a sadness to it — akin to depression — and which should be taken seriously.

People’s Vote march, 19 Oct 2019

A friend commented that she was struck by the sense of sadness. There was also fear, but much less of the carnival-like atmosphere of previous marches. One of the hallmarks of emotions in groups is that, if they affecting the whole group, they are less obvious because people don’t look around and see others in a radically-different space. My friend’s words called my up short, and made me wonder.

Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia suggests that the big difference between the two is that, in mourning there is real grieving for something that has been lost, such as after the death of a loved one, but in melancholia, though the sadness is real, but it’s not so clear what has actually been lost. That’s part of the territory of depression.

19 October 2019 was a day of high drama in Parliament — in its first Saturday sitting since the Falklands invasion. The media has been awash with speculation and interpretation — often adding more heat then light. Perhaps that’s justified, but I wonder if it was also a distraction from something much harder to name.

An un-nameable loss

I could point a finger at both the Conservative and Labour parties, suggesting that they’ve both lurched to extremes, leaving many of their traditional supporters with a sense of abandonment. I could point to the serious threat of Brexit, in both economic and cultural terms. But these have all been around for a while. They don’t adequately explain the sadness now.
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The sinister side of expecting people to produce ID in order to vote

The Tory proposal to require photographic ID to let people vote is a cynical attempt to stop some people voting and undermines trust in democracy. Both help Boris Johnson. Both are anti-democratic and erode trust in elections.

The Queen’s Speech on 19 October has been dismissed as an exercise in electioneering rather than a programme for government. Usually the Queen’s Speech outlines the government’s legislative programme, but as Boris Johnson seems very keen for an election in the very near future, this Queen’s Speech seems more getting the Queen to outline a Tory manifesto than a serious programme for government.

The inclusion of an item to require people to produce photographic ID in order to vote could sound innocuous. Turning up at a polling station and simply giving one’s name does sound like something that could be abused. But the Electoral Reform Society points out that there were just 8 allegations of voter impersonation in 2018, so this is hardly a problem.
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Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap

There is a very real risk of Boris Johnson’s newly right-wing Conservatives winning a snap election by the same distortion of truth and pedalling of fantasy that enabled Leave to win in the referendum.

Boris Johnson, making statement after Commons returned from unlawful prorogation

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess.

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable and force an election this autumn (as he seems to want).

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government. Continue reading “Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap”