The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.
Denying the seriousness
In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:
“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”
“be careful what you wish for. I thought we were going to get a global market. This was going to be a new opportunity. It hasn’t turned out like this. I would never have voted for Brexit if I knew we were going to lose our jobs”
He managed 30 seconds before mentioning the “oven-ready deal that you voted for” [in the General Election], deftly overlooking the fact that, if it had been “oven-ready” it would have been signed a year ago… instead it was concluded with just over a week to go before the brutal realities of a “no deal” Brexit would have kicked in.
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.
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.
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.
Breaking the lockdown was bad, but what about the damage Dominic Cummings has done to the country over Brexit?
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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading “Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief”
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.
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.