I would love to believe that “a Brexit that works for Britain” were an achievable goal, but it’s fantasy, and nothing more.
The 98% are going to spend a generation being totally screwed. The lie of English exceptionalism, and it is not UK exceptionalism at all, more’s the abject shame of it, has brought a purposely ill-educated and ill-informed public to the altar to stab themselves repeatedly in the chest, and I really do think that it’s important not to sugar coat it. Meanwhile the top 2% are going to be split into two groups, the ones for whom little changes on a personal level, who will have to live with seeing their friends and families and communities struggle when they said and did nothing, and the rest who are getting richer and richer and are fiddling as Britain burns, all the while letting the blame fall on the plebiscite that made it all happen.
The closest thing to “a Brexit that works” is the Norwegian model. I have a lot of time for Norway as a country, but there is a growing feeling in Norway, I am told, that they would have been far better off joining the EU when they had the chance. Moreover, the Norwegian solution leaves us with freedom of movement, adherence to regulatory frameworks and no say whatsoever in how it all works, so broadly a complete shit-show compared to membership and being one of the “gang of four”. The problem is that the Norwegian Model is not compatible with what our Government and our PM tell us is required. They are using the referendum result for their own ideological ends and have no intention of adopting the Norwegian Model because they not only believe that they can peddle the lie that the British People will not stand for ongoing free movement over our borders, but ending it along with ending any other “interference” from the EU suits their purposes just fine.
Don’t even get me started on the abject moral failure of a country saying to its neighbours what amounts to “we’re better than you and so we’re taking our ball and going home, but you had better let us come back and play tomorrow, or else.” all the while dangling the spectre of America and our “special relationship” as if America, especially under Darth Cheeto, would ever give two shits about us without financial market access to the EU and without our being part of the largest market in the World WITH influence therein. The UK is about to start writing cheques that it has no hope of ever cashing, and all for the sake of a brief and forgettable tower flyby…
On top of all of this, the utter betrayal of our EU friends and relatives that have lived and still live in the UK is hurtful and peevish at best, at worst it’s downright evil. I would likely as not have never even met my sister-in-law let alone have her become part of my family if my brother and she had not been free to work in one another’s countries as their relationship evolved. I doubt very much that one of the dearest friends I have in the World would have even become that person in my life if it were not for the EU. Over the last twenty years she has dedicated her life to public service in the UK and now has been so horribly slapped in the face by her adopted country — it shames and saddens me beyond words. These are two examples, I believe that in 2015 it was estimated that there were 3.3 million EU citizens living, loving, working, paying taxes and making a home in the UK. In round terms that’s five percent of the population of the UK. We just allowed our government to engineer an opportunity for our countryfolk to tell five percent of our neighbours, coworkers, friends, lovers and family to get their coats — and we are even talking about accepting this? Accepting this is tantamount to saying “cheers, you can go home now” to all of them. Even if there is an engineered mechanism by which they are all permitted to stay, why would they?
There is no “making a good job of it”. The only way out that does not make us look like fools as a nation under the gaze of a critical World, that does not condemn our country to unnecessary economic pain or possibly far, far worse, that does not pretty much hand the right-wing of UK politics licence to continue to piss on the poor and the needy from on high, and that does not radically reduce the opportunity horizon for our children is a complete reversal of this madness. That’s right, we need to swallow the bitter pill that this was not a decision to be made in one fell swoop, not a question that could be distilled into a binary choice determined from a single plebiscite. The tide of opinion in the UK appears to already be turning; now is the time to stand up an be counted, to say “not in my name”, to proudly remind anyone that will listen that we are Europeans, that we want and need that broader horizon and that our country deserves better than a fallback plan of “well we can always become a tax haven”.
Our cousins across the Atlantic, those from the progressive camp that is, have figured this out about their own waking nightmare, and so they #resist with all their might. They have pushed back on all of Darth Cheeto’s madness, and there is still much work to do and a wailing opposition to their #resistance that talks about having been the voice of democracy, that they won an election. So what? If you buy something that does not turn out to do what you thought it would you return it, you complain and demand you money back. Why on Earth would we do anything other than demand a refund, insist upon a do-over. Do not accept this “new normal” do not shrug and agree that the will of the people has been heard and must be adhered to. To wish for a good outcome to this madness is to lie to yourselves, to betray our country, and to allow for it to proceed. If you say nothing you give your consent, “qui tacet consentiri” — it didn’t work for Sir Thomas More, it’s not going to work for us now.
Make of it what you will, but I promise you this, if the more thoughtful, level-headed, educated, monied people decide that the die is cast and that we just “better make the best of a bad job”, then the more quickly the crows will be picking over Britannia’s carcass. “The People” stuck two fingers up at Cameron, they don’t want their foreign investment jobs to evapourate as Nissan and Hitachi and whoever else (and there’s a lot of them) can’t access the EU from the UK any more. They don’t want to be told that their mortgage is going to cost more because the UK market doesn’t punch at that weight any more. In 5 years’ time when our imperfect but formerly powerful nation is barely scraping into the G20, staring longingly at the G8 table that once we called our permanent home, think about this short essay. When you read about the Conservative government rolling back the Human Rights Act and half a century of workers’ rights, think of what I am saying here and now. When the NHS is a memory that we fondly tell our grandchildren while we scratch around for the money to get the visas to go to Poland for that hip replacement we cannot afford at home, think back to this.
Even if you do nothing, write to no one, attend no marches, vote the same way all over again, do not comfort yourself with “making the best of a bad job”, there is no peace of mind in it, there will be only ashes in your mouths.
(The main body of this post was originally a comment on a friend’s Facebook, where many people that I respect a great deal were effectively resigning themselves to letting it happen, and I am afraid I could not take it any more.)
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This piece was originally published on my blog, Thoughtcrime