‘This is a historic moment from which there will be no turning back,’ crowed Theresa May in her completely mad speech to the Commons this lunchtime. Yet in her speech and in the Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk, she reminded us of the value of what we are losing. ‘Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war’, she intoned; yet the whole point of European integration has been to help maintain the peace in postwar Europe.
And after informing Tusk and the assembled MPs that the UK would not seek to remain in the world’s largest single market, she went on: ‘At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing, and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens,’ before asserting, ‘Perhaps now more than ever the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe – values that the UK shares.’
Is she completely bonkers? Or she displaying the symptoms of something more serious which some medical experts have suggested may sometimes be brought on by excessive use of cannabis? Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis in which a person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality, and whose symptoms include hallucinations,
delusions, and muddled thoughts.
In the words of journalist Tess Finch-Lees writing in a recent blog post, ‘Brexit is the greatest fraud perpetrated on this country since Tony Blair’s dodgy Iraq dossier. It was predicated on lies and legitimised by deceit.’ In the New York Review of Books last October, Simon Head stated, ‘It is hard to exaggerate the scale of the disaster the British people have inflicted upon themselves with their decision to leave the European Union’. Now, on the day that Article 50 is triggered, Theresa May has the gall to stand in the House of Commons and state:
We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that.
Simon Head’s article should be essential reading (alongside Ian Dunt’s book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?) for understanding the damage likely to be inflicted by Brexit on the UK economy – one which, as he writes, ‘after decades of mismanagement, is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign enterprise and foreign capital.’
At the beginning of September (2016) the Japanese Government sent a blunt ‘message to the United Kingdom and the European Union’ warning that, without Britain’s present trading relationship with the EU and the full access to European markets it guarantees, Japanese financial institutions ‘might have to…relocate their operations from the UK to existing establishments in the EU.’ […]
Especially ominous for Britain are the warnings coming from the US and European investment banks which now dominate the City of London, which in turn dominates the UK service economy. On September 21 (2016), Daniel Pinto, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase’s corporate and investment bank, told the Financial Times, ‘It’s hard to see how we can serve all of our European clients, and the European economy, without access to the single market.’ […]
A large-scale flight of foreign capital from Britain in both manufacturing and services would be a mortal blow to UK economy. In 2015, for example, roughly half of all Japanese investment in the EU was in the UK, with a thousand Japanese groups using the UK ‘as an effective springboard into Europe,’ in the words of the Financial Times, and with Nissan, Toyota, and Honda’s UK assembly plants making up the core of the UK-based auto industry. […]
Contemplating the task of negotiating a new trading relationship with the EU, which absorbs approximately 44 percent of UK exports and is by far its largest market, Simon Head concludes:
The British government knows that in a little more than two years Britain will lose its access to the European single market, the price it must pay for its hostility to immigration from the EU. But it has no way of knowing what trading regime with the EU will take its place.
It must now embark on a series of marathon negotiations with its EU ex-partners, certain only in the knowledge that the trading regime that will emerge from them may be far less favorable to business located in Britain than the one that exists now. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more likely to convince foreign businesses in Britain that they should act on their warnings to leave the country or reduce their presence there, and instead take up residence within the secure confines of the Single European Market. The British economy and the British people will suffer the consequences.
Tess Finch-Lees, in a blog post written in February as ‘MPs who voted to remain in the EU in June, queued up to give Theresa May carte blanche to trigger article 50, which sets us on an irreversible course of self-destruction,’ excoriated Brexit as ‘fraudulent’ and ‘an act of constitutional vandalism.’ ‘Worse still,’ she wrote, ‘it flies in the face of all the emerging evidence indicating the will of the people has changed since June’:
Professor Low of Staffordshire University has analysed the result of 13 polls since the Brexit vote in June, all of which ask variations on the question, “would you vote the same way again”. A staggering 11 of the 13 polls show that, were there to be a second vote, Remain would produce a decisive victory. Whilst the remain vote held firm statistically, a significant number of people who voted to leave would now change their vote.
In December, the West Midlands Express and Star newspaper published this: We DON’T want out anymore: shock poll reveals Express readers have changed their minds. When asked before the referendum how they would vote, 80% of readers voted leave and 16% remain. When asked the same question in December, an incredible 62% voted to remain with only 37% voting to leave. The Express and Star conceded that it was the biggest survey the paper had ever carried out, with 10,000 respondents.
Tess Finch Lees then sets out six reasons why Brexit was fraudulent:
1. It traded in ‘alternative facts’, or lies. Most notably the promise of £350 million a week to the NHS which was rescinded as soon as the vote was in. Families in my community have fallen out because older members admitted they voted leave, believing the NHS would get the promised cash. The younger ones feel betrayed by their parents and grandparents and the parents and grandparents feel betrayed by the politicians who deceived them.
2. Only 37% of the population voted and of them only 26% voted to leave. This is not a representative or legitimate outcome.
3. The referendum did not require the 2/3 majority which is the norm when the outcome involves major constitutional change.
4. In the wake of the Brexit win, a significant number of those who voted leave told the media they regretted it, or didn’t understand it, or thought it could be reversed at the next election, or that they did it as a protest against austerity and the Tories. An irate local farmer told me he voted to leave as a protest against EU bureaucracy that delayed payments of his subsidies. When I pointed out that Defra was responsible for the delays, he said, “That’s right!”. He thought Defra was an EU department. He didn’t realise it was the department for rural affairs and that the EU had fined our governmental department for its incompetent administration of subsidies. No matter, we got our country back, even if it means losing the subsidies and keeping the incompetence. Britain’s farmers received £2.4bn last year in EU payments and the NFU has already warned that many farms would fail without these handouts.
5. There was no mandate to leave the single market, sell off the NHS to US private health insurers or to turn the UK into a tax haven.
6. EU membership already has built in border controls under the “right to reside” test. This provides conditions to entry, such as, having a job or being financially self-sufficient. There are no immediate, automatic entitlements to benefits, which require further conditions. Most other EU states impose these controls rigorously but the UK has been less assiduous in its implementation. If immigration is such a problem, why did Theresa May not sufficiently implement the EU controls at her disposal in her 10 years at the home office?
None of this even takes into account the disastrous effect of Brexit on that other union – the United Kingdom. Never mind where we might be in terms of trade and the economy in two years time: the risks are huge in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
But it’s what has happened to this benighted country in the past year that is so depressing. Glancing at the front page of today’s Daily Mail yelping about freedom, I can’t believe this is my country. If it is, I wish I was elsewhere.
In the New Yorker, John Cassidy begins by quoting those delusional words uttered by Theresa May in the Commons today:
“When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the United Kingdom—young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country, and all the villages and hamlets in between. […] We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today,” she added. “We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world. […]
In January, May said that Britain wouldn’t try to remain a formal member of the single market and instead would seek a new trade agreement with the E.U. that preserved the “frictionless” movement of goods and services. She also said that she was prepared to walk away from the negotiations if Britain didn’t get what it wanted, in which case the country would crash out of the E.U. with no agreement at all. She said “no deal” was preferable to “a bad deal for Britain.” That language went over well with the Daily Mail and the Sun, but it really amounted to the Prime Minister putting a gun to her head and threatening to shoot. As a negotiating ploy, it failed miserably.
Before subjecting her words to savage criticism:
May’s speech was filled with so many false claims, so much cant, and so many examples of wishful thinking that it is hard to know where to begin. Her vow to represent “every person” in the U.K. is blatantly false. Last year’s referendum, in which 53.4 per cent of the county’s voters signalled a preference to leave the E.U., represented a victory for the old, the less-educated, and the xenophobic. The young, the college-educated, and the outward-looking all rejected, and still reject, Brexit. Many of them regard it as a willful act of self-destruction, and future historians will surely agree with them.
Cassidy concludes that ‘the wreckers are firmly in the ascendance, and today they are celebrating their victory’. Yet when we desperately need an opposition to represent the 48% (and surely more than that now), we don’t have one, as this week’s New Statesman cover suggests:
- Brexit: The UK’s letter triggering Article 50 (BBC)
- Brexit is the greatest fraud perpetrated on the British public (Tess Finch Lees)
- The Death of British Business by Simon Head (NYRB)
- Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? Essential reading that will scare your socks off
- The Brexit cliff edge by Ian Dunt (first chapter of his book)
- From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain
- Brexit, pursued by despair