Saturday, 25 June 2016

Catastrophe


So post-truth politics won the day and in a grotesque act of national self-harm Britain has voted to leave the EU. Within hours reality began to bite back as the warnings of the much-derided experts started to become true. Stock markets around the world were in free fall, the pound crashed through the floor, and companies began to announce plans to move jobs and investment out. All through the campaign leavers braggingly talked of how Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy. Not any more it isn’t. Within just a day it has become the sixth largest. Again as warned, Scotland made the first moves towards what will undoubtedly be independence, and Northern Ireland might well follow or in any case faces turmoil. Calls to shift the British border back from Calais began. The Prime Minister resigned but not with immediate effect and so a complete political paralysis now exists, and there are rumours that senior civil servants are likely to resign en masse because they know that what they are going to be expected to deliver is completely impractical. This is just day one of what will be years of uncertainty and chaos.

Reality bit in other ways, too. Before the sun had set leading Brexiters disowned the claims that there would be £350M a week more spent on the NHS, and that there would be reductions in immigration. So that was two of the three central planks of their campaign discarded. And what of the third, ‘taking back control’? As had again been said all along, it immediately emerged that the Brexiters have not a single idea about what it is that is now going to happen, when, or how. Having with anarchistic, reckless glee booted down the central pillars of decades of foreign and economic policy they had literally nothing – nothing - to say other than that a ‘glorious future’ beckoned. Suddenly, having won their prize they do not even want to begin the process of leaving and seem amazed and outraged that the rest of the EU is saying that they need to do so. Out is out.
There are no good outcomes for England now. The best that can be hoped for might be some kind of Norwegian-style arrangement, although it is by no means clear that this will be available. Even if it were it would be very tricky, politically, although there would be a parliamentary majority for it, because it would mean free movement of people. But as the effects of Brexit get clearer, and the lies of the leave campaign are exposed, there are already signs that some who voted to leave are regretting it (‘Regrexit’ is the word du jour) and if opinion polls bore that out in large numbers it’s just about conceivable that such an arrangement could be agreed without a further referendum. It would just about honour the letter of the vote to leave the EU and frankly since the leavers refused to spell out what leave meant they would just have to accept that. But it would lead to decades of claims of ‘betrayal’ and ‘we did not know what we voted for’.
Whatever happens, the economic consequences are going to be dire for years to come. Anyone thinking that it represents a triumph of working-class solidarity over global neo-liberalism is in for a very nasty shock indeed when jobs start to haemorrhage and public finances and services collapse. A very chilling lesson in reality is about to administered and although it won’t only be those who voted leave who suffer it is likely to impact them the worst.  But the real catastrophe is a cultural one. It is a massive defeat for Britain as a place of tolerance, cosmopolitanism and openness; a victory for every sort of prejudice, for sullen and bitter anti-intellectualism, for resentful small-mindedness. Huge rifts between classes, generations and regions have been opened and they aren’t going to be healed any time soon. My European friends living here are shocked and scared, whilst friends abroad look on in bemusement and horror at what has happened.
As for me, I feel distraught and physically sick. As the Brexiters crow of having ‘got their country back’, I feel that I have lost my home and now live in exile.

2 comments:

  1. This is so depressing. On the day of the results I was in Coventry for a meeting at Warwick Business School. Sample conversation with taxi driver on way from train:
    ‘Take Greece. We have to work until we’re 68 but they can retire at 50. Why should we support them financially? Or those other countries in Southern Europe? Let them take care of themselves.
    We need to take control of our borders. Look at all those migrants in Calais trying to get here. They’re coming for the benefits. We’re benefits Britain.’
    ME: ‘But Cameron negotiated that people would have to wait four years before they could claim benefits if they come.’
    Him: ‘No, he didn’t. They rejected ALL of his demands. My daughter is buying a house. Last year she went to the local authority to be put on the list. They told her not to bother because they have to keep what they have for those just coming here.’ (No distinction here between migrants and asylum seekers).
    Him: ‘It not right. We have to look after our own. I say take care of your own first, and then be kind to others. If countries in Europe want to take all these migrants let them, but not us.’
    ME: But this also means that Scotland will probably break away and it will be the end of the UK.
    Him: ‘Let them. They should pay for their own free prescriptions and education. Why should we support them?’
    Me: ‘But what about he contribution of their oil revenues to the UK’.
    Him: ‘Nonsense. We pay them far more than what that brings.’
     
    We probably all have had this kind of conversation by now. This is what Johnson, Farage et al have unleashed on us. It will not be easy to get it back under control. But it worked. So they might very well intensify it, as the actual pain of real Brexit unfolds. More hatred, more vitriol, more blaming foreigners – and maybe more talk about booting people out who are already here. Someone has to take the blame, and it won’t be Johnson et al.
     
    Without a doubt this is one of the most depressing events of my lifetime.
     

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  2. I believe there is a way forward: it involves negotiating an exit agreement and putting that to a second referendum, one based on facts not fantasy and speculation: http://www.reformist.org/blog/eu-referendum/

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