Writing about Brexit is not easy these days. Not only does the situation change by the hour but the information that you can receive, from multiple sources, is usually contradictory, confusing and quite often beyond reason. All of this makes it extremely difficult to produce a coherent narrative that lasts more than 12 hours at the most.
So, by the time you’ve written a commentary, sent it to whoever would like to publish it, and then see it presented on screen, you can look moronically out of touch with the rapidly evolving situation.
Perhaps the worst of the many serious mistakes that Theresa May made, after the referendum in 2016, was her refusal to create a clear vision for the Brexit she was committing herself to deliver. “Brexit means Brexit” is one of the emptiest phrases ever uttered by a British Prime Minister — not only because it is utterly meaningless but because it gave everyone with an agenda scope to design their own Brexit. Mrs May, in that one fearful, indecisive phrase turned leaving the European Union into the proverbial jellyfish sliding down wall, un-nailed.
To be fair to Mrs May, she had to find a way of clearing up the mess left by her predecessor, David Cameron. On the one hand he had the courage to call the referendum in the first place, in 2016, after years of false promises by both major parties in government, to the obvious frustration of many people. Everyone knew that the issue of Britain’s place in Europe would be divisive and would rupture both Labour and the Conservatives and so Mrs Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair stayed away from the issue as far as possible.
It has been the biggest elephant in the room of British politics during the past 35 years but no one expected the chaos that has overwhelmed Britain in the past three.
This was started by the very lazy and poorly defined Remain campaign during the referendum and compounded by Mrs May since then.
One must assume that Mrs May’s plan was to make the concept so vague in public as to ensure that everyone would be confused and thus she, as the appointed curator of the grail, would remain in control. As with every other idea that she has had and every move that she has made in her Premiership, she was wrong, apparently because she pathologically dreams up policy positions for entirely the wrong reasons.
As a result, the British are simply making it up as they go along without any unifying guidelines or principles from government.
To hard core Conservative Leavers, Brexit provides the perfect opportunity to escape the comparative sanity of the EU business environment, deregulate the British economy (including the corporate taxation regime) and render it attractive to more rapacious investors from places like the United States and the Russian Federation. Those who believe this would, of course, partner said investors and significantly increase their own fortunes. Would this be good for Britain and her people? Some would benefit hugely and others would not but the overall business and investment environment would become relatively unstable and possibly corrupt in ways that we can’t fully imagine at the moment.
The imagined Brexit of hard core Left Leavers sees Britain being freed from the corporate regulation of the EU (including the rules on continental competitive tendering) to allow them to re-nationalise key services and utilities. They are also happy with restrictions on the EU’s freedom of movement regime in order to protect the jobs of British workers and believe that, outside of the EU, there can be a rebirth of British manufacturing industry. They see jobs and an end to austerity in all this — but the economics underpinning the idea are somewhat tenuous.
Mrs May represents a significant number of people who would have been happy with a balanced approach in which Britain excluded itself from the freedom of movement regime and certain other legal and business constraints but maintained close alignment with the single market. Unfortunately for them, Mrs May called a general election and lost her overall majority in the House of Commons, making herself a hostage to more extreme anti-EU interests. Thus she lost all the control that is necessary for her to feel functional and became a boat crashing against the rocks in a heavy storm.
A large number of ordinary Leavers, trying to get on with their lives, blame all of the dreadful consequences of the economic policies, known as Austerity, on the EU. For these people leaving the EU with no deal holds no fear because things are so bad for them at the moment that they don’t see how they could get any worse. A fresh start and a better life beacons, away from the corrupt fleshpots of Brussels and the European corporate elite, with plenty of waves to rule in the future trading with the rest of the world under WTO rules, which have been completely mis-sold to them.
Then there are the small but noisy groups who see Brexit as the means by which Britain can finally expel all the foreigners who are diluting the gene pool of the natives. Their arguments are herd-emotional and tend to be based on a glorious Waterloo past that they imagine can be recreated, if only others would see the light. They are forming little groups of what might be called ‘Freikorps’ around the country to verbally and physically intimidate immigrants and those who disagree with them, including Members of Parliament.
And then there are the Remainers who are generally satisfied with the imperfect operation of the EU and fear losing all that they have invested in their families’ lives and businesses as European citizens. They lost the referendum but represent 48 percent of those who voted and that is a large number of people for a government to ignore over three years.
And the nationalists in Scotland and Wales are hoping, quite naturally, to take advantage of a level of fragmentation within a tired United Kingdom that may prove insoluble.
What of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Well, the Labour leader, Mr Jeremy Corbyn appears to be playing a long waiting game in which he hopes that the government will mess everything up, the Conservative Party will collapse and he and his comrades will be there to pick up the pieces and save the country.
However, whatever political capital Mr Corbyn had in the country seems to have been frittered away through his deliberate disengagement from the whirlwind that is Brexit and his penchant for displacement activity. His contributions to the debate have been minimal, unenthusiastic and largely ignored, as if he believes that these momentous national events have nothing to do with him or his party. He is not seen as a credible Prime Minister in waiting.
The British government approached the post-referendum negotiations with the EU as a tired executive seeking his golden parachute from the boss might. “We’re leaving so what will you give us?” They did not have a strategic plan, a set of principles around which progress could be measured. Indeed, they seem to have engaged with Brussels without a single concrete objective in mind, concerned more by what they didn’t want. During the process, Mrs May told the EU representatives one thing in negotiations then returned to report to Parliament with a different version of events, for ‘local’ consumption. Trust was lost early on.
Brexit, therefore, has become a vast vacuum which the media, vested commercial and corporate interests and anyone with an opinion on social media, can fill with trash 24/7. Brexit, whatever it is and however it may end up, is consuming Britain, her economy, her future and memories of what she once was and there is no end in sight.
Ronnie Smith is a British writer living in Languedoc, France.