What is at stake and what needs to change to ‘save the country’?
I write these words in the warm autumn of the antipodes, where incredulous Australians and dismayed, distressed and unhappy British expatriates look at the farce, the lunacy, of Brexit from afar, and shake their heads.
I tell them that Brexit will collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions: that is a certainty. But left to itself, the process will involve wasted years and much damage, and therefore all who have the best interests of the UK at heart by wishing to see the UK remain in the European Union, must fight to make the defeat of Brexit happen much sooner.
All who are pro-EU know why they are pro-EU. Despite its flaws and problems, none of them irresolvable in the face of good will and intelligence, the EU is a magnificent and imaginative project aimed at peace, progress and unity. If you look back across the landscape of European history for two thousand years, you notice that in the periods of European unification, first under the Roman Empire, then under the somewhat looser umbrella of Christendom, then since the beginnings of the European Union, Europe has flourished and been largely at peace.
Wars were mainly fought with forces outside the unified area: the Romans had centuries of struggle with barbarian invaders, and Christendom attacked the Muslim world which had overwhelmed an earlier Christian Middle East, in order to regain the faith’s holy places.
The chief exceptions in the Christendom era were the long wars between England and France, although in fact these were not international wars but family feuds over the inheritance of what was periodically a single kingdom. There were other civil wars too, but it was not until the Reformation of the sixteenth century split Europe into Protestant and Catholic parts that a chain reaction of fragmentation began, ending with the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 that created the system of independent nation states which set about a centuries-long sequence of wars against each other until 1945.
Learn the lesson. A unified Europe is a peaceful, progressive, constructive Europe. History proves it, and we have seen it with our own eyes this last half-century and more. Those who divide, who split things up, are the wreckers of peace and progress. In today’s UK those wreckers are Theresa May, David Davis, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson, and the little gang of Brexiteers behind them who wish to turn the country into a deregulated tax haven for their own profit.
And how quickly peace itself becomes a victim of their ambitions: the absurd Lord Howard and his talk of going to war with Spain over Gibraltar is not an aberration, but a signature of the Brexit mind.
Ponder the ‘tax haven’ point for a moment, for it relates to a reprise of an old ethical struggle. Market capitalism, if left unregulated, works only in the interests of money and those who have it. The EU works to counterbalance the cruder power of the market by protecting the rights of workers, consumers and the environment, the three things that unbridled capitalism would exploit if it had the chance – and which it does exploit whenever it can.
The people behind Brexit – the likes of Arron Banks and Jacob Ress-Mogg – do not like the idea of a moderate market system that seeks protections and fairness. They talk of a bonfire of regulations – the regulations that protect employees, consumers and the environment. They talk about lowering taxes – the taxes that pay for those protections, so that they an fill their own pockets even more.
One can acknowledge that the market is the appropriate mechanism for the exchange of goods and services, for finding their price points, for enabling supply to meet demand and demand to incentivise supply. But one can also acknowledge that making the market fair, and protecting it from the depredations of greedy wide-boys who work its angles for their own advantage at the expense of others, is a good and wise thing to do. That is what the EU approach to market capitalism does.
One can acknowledge that people who put energy, talent, good ideas and hard work into what they do merit their rewards. There is no objection in principle to anyone’s doing well in material terms, or growing rich. What is objectionable is the already-rich manipulating things to get richer at others’ expense, and refusing their share of a contribution to the common good.
Those behind Brexit are such people. Regulations protecting consumers, employees and the environment cost money to apply. The money comes from taxes. Greedy people do not want to pay those taxes and they do not care about those protections. This is the single, burning, crucial reason why those behind Brexit want Brexit.
The fight between Brexiteers and the EU is therefore an ideological fight. It is a fight between the cruder interests of money and the interests of a civilised, co-operative socio-economic order where there is a balance between unbridled self-interest and the aspiration for a decent inclusive society of shared values and benefits.
Does my earlier imprecation against division and fragmentation apply to Scotland? No: Scotland is being forced into seeking independence from a suicidal England because they wish to remain in the EU, as part of the bigger, better, progressive, forward-looking entity that is the future. With that I wholeheartedly sympathise, and do not think that Scotland and Northern Ireland can quit the United Kingdom soon enough if the Brexiteers get away with their plan.
But they will not be allowed to get away with their plan, because the enormity of Brexit – in the literal sense of the much misused term ‘enormity’ – must and will be stopped. There are many routes to stopping it, not least its own internal doom-laden impossibility, which as mentioned above will, if left to itself, do the work well enough. But the point is to stop it sooner rather than later to minimise the damage it is already doing.
One infallible way to stop Brexit in its tracks right now is to get rid of the May Government. Because the Labour Party is a dead dog in a ditch at present, this requires a major realignment of all Remainer MPs in Parliament, who, though in the majority, and though having failed so far by allowing themselves to be dragooned into doing what they know is seriously injurious to their country, have got to find the resolve to overcome the petty tribal affiliations of party politics to save the country.
The task in hand is nothing less than that: saving the country, and thereby saving the future.