Broadcaster TERRY CHRISTIAN attracted controversy with his suggestion that Leave voters should be first in line for Brexit-induced redundancies. But it’s the fairest approach, he argues.
Several months back I was talking to a very wealthy businessman in a Manchester pub who was tearing his hair out. The rising cost of materials and difficulties of securing long-term loans due to Brexit, and its impact on the value of the pound, meant he was having to shrink his business and, inevitably, lay off dozens of workers.
These were the same workers he had patiently spoken to at length before the referendum, explaining that Brexit would be bad for his business and that he understood they had every right to vote with their consciences, but that it would mean the firm may have to lay people off.
His vexation over a couple of pints was plain and he had been ensuring that he would only be making those workers he knew had voted Leave redundant.
Since then I’ve met other business owners and line managers who have also, when faced with this dilemma, been trying to ensure that when laying off workers due to the Brexit downturn, it has been workers who voted for Brexit.
Having grown up in a Labour household – with a father who was a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers’ Union for 25 years – I instinctively wince at the idea of workers being selected for redundancy for their views. I mean, imagine being singled out for being in a trade union, or for how you voted in an election. Where would we be then?
But then I think, if your bosses tell you that there is a chance you may lose your job due to the result in a non-party political referendum, then you’d be sort of stupid not to take notice, especially when it seemed every expert was saying the same thing: that you can’t leave the biggest trade bloc on the planet without causing a lot of economic damage.
When warned of the consequences, Leave voters parroted the lies of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. This was Project Fear – everything would be immediately better after Brexit, no jobs would be lost, the pound would retain its value, the EU would be desperate to sort us a trade deal and it would be the easiest thing in the world. Those of us supporting Remain were called Remoaners and doom mongers.
As events unfolded, and the pound tanked and murmurs of a downturn came about, the Farages and Johnsons still called it Project Fear, but then they started to say ‘yes, it may be bumpy for a while, but it’s only short term pain’. These little sound bites – ‘short term pain’, ‘take back control’ – seemed to replace thought when it came to any attempt at a serious discussion of the issues with Brexiters. It was the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears and going ‘la la la la’.
I wanted to test this bravado, to see how the Brexiters felt knowing that their ‘short term pain’ and Project Fear bluff was being called, so I tweeted out a poll asking whether, if a business had to make difficult choices about laying workers off because of Brexit, the first to go should be those who voted Leave.
After all, the Brexiters had said they didn’t mind short term pain. And as each piece of bad news once dismissed as Project Fear became project fact, they merely said it made no difference, that they knew exactly what they were voting for anyway, that they knew it would be tough at first but, after that, sunlit uplands all the way.
It many ways, it has been difficult for me to understand the apoplectic reaction my suggestion caused. I mean, after all, there can be no jobs losses due to Brexit – that would be crystalline pure Project Fear. It’s all going to be thrusting global Britain, no pesky johnny foreigners stealing the work, sovereignty and Spitfires all the way, isn’t it? It surely can’t be that the believers are having a bit of a wobble in their faith.
Of course, singling people out based on their voting isn’t legal. Neither is letting people go based on age, or how much they get paid – but don’t doubt it happens. Nice, well-paid HR people will ensure it all looks above board and legal.
Anyway, maybe it should be legal. After all, the Leavers hate all that ‘EU red tape’, so after March let’s get rid of the rules that protects workers’ rights, and then company bosses can formally weed out those who have been complicit in the destruction of their businesses – the Leavers.
They were told, they were warned and they did it anyway, not just to themselves but those who work alongside them. In some ways we should be surprised that these guys aren’t banging on the bosses’ doors saying ‘let me be the one to be made redundant’, because otherwise that would mean that all the talk of ‘short term pain – we can take it’ and ‘Blitz this, Dunkirk that’ is just vacuous, fraudulent, tenth-rate nationalistic bluster
The moral case is clear: don’t invite others to own the consequences of your choices. First, you must own them. Still, if it’s any consolation for those Leavers who lose their jobs, it will give them more time to sit at home watching old war films.
I don’t celebrate anyone losing their jobs, but Brexit means jobs will go on a massive scale and it really should be those who championed , and continue to champion, this disaster who get to suffer from it. So I say to them, as they contemplate their P45s: ‘You won. Get over it.’