Act now - or watch the Brexit lie machine win
PUBLISHED: 12:37 05 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:37 05 August 2017
2017 Getty Images
When the political season resumes with the party conferences, we had better have got our act together. All of us. Or else this thing is happening
Maybe we really do get the politicians and the media we deserve.
Trump in the White House; Putin’s Kremlin kleptocracy making him by some accounts the richest man in the world; Brexit delivered by the complacency of Cameron and the lies of Johnson; Murdoch and Dacre the two most influential media forces during the period which led to this act of national auto-mutilation; the choice of May or Corbyn as majority Prime Minister rejected so that the most important set of decisions of our lifetime is being implemented by a weak Government watched over by a weak but strangely self-satisfied Opposition ... if this really is the politics and media we deserve, then we must have done something truly terrible in a previous life.
It’s certainly getting harder to believe in the US as the land of the free and the home of the brave, when it is the land of Trump, his White House home an ever more horrifying shit-show of ego, nepotism, incompetence, and plotlines that would get thrown out by all but the trashiest reality TV show ...
I see a little silhouette of a man
Scaramucci, Scaramucci, will you do the fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening, me ...
Frightening indeed it is, to have a genuine narcissist leading the world’s largest military power, surrounded by freaks. What is most terrifying about Trump’s ascension is the fact that he doesn’t look like falling any time soon.
He did plenty of things during his campaign, and plenty since, that would have led to far greater pressure on predecessors to quit an office graced by some of the greatest names in history, including perhaps the greatest, Abraham Lincoln. Even the Narcissist-in-Chief has to bow down before the Lincoln legend, saying – modesty Trump-style – “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office”. I am indebted to my friend David Axelrod for the tweet of the month: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” The late, great Abraham Lincoln.
And yet, Donald Trump is President. His Presidency is normalized every time those two words, President and Trump, are run in the same sentence. It is further normalized with every absurd abnormality that passes.
That same process of normalization of the self-evidently abnormal and absurd is what worries me about Brexit right now, and unless all who fear for the very future of Britain up our game, it may be too late.
One of the first pieces I wrote for The New European was headlined “Believe Me, Brexit Can Be Stopped”. I still believe that. But, to quote Michel Barnier, nominally David Davis’ EU opposite number in the Brexit negotiations, but only nominally given he knows the detail, and unlike Davis has a plan, “the clock is ticking”. In a rational world driven by clever leaders making rational decisions, that ticking clock would be a spur to make the right decisions for the long-term. Instead, as unintended consequences come crawling out of every corner, it is serving to underline the economic and political folly of Brexit, and the near impossibility of the negotiations; yet alongside it all, the determination of our politicians to make it happen, whatever the cost, whatever the damage to Britain, grows rather than diminishes. Just because our political actors are less showy and vulgar than the Americans, it doesn’t make the madness any less mad.
That’s why, around the world, “Trump’n’Brexit” now get lumped together as shorthand for two great countries in peril. Only those closest to the peril, it seems, fail to see its harm. So US Republicans play along with the whims of the Ego. MPs march with varying degrees of fear and dread to the Brexit Gates they know portend doom for their constituents, but dare not tell them, as many voted for the journey we are now on.
There remains within the EU a desire for the UK to pull back. But there will come a point – it has not yet been reached, but the clock is indeed ticking – when they realise hard Brexit really is going to happen. Then, charming, urbane Barnier becomes the Barnier better known in EU leadership circles, playing very hard ball to protect Europe’s interests.
I was always confident Brexit could be stopped because I was sure the evidence would grow that it would be damaging to the country’s interests. And so it has. But just as Trump has managed to win and survive despite being a proven liar, misogynist, mis-manager and truly awful human being, his achievements in inverse proportion to his claims of achievement, so the more the evidence emerges that Brexit may damage Britain, the more determined our leaders seem to be to make it happen. The facts are not allowed in the way. It is just going to be great, as Trump might say.
As we are a Parliamentary democracy, it is in Parliament that the mood of the country on this massive issue should be reflected. Can any MP, whatever party, however they voted in the referendum, honestly say that is happening right now? Of course the referendum happened, fact, we lost. That cannot be ignored. But one vote does not stop an argument as important as this, as the reality of what it means hoves so clearly into view. And London Mayor Sadiq Khan is right, that a new referendum on the outcome of negotiations, or a changed Labour position winning the majority we failed to get last time, can and would take precedence, for all the political grief and courage along the way. But if we reach that point of no return with Barnier and Co the deal we are currently abandoning may no longer be available in any future vote. Then we are done for.
If you were to take every MP, alone, into a quiet room, and say to them “OK, you don’t need to worry about the referendum result. You don’t need to worry about the politics of your party. You just have to answer this question honestly ... do you think Brexit is the right thing or the wrong thing for Britain?’” I reckon, even accounting for ideologues like Liam Fox and Bill Cash, there would be around eight out of ten saying it was the wrong decision.
Depending which EU or other foreign minister you talk to, and what mood our Foreign Secretary was in when he last saw them, even Boris Johnson spends much of his time in the eight out of ten bracket. In common with most who campaigned for Brexit, he no longer talks of the benefits to Britain that Brexit may bring, simply that the country voted for it and so we have to make the best of a bad job.
It is as though a physician has detected an illness, discovered that the illness can be cured, but the cure must be rejected because it predates the discovery of the disease.
It’s going to make us poorer, you know. Yeah, I know, says Johnson when his truth gene is twitching.
Weaker in the world too. For sure.
We could be talking economic meltdown. Yeah, I guess.
These imaginary trade deals can not really compensate for pulling out of the biggest market on earth, you know. No, I guess not.
You’ve seen the value of the pound fall, right? You know that is what the world thinks will happen to our economy. Right. Oh well.
When we had the referendum, we knew little about what Brexit Britain would look like. Now we know more. The plummeting pound. Rising inflation. The falling standing in the world. The investors making plans to move. The Irish border question unresolved. The rights of millions uncertain. The most complex negotiations imaginable in the hands of a Cabinet incapable of meeting for five minutes without splurging their differences through the media to the other side of the negotiating table.
The referendum asked people to take a leap in the dark. The lights are now beginning to come on, the scene doesn’t look good for Britain, and the British people are starting to see it doesn’t look good.
As for Labour’s leaders – and to be honest I don’t know if Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would be in the eight out of ten or the two out of ten – they are deluding themselves if they think most members of the public see any real difference between their stance on Brexit, and the Government’s. What does a “jobs first Brexit” even mean, if it includes a Tory-echoing departure from the single market and Customs Union? What the public knows is that both parties have divisions in their ranks, but both are basically heading for the exit door.
And the reason I find it hard to swallow the Corbyn Kool-Aid is that he showed in the election he knows how to campaign – so why did he go Absent Without Leadership during the referendum? He prides himself on honesty. Why doesn’t he honestly admit he didn’t fight in the referendum because, like McDonnell, he doesn’t really believe in the cause? It wasn’t just lack of effort, but a long-held dislike of the EU. But then, they should also honestly admit that a post-Brexit economy will be unable to deliver even a fraction of their grand manifesto promises. A belief in socialism in one country, without ever facing up to how you achieve any social progress if you have tanked your own economy, will go nowhere. And who are their allies going to be if they walk away from countries where at least social democratic values run deep, even if the right currently holds more power than the left? Trump’s America? Putin’s Russia? The Commonwealth? We all love Canada and Australia but our proportion of trade with them is tiny. India and China? Good for trade but there will be strings attached, not least more visas for their citizens. What happens to immigration concerns then?
It is not just the Government and Opposition who are failing, however. So are all of us who have opposed this Brexit madness from the off. Not a day goes by that I don’t meet people, or get emails from people, saying “I want to do what I can to stop this, how do I help?” The fact that there is no clear answer reflects badly on all of us. There is a mass of opposition to Brexit, yet precious little co-ordination, and certainly not the urgency it needs. It is all a bit People’s Front of Judea. A court case here, a march there; here a campaign group, there a campaign group, here a businessman with a cheque book, there another, and usually big ego to match the bank balance, so no, not if he is involved, not if she is involved, so round and round we go. Lots of different groupings, no real campaign ... er, the clock is ticking.
We can do our bit on The New European, but we are the ones kidding ourselves if we think our sales alone can fight the Brextremist Lie Machine of the Mail, Sun, Express, Telegraph.
Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Major, David Cameron, all make contributions to national debate. Blair gets stuck in and shot down in a fit of messenger shooting every time, but where is the urgency and passion of all those who have known leadership of the country and who know the damage that is being done? When is Cameron going to stand up and be counted? This was his referendum. He cannot surely just walk away from the mess he bequeathed to Theresa May.
What about business? There is barely a business in the country, small or large, that thinks this is anything other than a total catastrophe. Yet the big firms keep their heads down, like they did in the referendum, and the representative business bodies continue to operate an “on the one hand, on the other” approach, not wanting to upset ministers despite those ministers doing fundamental damage to their members’ interests.
Then the trade unions. They exist to fight for working people. Working people whose jobs and living standards and rights at work will get shot to pieces if the hard-right Hard Brexit view prevails. They are good at campaigning too, some of them. Where are the campaigns now, when the need is so urgent?
As to the goal of any campaign, it has to be that with the lights going on, and the picture becoming much clearer, it’s only sensible to have another look; not a second referendum, but a first referendum based on actual knowledge of what Brexit will mean in pounds, pence and power.
The public are getting there ahead of the MPs. But it is also the best outcome for those MPs who know Brexit is wrong, but fear voting against “the will of the people” as expressed last June. And it explains why the ideological Brexiters are so urgently flailing to get out fast. The more time for the public to see what lies ahead, the greater the demand for a rethink. Once a fresh vote on a new question is set, momentum shifts. That is what panics the Brextremists. If they really are confident in the future for “Global Britain”, why so scared to put their evidence for it to the test? Answer? Because they are not confident at all. We lost two months of the 24 planned for the post Article 50 negotiations to the ludicrous election. We will lose a few weeks to August. But when the political season resumes with the party conferences, we had better have got our act together. All of us. Or else this thing is happening.
And then, even though millions of the 17,410,742 who voted Leave did not vote to shrink the economy and lower living standards, did not vote to leave the single market or the Customs Union, or damage the reputation of our universities and science base, or damage the City and lose the passporting by which our firms can do business Europe-wide, or stigmatise firms which hire talent from abroad, or make foreign doctors and nurses without who our NHS will collapse feel no longer welcome, all of those things will come to pass. Because we let them. Because we let the liars win. Like they won in America. But at least with Trump, there will be a chance to kick him out. There is no going back on our madness, not in our lifetime, if we let it happen now.
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