This was first posted on Facebook on 31st December 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
At 11pm tonight, the UK leaves the transition period in which we enjoyed the benefits of still being part of the EU: we have Brexit.
The consequences of this kind of deliberate economic self-harm are impossible to fully predict, since no one has ever done this before, and in this post, I don’t intend to try.
There are so many ways and so many people who could have taken a stand and prevented this, beginning with David Cameron on the morning of 24th June 2016.
I was not one of the people who ever had the power to prevent this, and nor, most probably, were you, if you’re reading this: the maximum number I include in “so many” is the 92,153 Conservative party members who decided to vote for Boris Johnson to be our Prime Minister in 2019 and thus put a lazy lying charlatan primarily interested in being applauded, in charge of taking the UK out of the EU. Then there are the 160 Tory MPs who voted for him to be on the ballot.
And Theresa May, who was so keen to lose those pesky EU laws about fair treatment of immigrants, that she embraced Brexit on the happy assumption she’d be able to have all of the benefits of the EU and none of the legal restrictions requiring her to treat even black people decently. I still recall reading the account of the dinner summit with Juncker, after she’d triggered Article 50 but before the GE2017 election, where it had to be explained to her that she couldn’t pick and choose the bits of the EU she wanted versus the bits she didn’t like.
And the 172 Labour MPs who decided to create a schism in the Labour Party after the EU referendum (regardless of result) in order to get rid of Corbyn, and only succeeded in having a very publicly un-unified Opposition party, which they are still dealing with today.
And Corbyn himself and all of the Labour MPs who voted to let Theresa May trigger Article 50 without a plan.
And the LibDems who looked greedily at the possibility of winning formerly-Tory voters to the right-wing Remain party and refused to accept Jeremy Corbyn as the only constitutional choice for caretaker Prime Minister to stop Brexit, thus rendering the possibility of a vote of no-confidence to topple Johnson’s minority government meaningless.
And Jeremy Corbyn himself, who accepted the 50/50 result of the UK total results as a win for Leave, and did nothing to make Labour the left-wing party for Remainers, thus rendering opposition to Tory Brexit a matter for the SNP and the Greens.
And the BBC, which made a political decision to treat Brexit as a given, and a programming decision to find “balance” rather than giving viewers an accurate and informed view of the catastrophic consequences of leaving the EU.
But mostly, the Conservative MPs who over four and a half years, for the most part, voted for whatever May or Johnson threw at them to vote for, repeating loyally the lies about Brexit they were told to say, doing what they were Whipped to do by the party authorities and not worrrying out loud at all – with a small group of exceptions – if deliberate economic self-harm was really what they ought to be doing to the UK.
(Nigel Farage, while he can certainly claim to have triggered the Brexit referendum by creating a party to the right of the Tories to split the bigot vote and frighten Cameron into offering the EU referendum to win the bigot vote back to the Tories for 2015, could not have prevented Brexit once the results were counted in June 2016: his career is, I hope, on a long slow slide to nowhere now Brexit is completed.)
James O’Brien of LBC had a solid message which bears repeating to Leave voters who are still trying to celebrate their decision:
“We are now moving into the bit where ordinary people, as opposed to people in my profession who get paid for it or people in politics who get high on it, are going to be proved categorically and comprehensively wrong.
“And for your mental health you now face a really important choice. You either continue clinging on to this fury and this almost incoherent anger and it will continue to hurt you.
“[It] won’t just hurt you. It will hurt the people around you. It’s such a simple choice to just surrender it.
“Nobody is going to hold you responsible for your Brexit vote for the rest of your life. I will make sure of that in my little contribution to public discourse in this country.”
But the mostly, what I think of when I think of Brexit, and the hundreds of MPs who knew better but voted us to this end anyway, is that quite from Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer:
“The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time.”
Everest is possible to climb: we’ve known that for over sixty years. But Everest is dangerous to climb, and if anything goes wrong, people die. In the Death Zone, climbers cannot trust themselves to make good decisionsL Jon Krakauer got down from the summit alive partly by skill – he was a good enough climber that he was nearly the first at the top that day – partly by luck – the storm that killed so many people hit when he was on his way down – and partly because he was an experienced enough climber that he could follow the route back by rote, not by judgement, of which he had none at that point.
Jon Krakauer notes that while you can point at this and that bad decision that made Brexit worse – as we will be pointing at the bad decisions made by Cameron, May, Corbyn, Swinson, and Johnson – worst of all Johnson – over the past four and a half years – on the road to Brexit, the overridingly bad decision was to leave the EU, and nothing could ever have made that bad decision right.
I voted Remain: I know it was wrong to leave the EU: I am not going to cease from saying so for the sake of “unity”. Hundreds of MPs did this wrong to us, justifying it on the basis of a nearly 50-50 vote in an advisory referendum as the “will of the people” (ignoring the demographics and the polling that told them that Brexit never was the will of the majority and a re-run referendum would now have the opposite result). They were wrong to do so, and while Leavers may cling to and justify their bad vote and their bad decision, and be angry when the rest of us won’t accept their justifications, we know – we know – that the majority of Conservative MPs knew better, and took us here anyway.
We have left the European Union. We are a third country. Our government has pushed through a trade deal which means the EU can sell goods to us without tariffs or paperwork, but we cannot export goods to them without paperwork and if our government diverges from EU standards there will be tariffs. We can no longer sell financial services to 27 countries: we have permanently lost the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority: we are no longer the United States’ first stop in Europe, for Europe. That’s Brexit.