Friday, 14 August 2020

No form of Brexit will satisfy the Brexiteers

The spectacle of Iain Duncan Smith complaining about the small print of the deal which he claimed only a few short months ago did not need further detailed scrutiny has inevitably led to entirely justified ridicule. There’s a danger, though, that the entertaining ridicule diverts attention from an essential truth in all this which is that, for the followers of the true Brexit faith, there is no achievable Brexit in the real world which they will not regard as a betrayal. I had thought that the rhetoric about enjoying all the advantages of the EU with none of the disadvantages was exactly that – rhetoric. And I had assumed that the rhetoric was designed as a dishonest cover for their belief that the ‘advantages’ of Brexit as they saw it, in terms of ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ outweighed the obvious economic disadvantages. Stated openly, that’s an honest and defensible intellectual position to take, even if it’s not one with which I’d agree (not least because the people paying the economic cost aren’t the ones enjoying the very limited extra ‘independence’ which it would confer) – but it’s not one which would have been likely to have gained even the slim pro-Brexit majority which we saw in 2016.
It increasingly appears that I was wrong on that – I gave them far too much credit both for having a defensible position and for being simply devious. It increasingly appears that many of them genuinely believed – and still do believe – that penny-and-bun is an available option, if only everyone else wasn’t being so obstructive. It’s not that they knew there would be an economic downside but thought it a price worth paying at all – it’s more the case that they genuinely believed that the EU would give the UK whatever it wanted because the UK is so special and powerful. Indeed, part of their defence for now arguing for scrapping an agreement which they supported is that the agreement committed both sides to reaching a longer-term agreement on the terms of trade, and that such an agreement now looks increasingly unlikely. Both of those statements are ‘true’, of course, but the interpretation of that as effectively meaning that the EU therefore committed to agreeing with whatever the UK wanted is perverse to say the least. The English sense of exceptionalism is edging in slow motion towards its inevitable clash with real world reality at the end of December. Predicting that the real world will win is a safe bet, and if that outcome was likely to cause the exceptionalists to rethink it might just about be a minor plus from Brexit. But what Smith’s ramblings tell us is that they’re more likely to simply double down and shout their unrealistic demands ever more loudly.