I have had to give this serious thought. Having read through some of my more recent blog posts on the subject of bozo, farage, reesmoggie, brexit and similar, I decided I had better put my journo hat back on, and take an objective look at what I think and what I have been saying about what I think. Am I just happily living inside an echo-chamber of my own making, simply recycling what I have been thinking for a long time – without giving any serious air-apace to opposite viewpoints, especially on brexit-breaksit?
So let me clamber out of the chamber, and do some fresh thinking. I am motivated to do this at least partly because I keep finding more people (a few, but enough to give me pause) whom I know to be intelligent, educated, interested in politics and worldly, who still support breaksit, and now even appear to be happy to have bozo as PM. What have I been missing?
Is a good case being made – indeed was a good case being made for leaving the EU from the moment Cameron caved in to his Eurosceptics and farage and called for the career-ending 2016 referendum? What I mean is – what do those who still support leaving, find that is compelling enough to keep them going? What I am missing when people welcome the installation of De Pfaffer Johnson in 10 Downing Street? Without re-hashing too much of the to-and-fro of the past three years, and concentrating on the Big Ideas which the Leave campaign put forward, here’s what I find: the headline arguments were/are:
TAKE BACK CONTROL.
CONTROL/STOP IMMIGRATION AND CURTAIL FREE MOVEMENT
MAKE ALL OUR OWN LAWS. AND GET RID OF EU BUREAUCRACY.
MAKE OUR OWN TRADE DEALS – WE DON’T NEED THE EU’S DEALS
AVOID THE ECHR.
And most important of all – leaving the EU will be quick and easy.
LET’S LOOK AT THESE THROUGH THE LENS OF THE HEADLINES AND SOUNDBITES USED AT THE TIME:
It was, after all, those headlines and those soundbites which got through to the people who voted. Not the detailed arguments, if any, that lay underneath them. Most voters did not have the time, the knowledge or the political education to delve. All sides of the 2016 campaign knew that and depended on it. And they knew that every mass medium would be totally focused on the headlines.
Take back control of what, exactly? And give it back to whom? What does the EU control that we used to have in our own hands, and have lost to the EU? This argument was deliberately non-specific, and nuanced only by reference to other issues such as …
… controlling/stopping immigration, which came to mean from other EU countries. We were told that Poles, Rumanians, Lithuanians and others were swamping the country, causing a collapse of the NHS, overflowing schools, traffic jams and a lot else. The truth? The immigration issue was never based on numbers because that was never a problem. Was the real problem a form of ever-so genteel British racism? Freedom of movement within the EU? A two-way street, literally, with thousands of Brits living and/or working in and visiting European countries all the time. Why would we want to curtail that freedom, both ways?
Make our own laws? We never stopped doing that, and the percentage of EU-based regulations which have become UK law is about 3.6%. But were so many of the EU laws restrictive or had the effect of throttling our local businesses? Yes, in some cases, the additional paperwork imposed by the EU was a damned nuisance, but we always had the option, under the EU laws on subsidiarity, to pick and choose. Just the same way as they do in France. When we chose not to, it was a self-inflicted wound.
Make our own trade deals without having to stick by deals negotiated for all members by the EU? Possibly, but the scenario painted by the Leave campaign in 2016 made it seem as though we could go, from one day to the next, from EU deals to our own, and implement them. It turned out that this was never going to be so easy. It takes years for trade deals to be finalised, and without EU trade cover, the UK would be on its own, with who knows what problems for our importers and exporters. The Leave campaign shouted the headline, but never explained the consequences.
Get rid of the European Court of Human Rights – give the last word on all UK legal decisions to our own Supreme Court? Not such a bad idea, at first glance, but ask those who have had the benefit of ECHR decisions in their favour, when our Courts of law had got it badly wrong, and it hardly seems sensible to put the ECHR beyond our reach.
Save a lot of money by not sending it to the EU. Here was the infamous bus-side slogan, concerning £350 million a week we are supposed to be sending to Brussels. Turned out to be a nonsense. One of the really big Leaver lies told by … the present Prime Minister.
Leaving the EU is going to be a piece of cake. Turns out that quick and easy it is not. Three years and two months after the 2016 referendum, leaving has proved to be excruciatingly difficult. No-one, at the time of the Leave/Remain campaigns even mentioned the problems for the Irish/British land border. It just did not come up. Now, it is the major sticking point, and even if it becomes possible to leave the EU without any kind of deal in place (as the Prime Minister and his followers appear to want to do), the Irish problem will not go away. The PM says he does not actually want a no-deal. I think he protesteth too much. If a no-deal is johnson’s ticket to staying in 10 Downing Street, he’ll use it.
So where does this leave me in terms of trying to see both sides of the argument? Trying to get out of my echo-chamber and allow for the possibility that my anti-Leave and anti-Johnson stance is wrong and not justified?
Back where I started, I’m afraid. I have done the best I can to avoid the “faith” trap, where people take a view on all sorts of issues based not on argument or weighing facts but on belief, against which there is no possible defence. The root of all faith is the belief in something that is not demonstrably true. However, I wanted to be absolutely sure that I am not seeing the EU as my church or that European Unionism as my religion. Far from it. I have the deepest possible misgivings about some of the truly terrible bureaucracy that lives n Brussels – and I did everything I could to focus on what is bad about the EU. There’s plenty – but I believe just as firmly that the EU (as a Confederation NOT a Union) has a great deal to offer, and that we Brits are brilliantly placed to lead on the changes that have got to be made, to make the EU better. A lot better. I have made it my business to think as clearly as possible about the reasons why 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU in 2016, and to understand their motivation. And to wonder what made the difference between those 17.4 million and the 16.1 million who voted to Remain.
So I have come to a conclusion; To borrow from Mister Speaker -The Lies Had It. Perhaps I should be a little less unkind, and say that the voting public was misled. It’s easily done. But this is a bit like saying that someone suddenly converted to Catholicism or Judaism or any other -ism was misled in finding that particular faith; perhaps they were, but once converted, most of them find it impossible to turn back without feeling extremely foolish, with accompanying loss of face. So – the mantra is “my faith, right or wrong”. And brexit has become an article of faith, its devotees equally victims of refusal to listen to logic or reason or accept that their emperor has no clothes. True – watch Twitter or Facebook and it’s plain that quite a lot of people who supported Leave in 2016 have changed their minds and lost the brexit faith. So reverse-conversion is possible. Interestingly, I see no evidence of Remainers who have converted to Leavism. And I have been looking.
So, summoning all the journalistic experience and the legal training I can bring to bear on this issue (I have an MA and an LL.B law degree) I cannot find any arguments that persuade me to give the Leavers the benefit of the doubt. Because there is none. Brexit has been a confidence trick right from the start, but a trick played by some of the best political magicians of our time. Loathe everything to do with farage and all his works, and the same for johnson, but one has to admit they out-played, out-communicated and out-hypnotised the Camerons, the Cables and the others who so miserably failed to make the case for Remaining. And who let the Leavers’ lies and exaggerations stand, because they naively appeared to believe that the voting public would never believe such blatant lies and exaggerations.
In passing, I will never forgive Cameron for setting in motion a process that has lost me friends and to whom I am lost, too. Such is the legacy of brexit. And thinking back on it all – why did Cameron and friends ever agree to call a referendum? Because, it was felt, it would shut up everyone re leaving the EU, and because Cameron muttered to someone at the time, “My deputy prime minister (Nick Clegg) will never let it go ahead, so we are safe.” Cameron then he called an election, got a majority and Nick C was out of the equation. Complacency and arrogance, thy name was Cameron.
On the subject of the alleged assault on democracy – alleged, parrot-fashion, by johnson et al. Fail to deliver brexit, he keeps saying, and this constitutes an act of anti-democratic theft perpetrated upon “the people” who voted by whatever majority to leave the EU. It will, he says sound the death knell of British democracy. He finds it convenient not to refer to the fact that the disgraceful, party-inspired spitting and scratching bear-pit that is the House of Commons has set that death-bell swinging already, and the real threat to British democracy is the loss of belief in Parliament, which is supposed to be the crowning glory of our democratic system.
And something I simply do not understand when it comes to the holding of referendums. Under our unwritten and therefore barely discernable constitution, referendums are only ever advisory, and given the nakedness of the bare majority in 2016, could easily have been noted, but ignored. Or, at best -” thanks for the message, which we the Government, get, and which we will take as a mandate to get into the EU corridors of power and get things changed”.
And in any event, things happen in Britain which are even more important in the everyday administration of the country than membership of the EU. Why not subject every Budget to a referendum? Why not things like Universal Credit? Changes to National Insurance? Fuel prices? And so on. Actually, no, don’t let’s do that. That is what our elected Parliament is there to do. Why Cameron, or his brain-damaged “advisors” more likely, decided that a referendum on EU membership was necessary at all remains for us to speculate about. They said it would settle the matter once and for all. It has done no such thing.
Which, too, means that we don’t really need another “peoples’ vote”. If our selfish and ego-driven MP’s in the HOC had any sense of right and wrong and after three years of watching a horribly bad decision produce a catastrophic non-result, they should have the courage to say – enough. We hereby rescind Article 50. No referendum is needed in order to do that.
So – my echo chamber does not sound at all hollow – quite a comforting noise in fact, because it seems to me that my thoughts on the brexit mess are not far off the mark.
And now let’s turn our attention to the methods, moods and madnesses of Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson. Next – post, soon.