I’ve spent most of the last week in a daze, compounded of equal parts bafflement, fury, simple tiredness (I was up until 5am on referendum night and only slept a few hours) and most of all, sadness. Really, I was good for nothing for most of the week. It was all I could do to get my “keep calm and carry on” post written.
As the dust begins to settle, I think I’ve started to process my thoughts enough to at least understand why I feel so devastated. For my own benefit, if no-one else’s, I think it’s going to be helpful for me to separate out two quite distinct strands. I hope it’s of use to some others, too.
This time, I am going to look at the immediate consequences of the vote.
I’ve had a ton to say about the Brexit referendum, but I’ve been too depressed to write. I have a big half-finished draft that I may complete one day. But there is one thing that I think is important to say and I am saying it now. It’s this.
We’re hearing a lot of pious nonsense, even from Leave Campaigners, about how the People Have Spoken, and we have to respect the Result Of The Democratic Process, however little we like it.
I absolutely reject this premise out of the gate. We know that the voting was based on systematic lies. We know that the Leave campaigners are rewinding every promise they made. We know that many who voted Leave now wish they had voted Remain. We know that Nigel Farage said before the referendum that a 52-48 result would not be the end of the matter. What we have here is a snap opinion poll, not the democratic will of the British people. And there is nothing democratic about plunging blindly on into oblivion because of it.
It is the role and responsibility of every politician now to serve the country by doing whatever they can to prevent this car-crash. Democracy is not served by adhering to what amounts to a late-night drunken phone-call, in the teeth of all that is rational.
We don’t know what will happen in the wake of last night’s poll. But we can make a fair guess, based on what has happened so far in the ten or so hours since the result became inevitable. Dan Kennet sums it up in two tweets:
Nice work, Leavers. Enjoy your post-apocalyptic wasteland.
How should we respond? All I’ve got is this:
On the basis that it’s pretty much always good advice.
When you consult the people who have done serious research on what the results of a Brexit will be — politicians, civill servants, economists — they overwhelmingly say that the evidence points to it harming both Britain and the rest of Europe. They are not unanimous, but the majority is huge (Evidence below.)
What the Leave campaign has in response to this is Michael Gove’s line “We’ve had enough of experts”. So it comes down to this: for the 99% of us who don’t realistically know enough about economics or politics to have any idea what the result of Brexit would be, are we going to trust experts? Or someone who explicitly does not trust them?
Even if your heart says Leave, your brain should be telling you Remain.
The cleverest thing that the Leave campaign has done is to brand the Remain campaign with the name “Project Fear”. That’s clever not only because it makes Remain look weak, but because it shifts the focus away from the fact that the Leave campaign is itself completely built on fear.
So let’s address some of those fears:
We’ll be forced to join the Euro! No we won’t. I’m no fan of Margaret Thatcher, but the Tory government that she built successfully negotiated an opt-out in 1992. In fact, even if the UK wanted to join the Euro, it wouldn’t be able to until it met five convergence criteria. At present we only meet two of them.
We’ll be on the hook for bailout after bailout! No we won’t. I’m no fan of George Osborne, but he secured a standing agreement that the UK, not being part of the eurozone, has no obligation in the Greek bailouts, or any others that might happen in the future. Continue reading
I have had harsh words for David Cameron and for George Osborn on this blog. So why is it that now, in the Brexit debate, I find myself on the same side as both of them?
Simple: it’s all about money.
I favour policies that make poor people richer (if necessary by taking money away from rich people). That means I am nearly always opposed to Cameron and Osborne, who favour policies that make rich people richer (if necessary by taking money away from poor people).
But Brexit is a policy that will make everyone in Britain poorer — both rich and poor. (Don’t take my word for it: see what the Bank of England, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, the OECD and the World Bank say.)
So Cameron and Osborne oppose Brexit because it will make rich people poorer, and I oppose it because it will make poor people poorer.
Strange times make strange bedfellows.
I can’t be the only one who is not wholeheartedly delighted by the image of Boris Johnson taking control:
And yet Boris Johnson against David Cameron is one of those fights you wish both contestants could lose. Irrespective of an In or Out vote, the idea of either of these would-be presidents being emboldened by a victory sends a shiver down my spine. So in this issue of whether to leave Europe or to remain in it, it’s no use playing the man: we have to play the ball.