Brex­i­teers are an­gry with re­al­ity

The Con­ser­va­tive MPs at war with Theresa May.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire -

What do English Con­ser­va­tives Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, Boris John­son and David Davis have in com­mon? These con­firmed eu­roscep­tics and fer­vent sup­port­ers of a hard Brexit, along with a small fac­tion of other Con­ser­va­tive MPs, are de­ter­mined to vote against the agree­ment pro­posed by the Prime Min­is­ter, Theresa May. A Bri­tish jour­nal­ist of­fers an of­ten hu­mor­ous ac­count of these “Brex­i­teers” who sup­port with­drawal without any trade agree­ment at all.

The Brex­i­teers have be­come the an­gry brigade of Bri­tish pol­i­tics. Boris John­son has ac­cused Theresa May of wrap­ping a sui­cide vest around Bri­tain. Ja­cob Rees-Mogg has ac­cused her of be­ing “cowed” by the Euro­pean Union. And sev­eral Tory MPs have used anony­mous brief­ings to sav­age her in the press. 2. The ob­vi­ous rea­son for this is that Brex­i­teers think that Mrs May is wreck­ing a project that has con­sumed much of their lives. They are fu­ri­ous that she botched the elec­tion of 2017 with a wooden cam­paign and a shoddy man­i­festo. This has weak­ened the gov­ern­ment’s hand in deal­ing not only with re­cal­ci­trant Re­main­ers but also with cun­ning Euro­peans who are de­ter­mined to ex­ploit any sign of Bri­tish weak­ness. They are equally cross that she is be­tray­ing what they con­sider to be the glo­ri­ous prin­ci­ples of Lan­caster House, the speech in which she laid down var­i­ous “red lines” about leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

THE RE­AL­ITY PRIN­CI­PLE

3. There is also a deeper rea­son why Brex­i­teers are so an­gry. Mrs May rep­re­sents the re­al­ity prin­ci­ple in a po­lit­i­cal world dom­i­nated by fan­tasy and wish-ful­fil­ment. She didn’t fluff last year’s elec­tion only be­cause of a wooden cam­paign and a botched man­i­festo. She also fluffed it be­cause a more or less equally di­vided na­tion was not will­ing to give her carte blanche to pur­sue a hard Brexit.

4. She didn’t blur the red lines of Lan­caster House just be­cause she was ma­nip­u­lated and de­ceived. She blurred them be­cause she is try­ing to avoid ter­ri­ble haz­ards such as a breakdown of trade with the EU or the im­po­si­tion of a hard bor­der in Ire­land. Brex­i­teers are Tories who are fu­ri­ous that re­al­ity has proved to be more stub­born than they imag­ined.

A BU­REAU­CRATIC EXERCISE

5. They be­lieved that leav­ing the Euro­pean Union would be a cake walk. Liam Fox pro­nounced that “the free-trade agree­ment that we will have to do with the EU should be one of the eas­i­est in hu­man his­tory.” In fact, leav­ing the EU is likely to be one of the hard­est bu­reau­cratic ex­er­cises in post-war his­tory. That is not just be­cause the EU is de­ter­mined to make it dif­fi­cult (though it is), but be­cause

un­rav­el­ling 45 years’ worth of trad­ing reg­u­la­tions is in­evitably com­pli­cated and time­con­sum­ing.

6. The Brex­i­teers be­lieved that Bri­tain would be able to have all the ben­e­fits of the sin­gle mar­ket while also strik­ing trade deals with the rest of the world—that “there will be no down­side to Brexit, only a con­sid­er­able up­side,” as David Davis said, or that Bri­tain would be able to have its cake and eat it, as Mr John­son pro­nounced in a phrase that should be carved on his tomb­stone.

A STRONG E.U.

7. But leav­ing the EU in­evitably in­volves dif­fi­cult trade-offs. Bri­tain has to choose be­tween main­tain­ing open ac­cess to the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket (which means com­ply­ing with its rules) or free­ing it­self to make in­de­pen­dent trade deals with the rest of the world (which means los­ing au­to­matic ac­cess to the EU’s mar­ket). It may yet have to make an even harder trade-off within its own bor­ders: treat­ing North­ern Ire­land dif­fer­ently from the rest of the UK, which would even­tu­ally tie the prov­ince more closely to the Repub­lic of Ire­land, or ac­cept­ing a soft Brexit.

8. The Brex­i­teers fur­ther be­lieved that the EU would prove to be a pushover. Dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, Michael Gove promised that “the day af­ter we vote to leave we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.” In fact, the EU not only has a lot more cards in its pack than Bri­tain—27 mem­ber states, in­clud­ing aces such as France and Germany. It also has more ex­pe­ri­ence, as a reg­u­la­tory su­per­power that is used to deal­ing with other su­per­pow­ers such as China and Amer­ica.

9. Some Brex­i­teers also thought that Bri­tain would be the prae­to­rian guard of a rev­o­lu­tion against an os­si­fied global or­der, rep­re­sented by Brus­sels. In fact, the EU has ar­guably been strength­ened rather than weak­ened by Bri­tain’s im­mi­nent de­par­ture, while pro-Euro­peanism has gone from be­ing an ex­otic taste in Bri­tain to a real force. And Bri­tain’s fel­low rebels against the old world or­der con­sist of such du­bi­ous fig­ures as Mat­teo Salvini and Don­ald Trump.

10. There is an el­e­ment of van­ity in this. Many Brex­i­teers spent decades in the wilder­ness, be­ing dis­missed as “swivel-eyed loons” by se­nior Tories. They thought that the ref­er­en­dum re­sult would fi­nally turn them into prophets and he­roes. But it is in­creas­ingly look­ing as if the es­tab­lish­ment types got it right. Prepa­ra­tions for a no-deal Brexit are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly omi­nous, as the gov­ern­ment pre­pares to char­ter con­tainer ships to im­port food and drugs, and turn a Kent mo­tor­way into a gi­ant lorry park. Mrs May is no one’s model of a per­fect prime min­is­ter. But it is to her credit that she has tried hard to grap­ple with a fiendishly dif­fi­cult prob­lem.

The Brex­i­teers fur­ther be­lieved that the EU would prove to be a pushover.

(James Mc­Cauley/REX/Shutterstock/SIPA) (SIPA) (Di­nen­dra Haria/REX/Shutterstock/SIPA)

Ja­cob Rees-Mogg. Boris John­son. Michael Gove.

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