Brexiteers are angry with reality
Au Royaume-Uni, les partisans d’un Brexit dur en guerre contre Theresa May.
Qu’ont en commun les députés conservateurs britanniques Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson et David Davis ? Ces eurosceptiques convaincus sont partisans d’un Brexit dur et sont bien décidés, avec une petite faction d’élus conservateurs, à faire échouer le projet porté par leur premier ministre Theresa May... Un journaliste britannique nous présente, non sans humour, ces « Brexiters » qui défendent un Brexit sans accord commercial.
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.
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Boris Johnson. Michael Gove.