BON­NIE GREER

The New European - - Expertise -

The draft With­drawal Agree­ment

Theresa May brought back from Brus­sels should trou­ble us all. It does two things: it re­veals some­thing lurk­ing in the shad­ows of Brexit – a deep, trou­bling and dan­ger­ous ir­ra­tional­ity; and it is also the supreme ex­am­ple of the Dun­ning-kruger ef­fect.

First, the ir­ra­tional: The last Brexit sec­re­tary, Do­minic Raab, re­signed as a re­sult of the Agree­ment. We would be cor­rect, be­cause of his of­fice, in as­sum­ing that he had ne­go­ti­ated it. If he had not been a party to the ne­go­ti­a­tions, who was? And why had he re­acted as if he had seen it at ap­prox­i­mately the same mo­ment as the gen­eral pub­lic?

A few days af­ter his res­ig­na­tion, he sent this tweet to Jeremy Cor­byn, in re­sponse to a re­mark the Labour leader had made mock­ing him: “Dear @jeremy cor­byn Good joke. Would you like to de­bate me on Brexit? Name your date,

I’m sure we can find a venue. I’ll un­der­stand if you’re too busy de­bat­ing whether a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum is Labour pol­icy with @Keir_s­tarmer Best wishes, Dom Raab #con­vic­tion­pol­i­tics.”

The na­tion is at the most sig­nif­i­cant junc­ture since Suez and yet we have no space nor time nor in­cli­na­tion to ask what this chal­lenge from the for­mer Brexit sec­re­tary to the leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Op­po­si­tion means? And why?

We brush it off; ig­nore it as just another episode in a litany of mad­ness.

The peo­ple I know who voted Leave, many of them fierce and pub­lic ad­vo­cates, have told me that they would rather stay in the EU, that they in­sist on stay­ing in the EU, rather than ac­cept Theresa May’s deal. None of them say this with any kind of fer­vour, not even res­ig­na­tion, but with a kind of men­ace, a hint of a threat in their voice.

I think that this is be­cause they are not only ex­hausted by it all but see some­thing in­evitable and aw­ful ahead. And some­thing shame­ful, too. Shame, for them, is the worse of­fence. Which is per­haps why the prime min­is­ter brought the ab­surd piece of pa­per back, why she is de­fend­ing it on the air­waves and up and down the land. She wants her en­e­mies to be ashamed be­fore she leaves. Maybe for us all to be ashamed.

But it was her party, un­der her pre­de­ces­sor, David Cameron, who ap­proved the Tory man­i­festo of 2015 which stated on page 30: “We will ne­go­ti­ate new rules with the EU... We will then put these changes to the

Bri­tish peo­ple in a straight in-out ref­er­en­dum on our mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union by the end of

2017.”

Noth­ing in this im­plies dif­fi­culty.

Any cit­i­zen would be right to as­sume that the Con­ser­va­tives knew what they were talk­ing about. Ev­ery MP has a duty of care, the obli­ga­tion to do no harm to their con­stituents or the na­tion.

The Con­ser­va­tives won and had to de­liver. As the gov­ern­ment’s leaflet sup­port­ing the man­i­festo prom­ise put it: “The ref­er­en­dum on Thurs­day, 23rd June is your chance to de­cide if we should re­main in or leave the Euro­pean Union. The gov­ern­ment be­lieves it is in the best in­ter­ests of the UK to re­main in the EU. This is the way to pro­tect jobs, pro­vide se­cu­rity, and strengthen the UK’S econ­omy for ev­ery fam­ily in this coun­try – a clear path into the fu­ture, in con­trast to the un­cer­tainty of leav­ing. This is your de­ci­sion. The gov­ern­ment will im­ple­ment what you de­cide.”

But the le­gal fact turned out to be that the gov­ern­ment could not “im­ple­ment what you de­cide” be­cause to do so in­volved Acts of Par­lia­ment, which only par­lia­ment it­self could re­peal. This is where the Dun­ning-kruger ef­fect en­ters the frame

This phe­nom­e­non, which of­ten af­fects peo­ple in up­per man­age­ment, was named by Amer­i­can so­cial psy­chol­o­gists David Dun­ning of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and Justin Kruger of New York Univer­sity in 1999. It de­scribes the hu­man propen­sity for self-delu­sion.

We hu­mans, the psy­chol­o­gists be­lieve, of­ten over­es­ti­mate our abil­i­ties. They state that this of­ten re­sults in “il­lu­sory su­pe­ri­or­ity” that makes “in­com­pe­tent peo­ple think they’re amaz­ing”.

This of­ten cre­ates in­com­pe­tence at the top. This is how Dun­ning-kruger af­fects us all. Be­cause when peo­ple rate them­selves higher than they are, they tend to be pro­moted up the food chain. If they are over-pub­li­cised, these ex­am­ples of Dun­ning-kruger can fos­ter il­lu­sions of ex­per­tise, of power; of even the in­evitable.

Since we all, as Dun­ning and Kruger be­lieve, lack the skills at know­ing how in­com­pe­tent we ac­tu­ally are, we tend to be at­tracted to those who dis­play an ar­ro­gant self-im­por­tance. This is hu­man. Those who are com­pe­tent, who know what they are do­ing and talk­ing about, tend to play this abil­ity down. That leaves us, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gists, with a lack of un­der­stand­ing of what com­pe­tence is. This leads us to at­tach ex­ple­tives like ‘elites’ and ‘ex­perts’ to peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge. Again, this is hu­man.

But Dun­ning-kruger im­plies that we may be in the midst of an epi­demic of in­com­pe­tence.

The jour­nal­ist Max Hast­ings re­cently de­scribed the lead­ing Brex­iters as “fail­ures in of­fice, ad­ven­tur­ers, odd­balls, or all three”. Pic­ture the scene re­cently of back­bencher Ja­cob Rees-mogg hold­ing a press throng at bay as he pon­tif­i­cated on the com­ing demise of the prime min­is­ter. He stood like a kind of male Cas­san­dra, warn­ing all in his sten­to­rian tones that this would shortly hap­pen.

The na­tion waited.

Con­sider Liam Fox, the trade sec­re­tary, as­sur­ing one and all that Brexit would mean trade deals aplenty. As of this writ­ing, none have ap­peared; Boris John­son, who it could ar­guably be said helped in­vent the pic­ture of ‘Bendy Ba­nana Brus­sels’ while a jour­nal­ist, has promised all man­ner of things. That we no longer wait for his threats and prom­ises to ma­te­ri­alise is an in­di­ca­tion of the malaise this ab­surd ad­ven­ture may be cre­at­ing.

The With­drawal Agree­ment be­comes the sym­bol of where we are: adrift; rud­der­less. It is time to ask the peo­ple. Check in. As a mat­ter of ur­gency.

Photo: Getty Im­ages

AB­SURD AD­VEN­TURE: Clock­wise from top left, Boris John­son, Ja­cob Rees-mogg, Do­minic Raab, Liam Fox

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.