Friday, 16 November 2018

Paying the price of cowardice

They didn’t know.

They didn’t know how complicated it would be.

They didn’t know how intricately woven is the UK’s membership of the EU.

They didn’t know that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland might turn out to be a bit of a problem.

They didn’t know how divided their party was. Or how divided the country was.

Boris Johnson. David Davis. Michael Gove. Liam Fox. Jacob Rees-Mogg. None of them knew.

Or perhaps they did know, but they lied. They said Brexit would be easy-peasy. They promised a glorious future, as a proud, independent nation forged a new beginning, freed from the shackles imposed by pesky foreigners. In the words of Mr Fox, speaking just last year, agreeing a new trade deal with the EU would be ‘one of the easiest in human history.’

I am reminded of the Scottish preacher who is said to have told his parishioners the tale of the sinners who were cast into hell and then pleaded with the Lord to save them from eternal torment as they had not known what would be the price of their sinful behaviour.

‘Well,’ replied the good Lord. ‘Ye ken noo.’

In the case of Brexit, the sins were those of the Brexiters, but the torment is all ours. Their wilful blindness, born out of ideological zealotry, has led the UK to the precipice. I have no doubt that future historians will marvel at how two successive Conservative party leaders – first David Cameron and then Theresa May – sold their souls to the zealots.

I am no EU-fanatic. I have attended far too many EU summits to be blind to its shortcomings, the most serious of which has been the refusal of its leaders over many years to recognise that voters throughout Europe were increasingly unhappy at where the union was heading.

But its benefits still far outweigh its failings. Having just marked the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, and having remembered that the Second World War erupted barely twenty years later, how can anyone fail to give thanks for the more than seventy years of peace that Europe has enjoyed since 1945. The EU has played a major role in that achievement.

All nations think that they are special, and Britain is certainly no exception. We are an island nation, unbeaten in war, a former imperial power with a democracy, admittedly imperfect, that has stood the test of time.

But go it alone? In the age of globalisation, international organised crime, cyber-warfare, climate change? Seriously? Go it alone? Who do the zealots think they are kidding?

Their recklessness, their cavalier disregard for the truth, their nonchalant shrug that we may have to suffer what David Davis calls ‘a hiccup or two’ – what it all adds up to is a truly appalling abdication of responsibility for the well-being of the nation.

Believe me, I understand why so many people voted for Brexit. They have watched their towns slowly die, their incomes stagnate, their children’s life chances diminish. They have seen the Polish supermarkets take over from their local greengrocer and heard the builders on construction sites and the patients in their GPs’ waiting rooms speaking languages they don’t understand. They have heard their children complain that all the extra help in the classroom goes to their classmates who can’t speak English.

And when the ideologues and charlatans offered them a miracle cure – an extra £350 million a week for the NHS; an end to ‘uncontrolled’ immigration; no more laws ‘imposed’ by Brussels – well, why wouldn’t they jump at the chance?

Did anyone try to explain why the world has changed? Or how the EU has helped some of the UK’s poorest regions? Did anyone extol the virtues of international cooperation to counter the cacophony of xenophobes and nationalists?

The crisis which now confronts us is the result of the abject failure of an entire political class. (And yes, I include the Labour party, under a succession of leaders.) A failure to listen, and a failure to be honest. British voters were lied to, again and again and again, and now the liars are taking to the hills. In the words of David Aaronovitch of The Times: ‘The Raabs are deserting the sinking ship, a scurrying made additionally poignant by the fact that they are the ones who sank it.’ One by one, faced by the inconvenient reality of the world as it is, rather than as they would wish it to be, they adopt a look of injured innocence and head for the door marked Exit, not Brexit.

Remember Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit secretary because he didn’t like the deal that, in theory, he himself had negotiated? He admitted just a few days ago that he had been surprised to learn that Britain is what he chose to call a ‘peculiar geographic entity’, which is -- who would have thought it? -- particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing for its international trade. Gosh. Britain is an island. Who knew?
 It didn’t have to be like this. David Cameron didn’t have to bow to the demands of the Europhobes in UKIP and his own party – and Theresa May didn’t have to interpret the referendum result as a popular demand for the hardest Brexit imaginable. They each made a conscious political choice, and we are now paying the price of their political cowardice.
By the way, if you didn’t see my article in last Sunday’s Observer about becoming a German citizen, you can read it here.


Anonymous said...

Well put, Robin.

Looking up this well-paid bunch of our country's leaders there's only one with any business experience and that was in the sugar industry and over 40 years ago. Is it any wonder they have so little understanding of the work they're undertaking with such terrible results so far? Do they have any personal experience of the world that the rest of us live in?

Boris Johnson – work experience: journalist
David Davis – work experience: Tate & Lyle 17 years
Michael Gove – work experience: journalist
Liam Fox – work experience: GP
Jacob Rees-Mogg – work experience: investment banker
Dominic Raab - work experience: lawyer/solicitor
David Cameron – work experience: policital researcher
Theresa May – work experience: banking

John Medd said...

Eloquently put; nothing more to add. Apart from to say that the implications in store for us all when this unravels will be nothing short of horrific.

Tinkersdamn said...

Aww! Ya daerty 'Resa May,
Yer gi'in' Nigel's game away.
Ah! Ya daerty rawtun no good 'Resa May!

(Speculative? Yes. But possibly so?)

Pancha Chandra said...

(Pancha Chandra): Throughout Mrs May stuck to her script & was determined to deliver on her promises. Of course this was not easy as there were 'fair-weather friends/ colleagues' just waiting to ditch her! She faces an uphill task but seeing her resolve, she should come out of the whole exercise smelling of roses!

Anonymous said...

(Pancha Chandra): Theresa May has remained calm & cool despite all the clamour & calls for her resignation. Like Mrs Thatcher, she is brave & passionate. She is a safe pair of hands & does not succumb to threats. With her at the helm, the United Kingdom should prosper & BREXIT will happen. While the Labour Party is in the doldrums with poor leadership, Mrs May is forging ahead & is determined to give the country wise leadership.

Anonymous said...

(Pancha Changra) My late aunt used to have a saying that there are people who could run through a farmyard, trip and be sure to fall in a pile of rose petals. Theresa May could well be one of these - but the rest of us are surely going to be knee deep in the manure at the end of this.