Seeing the Daily Mail taking great pleasure in being smug and self-satisfied is never a good sign, and this week’s calamitous events have given it even more to gloat about than usual. When they weren’t leering over the legs of two of the most powerful women in the UK, they were drooling over Theresa May’s triggering of the now infamous Article 50, the notification to the European Union that we are leaving.
Brexit, in short, was a terrible idea. Among the big players in the campaigns, the left vs right split was not evident during the campaigns; there were pro-Brexit lefties and pro-EU right-wingers. But, after the vote, the ideological split began to fall more into a straight, central line: generally speaking, left wingers were against Brexit (not that you could tell, given the Article 50 parliamentary votes under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership) and those on the right have been jolly well looking forward to this great day, when we show Johnny Foreigner that we will be perfectly fine on our own, thank you very much. A tiny, irrelevant island trying to find its way without being part of a coalition of powerful allies.
As Emma Clarke put it, “On 23rd June 2016 we were asked a ludicrously banal binary question. To leave the EU or stay in it? Two boxes, one tick. There was no manifesto. The two scenarios were not fully explained. We, the electorate, were told nothing about what would happen if we opted to leave.”
We are stepping out into the void, with no promises being kept or even acknowledged. We are leaving the EU and nobody knows how that will turn out.
In the UK
Meanwhile, the UK itself is fragmenting. Scotland — which overall voted to stay in the EU — is seeking a second referendum to vote on becoming independent from the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland — which also voted to stay — is without a functioning government since the death of its deputy, Martin McGuinness. It is England and Wales that voted to leave the European Union, and we may find ourselves doing so on our own.
We still do not know what Brexit will actually look like. Whether EU citizens already living here will be able to stay, and whether Brits living abroad will be able to stay where they are are up for discussion, as are our trade deals and other free movement issues.
Using people’s lives and economic futures as bargaining chips to get as good a deal as possible is harsh and cruel, and EU migrants leaving the UK could be an absolute disaster for the country.
Dean Hochlaf, Assistant Economist at ILC-UK said: “A mass exodus of EU migrants would have devastating ramifications for the UK economy. Growth would slow, tax revenue would slump, the uncertainty would deter investment from abroad which the UK desperately needs. It would no doubt sour the upcoming negotiations and leave the UK struggling to get an adequate deal with its largest trading partner.
“The truth is EU citizens are too valuable to be used as negotiating weapons. Such a strategy relies on a bluff, that they can be sacrificed if the EU was to make life difficult for UK citizens abroad. If this bluff was to be called, then it will be the ageing population of the UK that suffers.”
The NHS and social care are both areas of work where EU citizens are an absolute godsend. If they were required to leave, both institutions would quickly collapse (which may not be a concern of the privileged Conservatives, but the rest of us recognise their importance, especially for disabled children and adults).
The role of Theresa May
It seems like a long time ago, but Theresa May actually campaigned to remain in the EU. There is no indication of her previous views in the way she has acted since becoming Prime Minister, as she has led us into the ‘hardest’ Brexit she could conceive. Leaving the European single market is an absolute disaster, but it is where she has taken us to appease those of her colleagues who are most vehemently anti-Europe. In time, the catastrophe this represents will be very visible.
As Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, said, “Basically she has morphed what was a small majority in favour of leaving the EU into what she would say is an overwhelming mandate for the most extreme kind of Brexit imaginable, where you’re out of the single market, out of the customs union, where there’s no free movement, where social and environmental protections are at risk, and it’s almost like the government is having a competition amongst themselves about who can envisage the most macho way of leaving the EU, with many of her backbenchers now saying as well that they want to have no trade agreement with the EU at all”.
Lucas supports a second referendum on the kind of Brexit we want, a position I have sympathy for. Because even the vast majority of Leave voters didn’t envisage this calamity.
Photo: Ed Everett/Creative Commons