So, I’ve been arguing on a talkboard about Brexit and Labour’s response to it. It’s of a piece with things that I’ve been posting on here so I’ve pulled my posts together into something approaching a coherent whole. Some paragraphs here are pretty obviously responses to other posters who I have no right to quote, so I’ve attempted to mould my answers a bit, but you can probably still see the joins. Sorry about that.
Here’s an important thing to remember, one that has been spelled out repeatedly to us by many, many unimpeachable sources. I’m going to put it in caps, and bold, so apologies in advance:
THERE CAN BE NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LABOUR AND A TORY BREXIT. THERE IS NO ACTUAL NEGOTIATION TO BE HAD. THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT WILL HAVE LITTLE TO NO SAY ON THE FINAL TERMS. LABOUR’S WIN CANNOT SOFTEN THE TORY POSITION BECAUSE THE TORY POSITION DOES NOT MATTER; A LABOUR GOVERNMENT COULD HAVE A DIFFERENT APPROACH AND DIFFERENT DESIRES, BUT NO CHANCE OF A DIFFERENT OUTCOME.
May was incredibly, astonishingly, and unintentionally, honest when she said “Brexit means Brexit.” It is what it is, and what it is will be determined by the EU, who will dispassionately and correctly determine that every single British person needs to be worse off as a result of this.
For myself, I vote labour, I’m still a member and I was overjoyed by how well we did. There’s a tribal thing there and I’m OK with that. But moreover, if we’re going to do this astonishing act of national self-harm, then the things I care about – NHS, education, social security – the forties welfare state, basically – will be much, much better off under a labour government than any other. The moral calculus remains the same, it’s merely the context against which those calculations need to be made that changes.
My fear, and I think I’m almost certainly right, is that however much of GDP a future, post-Brexit Labour govt. devotes to the NHS, the service that can be offered will still be worse than the one currently available under the most morally bankrupt government of my lifetime.
The remaining EU27 have a clear duty to make certain that the benefits of EU membership are restricted to EU members. As I said, there’s no substantive area for negotiation – terms will be dictated. Those terms will mean that we are economically disadvantaged in trade; that our personal savings are worth less whilst our personal debts increase; that we are socially, culturally and politically isolated; that we are militarily weakened; that our diplomatic international position is weakened; that we are less able to identify and defend against terrorist threats; that our individual rights of employment, representation and fair treatment are restricted; that our freedom of travel is restricted and so many other massive, life-limiting and unnecessary wounds that we’re likely to suffer that it’s practically impossible to lay them all out.
That isn’t hyperbole, by the way. It is genuinely impossible at this stage to list all of the ways in which Brexit will screw us. New wrinkles are being discovered every single day. Michel Barnier was only part joking when he said that it could conceivably take two years just to settle the issue of animal passports.
I will only say that if you can find an example of a people becoming less xenophobic as a result of being plunged further into penury then I’ll be astonished. Brexit is going to make us meaner and harder, more viscous and less open. People will be poorer, be more likely to be unemployed, be less likely to enjoy good education and healthcare and will be told (partially truthfully) that it’s because Europe demanded 100 billion euros as the price of our “freedom”. The UK is going to be a foul place for a very long time.
Also, there’s nothing exceptional about British xenophobia – it’s mirrored across Europe. Anywhere there is a history of privately owned press there is constant low level xenophobia, combating this is, in part, what the EU is for. There are many millions of French, Belgian, German readers of their DM equivalents and they don’t like FOM either. Their elected officials say to hell with ‘em, and they are right to. Time was ours did the same.
It isn’t that the EU is an all-encompassing force for good, or that no light shines outside of its borders. If we’d never joined, then we’d be fine. But we did, and we are inextricably linked to it in literally tens of thousands of ways.
Practically every law and social provision in the UK passed in the last 25 years has some level of EU involvement. We don’t farm, fish, make, destroy, buy or sell but that we do it in some way under an EU aegis. Things which the UK did perfectly well on its own before EU membership are now meshed in EU processes; and extricating the UK from these hundreds of treaties and organisations and accommodations will be the slow, expensive and painful work of many decades.
For example – it’s entirely possible that once we leave the EU we may find that, for a while at least, we can’t actually leave our island. Almost every flight path out of the UK crosses an EU country. There are issues to do with air traffic control, with airline licensing, safety certification, pilot licensing as well as the more obvious passport and customs issues. Nobody wants to see this happen, not the UK and not even the EU, but it might genuinely be unavoidable. It isn’t that the pilots will become unsafe overnight, or the planes suddenly become unserviced, but the agencies which licensed them and certified the services might wink out of existence at the point of Brexit. Non-EU countries can fly over EU countries, of course, they do it every day, but they’ve made arrangements to do so which we haven’t, and can’t until the point of Brexit, by which point it will be too late. This is one example, and an extreme and unlikely one, but there is no short cut to answer it, no way of making it go away by deal making and negotiation.
I believe Brexit to be an illiberal and nationalistic act entirely opposed to the principles of the British labour movement. It will, in both the long and short term, impoverish the British people in every way, and that impoverishment, as is always the case, will fall most heavily on those already suffering. That the labour party is not only not opposing it, but is actively manoeuvring towards its implementation wounds and upsets me deeply.
I’ll still vote for them.