The storm of Brexit has passed, to be followed by two reactions. From the leaver side, there is a desire to ‘move on’, for everyone to be friends again as long as they enthusiastically support their policies. This is unlikely to be successful. Remainers came to their views because they believed they remaining in the EU was the best choice for the prosperity and development of the UK. There are different views within those that voted to stay. On one wing, some people were exaggeratedly enthusiastic followers, praising the EU for preserving peace – no, that was NATO – or who feeling that all EU policies were beyond criticism, or believing that EU policy was made by the European Parliament, and so on. Most, I guess (and I include me) felt that, for all its faults, the EU offered the safest prospect for the future of the country. Because of this, on the Remainer side, there is a consequent expectation that Brexit will not turn out well. There are already indications of slower growth, or companies shifting plants and finding trade barriers to be, well, barriers.
This has created a sense of schadenfreude amongst us Remainers, a feeling that public opinion will turn against the Brexit decision as the adverse effects become ever more evident. The Leaver side are crowing at the moment that there are no lorry jams at Dover, no shortage of medicines or problems in the food chain, but we are in a transition period, and nothing has substantively changed, apart from Anne Widdicombe and Nigel Farage losing their pay as MEPs (the only consequence that is an unmistakeable plus). Just wait, we are told. Economic growth will stall, government receipts will slow, our overseas links will become fewer and more difficult. Michael Gove is already telling us that his assurances of friction free trade are not going to be secured. The day-to-day advantages of EU membership – cheaper mobile phones, light travel controls, common health entitlements, no pet passports and so on – will slip away. And when that happens, we are assured, the populace will realise they were conned and will rise against their oppressors.
Sadly, they won’t. Don’t get me wrong. The Brexiteers were not right. The country will be less prosperous than it would have been under EU membership, because of trade disruptions. Companies will move activity elsewhere, and invest less in the UK. This will lead to a reduction in the resources available for wages, or for government services. Money will be wasted in border bureaucracy. In addition, though less important in the bigger picture, the common inconveniences will be a pain. Attitudes to foreigners, to refugees and migrants will be sourer. The people returned to power by the 2019 election will take miserable decisions, like refusing child refugees.
My reservation is that the bad things will not be blamed on Brexit. First of all, because it is extremely difficult to attribute reductions in GDP growth to specific causes. Austerity is acknowledged by most economists to have reduced the nation’s living standards, but few lay people have noticed that their family is £1,000 a year worse off; what caused them to miss an annual rise, to lack a promotion opportunity ? And even if they had noticed, the idea that we had to put up with pain to pay for debt is still common. The link with slow growth and a family budget is hard to prove. We will be told that falling motor jobs are due to a world recession, or the decline in diesel cars. Governments are good at evading responsibility. Oldsters like me will recall when the trebling of unemployment from 1979-81 was due to world factors, not Thatcherism (though the later recovery was due to Thatcherism, not world factors)..
Secondly, bad things will be the fault of the wicked EU. Those assurances that we’ll be able to stay in the single market must be explained somehow. We are already being told that the EU is being needlessly restrictive in its negotiating stance. Why can’t we stay in the single market without obeying the rules of the single market ? Well, obdurate foreigners, that’s why. Dominic Raab has already told us that is the explanation. All the more reason to have nothing to do with them and their machinations. And, tell you what, it’s also the fault of the Remainers. If only they’d accepted Theresa May’s deal, none of this would be happening. Yes, that’s it, the problems found in leaving the EU are down to those who told us not to leave the EU.
So, as ever, the guilty will be exonerated and the innocent will be punished. ‘Twas ever, sadly, thus.