Notes From the Margins…

2019: The Reckoning

  • December 31, 2018
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Politically speaking 2018 was a dismal year, but I can’t help feeling that 2019 is going to be a lot worse.  In the UK we are now faced with a situation that was unprecedented – and until the 2016 referendum – unimaginable.  A minority Tory government, propped up by a heavily-bribed DUP, is using the threat of a no deal crash out in an attempt to blackmail parliament into supporting May’s Brexit deal – a deal that virtually everyone agrees is worse than staying in the EU.

Most economists agree that even the ‘softer’ version of Brexit will have negative economic consequences – not to mention more specifically damaging repercussions on the  NHS  , social care, food production and other sectors.

At present 3.4 million EU citizens who have just invited by the Home Office to ‘apply’ to obtain reduced rights than the ones they had when they came here.  The government now boasts of having stopped freedom of movement as its great achievement – even though it is actually reducing the rights of its own citizens in the process.

It is difficult to think of any British government that has behaved so badly towards its partners and neighbors, and which has willfully agreed to make its own citizens poorer, simply in order to keep itself in power.  But this is what May is doing, with the cackhanded cynicism that has characterises everything she does.  Millions of pounds are being spent on fridges to store medicines – something you would expect to find in a war.  The government has just contracted a company that has no ships, no experience of ferry transportation, to transport thousands of lorries into a port – Ramsgate – that does not have sufficient space to manage the numbers predicted.

Much of the world now gapes in horror and incomprehension at the startling downfall of a country with hundreds of years of diplomatic experience, with a civil service that prided itself on its professionalism & non-partisan expertise.  Neither the political class nor the public seems able to prevent one of the most gratuitous acts of national self-harm that any country has ever inflicted on itself.   Mesmerised by the principle of ‘respecting the referendum’ the two main political parties are approaching the end of the process to which they foolishly committed the country when they triggered Article 50, at a time when neither party had a plan or even knew what options were available.

It is no longer clear whether there is any good outcome that can be extracted from this astonishing debacle, or whether our political class has the will or the ability to avoid the worst possible outcome.  Labour continues to believe that it can unite the country through an election, though there is nothing to suggest that it has any such ability.  Brexit zealots yearn for no deal with a fervor that would be more fitting in religious martyrs – fine for them but what about the rest of us?

Even government ministers tell us that we can now be like Singapore or build military bases all around the world, or else they rush back from safari holidays to Dover to strike Churchillian poses in the face of our migrant ‘invasion.’

As Bob Dylan once sang, there must be some way out of here, but it’s difficult to see what it is.  A second referendum might be a solution, and there are good arguments for having one.  It is quite clear 2.5 years after the referendum that many people on both sides did not understand what the consequences of leaving would be.  Both the government and the opposition continue to ignore the role of dark money in tilting the referendum result – even if the result cannot be attributed solely to this kind of manipulation.

It’s also painfully obvious that the political class cannot find a solution that will even live up to the basic expectations of Brexit – that we would be better off out than in.  Given the magnitude and the complexity of the changes that are now looming,  it is perfectly democratic – and indeed it should be common sense – to allow the public to revisit that original decision in the light of what we now know and what is actually on offer.

Opponents of a second vote argue that it would divide the country still further, that it would be brutal and vicious.  They may be right, but it will be brutal and vicious if we continue as we are, and the viciousness is likely to last for decades, as Brexiters and disaster capitalists asset strip a diminished, weakened and divided country, and millions of people discover that the EU was not the cause of their problems, and that leaving it has made them worse.

The Brexit zealots won’t take a second referendum well.  If there is one, they will use the same dark tricks that they used last time.   A referendum may not produce the result that Remainers want.  Some polls suggest that the momentum has shifted towards Remain, but others suggest that both sides remain largely entrenched in the same positions.

So Remain could lose a second vote.   It may even be, as Der Speigel has just suggested, that we aren’t ready to be part of a transnational network like the European Union. Yet despite all these reservations,  it seems to me legitimate and essential to test the public mood once again.

However, time is running out, and there are politicians who know this perfectly well.  If we can’t find a way to turn this round, in 90 days time we are going to see what happens when paranoia and puffed-up delusions of national grandeur collide with the real world.  And I can’t help feeling that it will be painful and ugly, and that many many people – including some of those who now want this outcome – will come to regret that it ever happened.

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1 Comment

  1. Nigel Baldwin

    1st Jan 2019 - 10:40 am

    I remember the historian Norman Stone, who way back in 1986 described the UK as “…the last of the ancien regimes”. We got used to thinking that coups, revolutions and the like happened to other nations, not here.

    As with the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns etc., we are soon to be brought face to face with our illusions. Regimes that don’t change or adapt to change have a tendency not to survive.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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