Over the Cliff We Go

Brexit talk has been in full swing again this month, and it’s been hard to keep up with the fast-moving indecision surrounding such a dynamic, intractably stalled process. I’ve posted a couple of thoughts to Mefi in recent weeks, excerpted below, and have been collecting links...

The employers exploiting confusion over Brexit.

13,000 Twitter bots pumped out pro-Brexit messages in the run-up to the referendum. The key to Brexit's bots.

Brexit is bringing humiliation to Britain, and there is much more of it to come.

Something has got to give. But what? And when?

It’s already too late.

Over the cliff we go. Theresa May tells Parliament that a deal has to be in place before any transition period, which in effect means it needs to be done by next March.

Economics is now going faster than politics.

Brexit ultras are distracting us from the harsh realities facing the UK.

Ian Dunt: No-deal is political disaster porn for Brexit extremists. There is no such thing as transition. David Davis’s talk of no-deal is a bluff.

It’s a bit late now, but here’s a handy guide to Euromyths. Also enlightening: an engineer on EU standards.


The supranational bureaucracy of the EU might be preparing itself for a future without the UK, but the EU27 countries themselves would respond quite differently if there were a sudden about-face, as Macron’s comments about leaving the door open indicated. The governments of those countries have different perspectives on the realities of domestic politics than the EU bureaucracy, and most would have their own domestic reasons for preferring the status quo to a cliff-edge Brexit. At the very least, it spares them from having to decide how to deal with their resident UK citizens and their own citizens stranded in the UK. In most cases there will be economic incentives for preferring the status quo, such as substantial local industries that will suffer if the UK goes over the cliff. None of those industries will be as significant to their economies as the loss of all EU trade will be to the UK, but they would still matter to them domestically. The UK’s nearest neighbours have even stronger domestic incentives to prefer the status quo, and presumably would lobby the rest of the EU27 to let the UK stay. Attaining unanimous assent might not be as hard as it sounds.

And if assent isn’t unanimous... the realpolitik of the situation would be such that it’s hard to imagine how Britain would not remain in the EU if we withdrew our Article 50 notification. Even if a few of the EU27 objected, how would they press their case? “We insist on kicking the UK out, even though they’ve changed their mind, and even though it will do damage to millions of EU citizens, just to prove a point”? Every EU country has an interest in maintaining some flexibility in the EU system, just in case they ever need to draw on it.

If anyone in the EU27 wants to punish the UK for narrowly voting the wrong way, they’re too late: we punished ourselves first by doing it and derailing eight years of post-2008 economic recovery. That’s also the answer, surely, to anyone banging on about “accepting the result of the referendum”. Here’s your referendum result: the pound is screwed, we’ve lost a year’s worth of foreign investment, we’re losing some of our EU and financial headquarters whatever happens, 3 million UK residents will never trust us again, nearly 2 million people in Northern Ireland are wondering if the Troubles will kick off again, and Britain has lost a significant amount of its global influence. Your Leave vote has given you all of that, even if it hasn’t given you what you thought you were voting for—and what could be more democratic than not getting what you thought you were voting for?

We’ve spent the best part of two years on this horrendous exercise, which is surely sufficient monopolisation of national politics by a single cause supported by 37% of the UK electorate. And if half of us who actually live in the UK feel that way, how much more must the rest of Europe be keen to draw a line under the whole business and move on? Most of them learnt their lessons about demanding reparations a century ago.


This, by Maria Farrell of Crooked Timber, is brilliant:

By reducing the British state's relationship with the three million EU citizens who live here to a single cost-benefit analysis (calculated with striking actuarial incompetence), the UK has made the mistake so many employers make when they put the bean-counters in charge. They have failed to account for the value of good will. ... Many immigrants who had felt loyalty, affection and feelings of grateful belonging are now emotionally working to rule.

I’m a Commonwealth immigrant of British ancestry who’s been a dual UK citizen for a decade: on paper, the “right” sort of immigrant that the UKIP brigade might deign to allow here. But my sympathies are with fellow immigrants of all stripes, all races, EU and non-EU, recent arrivals or long ago, naturalised citizens or with Indefinite Leave to Remain or stuck in visa hell: nearly 9 million of the 66 million people in the UK, one in eight of the people wandering its streets, and that’s not counting their first-generation British offspring. You don’t gain support for your Brexit project by telling any of us we’re “one of the good ones”. That’s how you lose it.

28 October 2017 · Politics