‘Brexit means…?’: How did we come to this and what now?

‘Brexit means Brexit’ (or is it breakfast?). I cannot remember a world where Brexit hasn’t meant Brexit. Maybe we’ve always been leaving the European Union, left in a perpetual state of limbo, constantly preparing to leave, but not knowing when, how, what, where, why…We are occupying the space between Europe and, well, whatever isn’t Europe.

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Usually, a few questions tend to dominate our thoughts on a day-to-day basis; ‘what is the meaning of life?’, ‘who shot J.R.?’ and ‘does everyone know Moussa Saïb’s name?’. However, in recent times, many of us have wondered, what does Brexit REALLY mean? True, I am no expert, admittedly an overwhelming qualification to work on the ‘Leave’ campaign, but surely Brexit must mean something other than Brexit? If not, aren’t we left in a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario? Yes, everyone is very clear about what Brexit means but are equally totally oblivious as to what the next move actually is; a checkmate accidentally manufactured by severe idiocy rather than wilful intent.

How have we come to this? How have we come to a situation where nobody apart from a bunch of football game developers have not even thought about the possible scenarios of leaving the European Union? I do the makers of Football Manager a huge disservice. It is, without doubt, the greatest gift that anyone has bestowed on the human race.

The answer is a relatively simple one. There is still not a plan, nor has there ever been one; you only need to look at the faces of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove post-victory to know that. This wasn’t the plan, they weren’t supposed to win, nor did they ever want/expect to.

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The reason Theresa May hasn’t set out her agenda or priorities for the coming negotiations? Because she simply does not know what they are. She and the others that form her Brexit team knows the economic benefits of the freedom of movement. They know that foreign workers effectively prop up a variety of British industries and sectors, not least the NHS. They know that leaving the single market could be disastrous for our country, know that the shockwaves could last indefinitely and deeply, impacting on jobs, the currency and our standing on the global scale.

The reason that the ‘Brexiteers’ and sections of the media are trying to shut down debate, protesting furiously about the ‘Remoaners’ and the will of the British people (well 52% of 72% of them)? Because they know they have been found out with their lies exposed, that there was no thought about how they actually would deliver ‘Brexit’ and yes, what ‘Brexit’ really means. There will be no £350 millions pounds for the NHS, the money we would ‘save’ from exiting the E.U. will be swallowed up by the immense costs of exiting the E.U. and, apparently, taking back control of Parliamentary sovereignty is purely subjective. Probably best not to mention Boris Johnson’s revolving door policy on Turkey’s E.U. membership.

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The backward looking, idealistic utopia of the ‘Leave’ campaign ended on the same day they won the referendum, but this superficial vision of what Britain could look like, should never have been allowed to look like a potential reality.

1). The Leave campaign was a total mess, with bitter infighting and, until relatively late in the day, a total lack of direction.

2). In Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith you had two of the most universally disliked politicians in recent times and surely you could not trust the ramblings of Johnson and Nigel Farage, the most nauseating double act since ‘The Krankies’?

3). It was based on farcical notions devoid of reality and quickly unravelled at the faintest of scratching beneath the surface.

The problem was that, in response, the ‘Remain’ side didn’t do too much better.

1). Will Straw, the Executive Director for the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign, was a Labour man, as were a large amount of the backroom staff. However, the group was publicly seen as a Conservative-led campaign, a problem exacerbated by the Labour leadership’s reluctance to campaign alongside Cameron and co. after being burned by the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum. The resultant was a disjointed campaign and mixed messaging and created uncertainty about Labour’s In/Out position. Yes, 70% of Labour voters backing Remain seems an impressive conversation rate on the surface, but, had there been a more pro-European stance, with less caveats, this figure could’ve been higher and ultimately swung the election towards ‘Remain’.

2). Yes, Johnson and Farage were often unhelpful to say the least, but they slotted into the narrative that the ‘Leave’ campaign was anti-Westminster, anti-establishment, anti-elite, quite a feat for a former Etonian and an ex-City Trader. They were no doubt helped by supportive campaigns from the famously radical, revolutionary, new-age champions in sections of the media which were not hyperbolic, inflammatory or misleading in the slightest.

3). The ‘Leave’ campaign’s facts and figures may have been fanciful and naive at best, or at worst, deliberate and calculated lies, but they were memorable, easy to understand and, unbelievably, offered a version of positivity. In comparison, ‘Remain’ struggled to get any snappy soundbites to stick, were often undermined by reasonably complex economic outcomes and was overwhelmingly negative in their outlook. People grew tired of the bleak picture, inherently distrusting the Westminster elite and their ‘friends’, the experts in business, economics and diplomacy. In his book ‘Unleashing Demons’, Craig Oliver recalls ‘Remain’s’ campaign pollster summing up, ‘we struggled to communicate a complex truth in the face of simple lies.’. I don’t agree wholly with this assessment, the ‘complex truths’ should’ve been made more accessible and more positive, but, irrespective of the validity, the ‘Leave’ side simply made their arguments, well, simpler.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that the Referendum was won or lost in the weeks or even the months preceding June 23rd. In fact, the first indicators of the trouble that lay ahead are highlighted by Alastair Campbell in his latest diaries.

Speaking to the Guardian, he says;

“We were more and more aware of the problem politically but there was always a tension between knowing that the economy and public services needed immigration but knowing the issue was causing real concerns. I think the fact that we won two elections in 2001 and 2005 despite the Tories campaigning on immigration may also have made us complacent. Just as in Scotland people started to feel Labour support was taken for granted so in areas of high immigration I think some Labour voters started to feel the same.

“I think deep down we always felt despite the difficulties we would be able to persuade people of the benefits of immigration and the benefits of the EU. We did to a large extent but where we are now, on both issues, suggests that we did not cement the political views we were putting forward.”

In an extract from the diaries, Campell raises the warnings of Philip Gould, New Labour’s pollster, back in 2004;

“PG was worried we had three groups of people we were losing [including]…working-class voters switching to disengagement because of asylum and immigration in particular, and the feeling they are getting a raw deal.

“Asylum was definitely linking up all our negatives now, from anything bad on the economy to crime, pressure on public services, terrorism, Europe. There was an opening for populism that we had to watch out for.”

It is clear that these warnings were not heeded. Working class areas like Sunderland, Middlesborough and Great Yarmouth all had big ‘Leave’ votes and this reflects badly on the Labour Party, perhaps more so than the Conservatives.

However, whilst Labour can be accused of not doing enough to combat this growing dissatisfaction surrounding the issue of immigration, it is clear that David Cameron and the Conservatives seized on this dissatisfaction by seeking to exacerracistvansbate growing divides in communities, creating a scapegoat as the reason for growing inequalities and heightening peoples fears. Encouraged by the Mail, Express and Telegraph, and in an attempt to sooth the right-wingers and curb rising UKIP influence, Cameron regularly placed immigration at the centre of UK politics. From his ‘No ifs. No buts.‘ promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, to his ‘racist vans’, to his description of refugees as a ‘swarm‘, it is clear that Cameron thought that by denigrating, dehumanising people and by blurring the lines between a working migrant and a refugee, he could gain political capital and wriggle out of the increasing pressures around him.

In reality, Cameron fell victim to a problem that he helped manifest and grow in the belief that it would work to his political benefit. Ultimately, it was the making of his downfall as he was a key architect in the climate that has been cultivated in Britain over the past half a decade, a climate that was a large contributing factor in this country exiting the E.U.

It is fair to suggest that the first sparks of dissatisfaction towards immigration were left unattended under New Labour and that, under David Cameron’s premiership, these sparks were stoked and inflamed for short-term political gain. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives really got to grips with the issue of immigration at the last General Election nor were truly successful in limiting UKIP’s influence on UK politics, as short-lived it may have been. Ironically, the thing that looks most likely to destroy UKIP, is the very thing that has been their raison d’être since their formation; to leave to European Union.

So what now? The country is as divided as it ever has been in my lifetime, with the Brexit vote, far from quelling and bridging the divides that have grown over the last decade, acting as a catalyst for renewed friction between many communities. Hate crime has risen sharply and many are made to feel less British because of their race or religion. I do not recognise this Britain and if this is what ‘taking back control’ looks like then I want no part of it.

The chief proponents of Brexit, UKIP, have endeavoured to self-destruct in an epic performance as they try to work out whether there is any remaining point to their existence. The Lib Dems have been presumably asking themselves the same question for over a year now, whilst the SNP are not-so-secretly delighted that they have another shot at independence, despite the polls stubbornly staying exactly where they are post Brexit. It is no secret that Jeremy Corbyn was lukewarm at best towards the ‘In’ campaign and looks delighted he can pass on the job of ‘opposition’ to Sir Keir Starmer. A new era has begun for the Conservative Party but it feels like Theresa May has been in charge forever, such has been the ferocious gouging out of Messrs Cameron and Osborne from the Conservative history books. People tell me she was officially ‘In’ but she looks like a Brexiteer, sounds like a Brexiteer and seems pretty delighted that we are leaving.

May’s proposed triggering of Article 50 seems to underline her preference for a ‘Grant Mitchell ‘ard’ Brexit as a March 2017 date is conveniently placed right before the French and German elections. Even if the French and the Germans want to negotiate with us in the midst of their election campaigns, which they won’t, we could very well be starting negotiations all over again with completely different leaders by 2018, realistically leaving us with only one year to start, thrash out and complete the terms of our withdrawal. That is presuming the Europeans even want to do a deal with us.

Europe: ‘So you want to leave but retain some rights to our club? We guess it would be reciprocal and there could be benefits for both sides so what do you propose?’.

Britain represented by Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis: [huddles round the back of a fag packet] ‘Yep. So basically we want to eradicate free movement apart from all your brightest and your best who we need to fill in the gaps in the work force.’

Europe: [raises eyebrow] ‘Right…’

Britain represented by Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis: [emboldened by the absence of a flat ‘no’] ‘We also want to ensure we have no tariffs when we sell our goods to you. Oh, but we must insist that we will not be affected if China continues to dump cheap steel on you guys.’

Europe: [rolls eyes] ‘Anything else? What about our shared laws?’

Boris Johnson: [ruffling of hair, mumbling] ‘Oh, yes we need them all back. Sovereignty. British Empire. Whiff Waff’

David Davis: [whispering to Liam Fox] ‘Liam, do you know any?’

Liam Fox: [shrugging] ‘I thought that was Andrea Leadsom’s bag?’

Europe: [blows out cheeks] ‘OK, well I think to deliver all this is a pretty tall order but we are willing to work hard to accommodate as many as your proposals as possible.’

Britain represented by Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis: ‘Another thing before we forget. We won’t be paying a single penny for all of this.’

Europe: ‘No.’ [gets up, making a variety of hand gestures on their way out]

So, what does Brexit mean? The truth is we simply don’t know and probably still won’t know until 2018. Until then, the pound will continue to be weak, inflation will likely rise and the Bank of England will have to decide whether to raise interest rates to combat this, in the knowledge that growth in the economy is not robust enough to withstand it. Inward investment will stagnate and foreign businesses may look elsewhere for a safer bet to expand. All the while, divides within our society will continue to grow and Britain will increasingly become an unwelcoming country to many. Our international standing will be diminished both economically and diplomatically and we will becoming a peripheral player on the world stage. I agree that this is classic scaremongering from a ‘Remoaner’; it is also reality.

Yes, our economy will one day recover, but when, by how much and what will the damage be in the meantime? Yes, our trade with the rest of the world could be liberated and enhanced, but Obama is right when he says we will be back of the queue; why would we suddenly leap ahead of the rest of Europe, or be a more appealing than an emerging markets such as India or Mexico? Changes to the immigration system could bring highly skilled workers from all over the world, but why would you come when you know attitudes have hardened towards ‘non-British’ workers? We are a key ally of the U.S.A. and a major influence in Europe; are you telling me these bonds will be enhanced and not weaken by turning inwards?

Frankly, I do not trust that Theresa May and the three Brexiteers will come come back with a deal that is progressive, economically robust and encompasses the values which I believe makes Britain great. The brutal reality is that, for a year at least, we will have to suck up the challenges that are created by the mass uncertainty of an undefined, ill-conceived and arbitrary Brexit.

In the meantime, if you want a spoiler to find out how it might all turn out? Play Football Manager. Out 4th November.

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