When Brexit happens, “the EU will no longer exist”. So said Nigel Farage to Michel Barnier, who was to become the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, a few days after the 2016 referendum.
Barnier revealed this recently at the end of an interview with the French journalist Marion van Renterghem, about which she writes in the current issue of the New European.
Farage could hardly have been more wrong, but it was typical of that mountebank and his Brexit gang. The Brexiters assured the innocents who were naive enough to believe them that dealing with our partners in the rest of the EU would be a cakewalk, and that during their negotiations about a post-Brexit “deal” the UK would be able to have that cake they were walking towards and eat it.
Yes, fantasists such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the dreaded “Eyetest” Cummings fooled people – possibly including themselves – that they could “take back control” while retaining all the advantages of the single market – the single market that was one of their heroine Margaret Thatcher’s proudest achievements.
But that was just convenient lying propaganda. As the impasse in the so-called Brexit “negotiations” demonstrates, if you renege on your referendum campaign promises and insist on leaving the customs union and the single market – hey presto, you lose the advantages of membership.
Throughout these fruitless talks, the Brexiters have complained about the “unreasonable” attitude of the rest of the EU. They somehow thought they would have formidable bargaining power even though, if you are resigning from a club, you are in a pathetically weak position about your future relationship.
As for those extreme Brexiters like Farage, who wanted the EU to break up, they have found that, on the contrary, the prospect of Brexit has brought the rest of the EU closer together. As Barnier said: “We need to stay together to defend our interests in the world, without shame. Neither the Chinese, nor the Russians, nor the Americans have shame when defending theirs.”
For Brexit is not only about a once-proud nation volunteering to suffer wholly needless and avoidable economic self-harm; it is also about weakening your country in a world where the geopolitical rivalry between the US, Russia and China is becoming ever more menacing. As Barnier says: “The single market is one of the rare reasons why President Trump and Xi Jinping respect us. It is an ecosystem that we have been building for 60 years – with the British.” (My italics.)
It follows that it is no surprise that the world leaders who are the main non-British cheerleaders for Brexit are, you have guessed it, Putin (especially), Trump and Xi. They are already trying hard enough to disrupt European power and unity. They can hardly believe their luck when the Brexiters – the enemy within – join in to help them. What was that phrase in Soviet times? Yes: useful idiots.
But back to the economy. It is a time for black humour. We find that, in the Brexit-voting area of Kent – Dover, Ashford and environs – they suddenly find that contingency plans for guaranteed lorry hold-ups in the event of the impending end-year Brexit, and guaranteed much bigger hold-ups in the event of a no-deal as well, are disrupting the local landscape so that parking space can be provided for held-up lorries.
I love the quote in the New York Times from Douglas Bannister, chief executive of the port of Dover: “I am very, very confident that there will be no disruption on January 1st, primarily because it’s a bank holiday. But January 2nd may be a different question.”
And this is being imposed on an economy that will still be struggling with the repercussions of lockdown and, God help us, the possibility of a second wave of the virus.
In which context, I am not sure that Chancellor Sunak is wise to talk up the need for tax increases when the economic recovery is far from well-based. Has he learned nothing from the folly of George “Austerity” Osborne’s clampdown on the fragile economic recovery he inherited from prime minister Brown and chancellor Darling in 2010?
And another thing: can Sunak really still be a Brexiter? Has he not been listening to those wise Treasury officials who know a disaster when they see one?