I’m writing this week’s piece because I read, open-mouthed, someone on my Facebook feed write ‘people who voted remain in the EU referendum should get over it and accept democracy’. That echo chamber that I wrote about last week isn’t so totalising after all, it seems. There’s plenty of arguments in the news about why it was in many ways a false democracy actually, because many of the 52% who voted for Brexit were sold mistruths by the Leave campaign, but for that I’ll direct you to the Polly Toynbee article I’m still thinking about, and this excellent list of EU myths debunked by Labour MEP Richard Corbett.
Instead, in the spirit of fairness, I’m going to contextualise Brexit, a fortnight on, as a simple list of 10 outcomes to establish what in my opinion is a worrying scenario with help from the newspapers. Far from needing to ‘get over it’, I think it’s important to learn about and share with our networks the economic and political impacts of Brexit, so we can see how significant the referendum will prove to be. Struggling for optimism, I promise to include both challenges and benefits.
1.David Cameron pledged to run a referendum on EU membership so he would be re-elected, and having lost to ‘Leave’ in a slim 48-52% result, promptly resigned with no Brexit plan in place. Boris Johnson, vocal Brexiter (but only since February of this year, as a way of boosting his own profile) then resigned his own Tory leadership bid. Then Nigel Farage, loudest leave campaigner of all, resigned as MP this week. It’s beyond a farce. Here’s Chris Brosnahan’s excellent précis:
Oh and also, Tory MP Oliver Letwin who was left in charge of managing Brexit, hasn’t done anything – even the Daily Mail admit it. The only good thing about his incompetence is Marina Hyde’s acid write-up.
2. As Graham Hiscott points out, despite talk of a sterling bounce-back, the FTSE 250 has now lost £31.6 billion since Brexit, just two weeks ago. Having bailed out RBS to make it part state-owned, the government stake in RBS has lost £8.2 billion. That’s literally our collective money, our loss. Further, George Osborne’s miserable austerity project to balance the UK books by 2020 is now scrapped because we will come up short either way. The pound may hit the dreaded £1-$1 exchange if politicians don’t come up with a better plan. The UK has also been downgraded from our AAA credit rating.
3. Incidents of reported hate crime rose 57% nationally post-Brexit, and a new update by the Evening Standard also shows a 50% rise in London. You can read a depressing selection here. In fact, the increased rate of reported hate crime in London didn’t spike and decrease throughout the first week, meaning incidents have not even dropped off significantly as more time has passed since the referendum. Absolute numbers are still in the hundreds per week, but it is a worrying upward trend; and remember, this is only reported hate crimes.
4. The UK has functioned as a mediator country between Europe and the English-speaking world, and benefitted enormously from its hub role. Without the same links and efficiencies to Europe, companies including the growing tech industry may choose to work directly with the European mainland instead, while Tata steel may be nationalised as Brexit hits the UK steel industry. It seems crazy to me that having spent years negotiating this enviable position as intermediary between continents we throw it away so we can somehow regain (an illusory) independence and be some big player on the world stage.
5. In one of those you-couldn’t-make-it-up moments, Michael Gove MP, one of the candidates for Tory leadership and thus Prime Minister, tweeted his manifesto point this week: ‘We need to renegotiate a new relationship with the EU, based on free trade and friendly cooperation’. Err, that would basically be the EU membership you campaigned against then.
Another of his manifesto points touched on education, which is awkward as his track record is abysmal. No matter, let’s take a look:
Impressive stuff, if we ignore for a minute that this is Britain, where educational inequality is as much a part of the landscape as awkwardness and subtle racism. His aim as party leader candidate (left) is a world away from his article in the Times back in 2003 (right).
6. Last week UKIP Lord (Tory until 2007 for what it’s worth), Lord Pearson, called for EU nationals to be used as hostages in Brussels negotiations, arguing that Britain “hold the stronger hand” because there are more EU nationals living in the UK than British people living abroad. Labour led a House of Commons vote to secure the status of EU nationals living in the U.K, passing it 245-2. That means that the government cannot exile EU citizens who already live and work here. However, Theresa May, current frontrunner in the Tory leadership and ergo Prime Minister post, seems lukewarm about protecting EU nationals living here. Hm, not so positive.
7. The Queen did at least imply support for the EU in her speech this week. As sovereign leader it would have been more helpful if she’d have done it in the run-up to the referendum, as (somewhat improbably) she has enormous sway over many Britons.
8. According to Ipsos MORI & Statista, academics come second only to family in the rankings of who voters trust in issues relating to the EU referendum. Heartening news to people like me. Not sure what happened there though as the many academics who made reasoned arguments in favour of staying in the EU weren’t listened to.
9. I’m struggling for positives at this point, so let’s look to Simon Jenkins, popular Guardian writer and academic. He wrote a seemingly serious piece today saying that Brexit will be a good thing because Britain’s “stale leadership class is on the way out and the property bubble will burst”. Jenkins is probably panicking a bit about the relative hit-count of Guardian rising stars like Owen Jones and Aditya Chakrabortty, which explains the click-bait tone. Jenkins argues that the fact that Brexiters were lied to is no different from any election, but I’d say it was substantially worse – issues were simplified and misconstrued, and a ‘yes/no’ referendum decision is quite different to voting for one of multiple political parties.
Worse, Jenkins suggests that British politics is experiencing a laxative, whereby politicians get flushed out. I doubt it: Nigel Farage has a tendency to pop back up like a floater in the toilet bowl, and I bet you my laptop that Boris Johnson runs for the Tory leadership contest in 2020, having pulled the strings from the sidelines. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: he is not a blonde buffoon. He is a highly intelligent, calculating career politician. I do agree with Jenkins that Brexit has shone a light on inequalities (some real, some perceived) between London and the rest of the U.K. But I don’t think Brexit is the best way to chart these differences, not least because rather than expose people’s real sentiments about immigration and sovereignty, it seems to have legitimised open racism (see point 3).
In lauding the end of London’s property boom, Jenkins overlooks the fact that wealth trickles down (albeit unevenly) and that a recession hits those least able to cope with it disproportionately – we’ve seen that played out in the last decade. Jenkins finishes his article by saying “disruption may be a fad of hipster economics”. U wot m8?
10. Finally, a real positive. Comedians have long been doubted as political pundits – Russell Brand is a bit like marmite when it comes to his political declarations, though I have to say I think he’s done great work on the New Era housing project. This referendum has brought out some great thinking from comedians like Russell Kane (the best bit about a dire Newsnight last week), Frankie Boyle (Tory leadership candidates as X-factor contestants is inspired) and Tracey MacLeod, whose memories of working with a young Michael Gove had me in stitches.
You have to laugh, right?