Sunday 20 November 2016

Victims of their victory

A report in today’s Observer suggests that the EU will “force Britain into hard Brexit”. Under the headline, it is clear that this is nonsense. What is being said is that if the UK does not seek soft Brexit – meaning single market membership – then hard Brexit is the only alternative. The idea, persistently floated by Brexiters and the British government, that somehow the UK could be in the single market but exempt from freedom of movement of people and from ECJ jurisdiction is nonsense. There is nothing new in that, and it was explained repeatedly by EU leaders and remain campaigners during the campaign.

The Observer is a pro-remain paper but, predictably, its report is being taken up by the Brexit press as if it were an outrageous piece of bullying by the EU. That notion is likely to gain considerable traction in the coming months, the narrative being that all would have been well with Brexit had it not been for EU. It is a strange narrative, because just yesterday it was reported that a group of Conservative MPs, including leading Leave campaigner Michael Gove, have written to the Prime Minister urging her to a hard Brexit. So why would they complain if the EU wants to give them what they want? It is a similar breakdown in logic to that which leads them to be furious that, having campaigned for the sovereignty of the British Parliament, it is an outrage that the High Court has ruled that decisions must be made by ... the sovereign British Parliament!

The idea that the Brexiters have been betrayed when their unrealistic promises encounter the reality of their victory is also evident in emerging claims that the complexity of Brexit is a remainer plot. Gove, again, has been first in the starting gate here, arguing that civil servants were over-complicating the process and that but for that a “quickie divorce” would be possible. There is an overwhelming consensus amongst all those with any knowledge at all of the issues involved – the Institute for Government being a prominent example - that this is not true.

The key point here is that the core of the Brexit movement is a narrative of self-pitying victimhood, in which Brexiters are the down-trodden victims of ‘the establishment’ and ‘the elite’. Now that they have won the referendum and are in a position to implement Brexit they find themselves completely unequipped to deal with the realities of what it means and are casting about for ways to return to their preferred ‘victim’ role.

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