Friday 28 August 2020

A preview of the blame games

No one knows if there is going to be a UK-EU trade and other future terms deal, and nothing has happened this week to make that clearer. The last two months’ talks, despite Johnson’s call to put some “oomph” into them, have shown that no more progress can be made at a ‘technical’ as opposed to a political level. Hence it was announced this week that Brexit will be taken off the agenda of next week’s EU Ambassadors’ summit due to a “completely wasted” summer. In this relatively quiet limbo-period we are seeing the outlines of a series of blame games and recriminations in the UK which are only likely to intensify in the coming months.

Brexit matters more to Britain than to the EU

Ending this limbo is primarily dependent on political decisions in the UK, in particular about disclosing what its post-Brexit state aid policy is to be. The EU has already shifted from seeking direct application of its state aid rules to accepting something like equivalence between the two regimes – which needs the UK spells out what its regime is to be. It seems very unlikely the EU could soften further on this key issue.

The reality is that Brexit simply doesn’t matter that much anymore for the EU - there’s clearly a preference for some sort of deal, but, as Georgina Wright of the Institute for Government wrote this week, a no deal scenario has long been planned for. It also seems increasingly to be expected. Nor does Brexit have anything like the same political saliency for any EU country – not even Ireland, which will be most affected but is not split over it – that it does for the UK where it is still potential political dynamite.

That dynamite is – obviously – because of the continuing deep divisions over Brexit, but also because of the very practical consequences of no deal for the UK. Without rehearsing all these again, a leaked report this week of government preparations was a reminder of what is potentially at stake, including troops on the streets to keep order, water rationing and major food shortages. This is not ‘Project Fear’, it is planning by a pro-Brexit government, and there is nothing remotely like it in prospect for any EU country.

That difference of priority is insufficiently appreciated in the British polity and media, which, because in general it sees the EU entirely through the lens of Brexit, assumes that Brexit is central to the EU. But although when the UK was a member state, including during the Article 50 negotiations, its internal politics were of interest to, and often accommodated by, the EU all that changed once the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) was signed. At that point, the most crucial EU concerns about Brexit were dealt with, to be replaced with bewilderment and irritation that the UK seems to have decided that the Political Declaration that accompanied it is an irrelevance.

Who would get the blame for no deal?

This is the background to an interesting and widely-discussed report in the Sunday Times (£) by Tim Shipman, a journalist with strong sources in the government and the author of excellent books on the politics of Brexit. The thrust of the report is that the government thinks the EU is dangerously failing to understand that Johnson’s government, unlike – supposedly - May’s, is fully committed to Brexit and willing to entertain no deal. Yet such an analysis itself shows precisely a failure to understand that the whole show has moved on: no deal under May meant no WA, but the WA is now signed and Britain has already left the EU.

Beyond that, the government’s position as reported – I would think accurately – by Shipman remains hopelessly stuck in the same mire as May’s government, itself a result of the impossible promises made by Vote Leave. For although the report presents the UK as humbly seeking a ‘bare bones’ deal because it, unlike May’s administration, embraces and accepts Brexit as a change from membership to third country status that simply isn’t true at all.  Instead, as Jennifer Rankin, the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent, pointed out, over a huge swathe of things the UK is still seeking continuity with what it enjoyed as a member state.

That, of course, does still matter to the EU. Not in order to ‘punish’ an ex-member but for the obvious reason that if non-members have the same things as members then membership becomes meaningless. In that respect, far from Johnson’s government having accepted that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and moved on to a new phase, it is still wedded to at least a version of his familiar ‘cakeist’ fantasy. Unsurprisingly, the EU continues to bat back attempts by the government to turn these fantasies into ‘legal texts’ without any agreement to them having been negotiated.

It obviously doesn’t take a genius to work out what is going on here, not least since it has been in prospect for months, indeed years: the ground is being prepared to blame the EU for no deal because it failed to understand that it was dealing with a British government fully prepared to go down that route if necessary. This was made explicit in a typically bullish editorial in the Sun this week.

That isn’t to say that no deal is inevitable, or that the government has decided on that course. In fact, I suspect the truth is as simple as that the government genuinely believes the dogma of the Brexit echo chamber it now entirely inhabits which insists that ‘the EU always blinks at the last minute’. So on the one hand we’re seeing that strategy repeated and, on the other, getting a taste of how the government and media will present things if no deal turns out to be the consequence: ‘we tried to warn the EU what would happen if it didn’t meet our perfectly reasonable requests but they wouldn’t believe us’.

The logic of this is circular in that the more the EU makes it clear that it will countenance no deal if necessary, the more it confirms the Brexiter view that nothing will change until the very last moment. At the same time, it’s a highly peculiar strategy given that the adverse effects of no deal will be felt much more heavily by the UK than the EU. In effect, it’s a game of chicken which has strapped every man, woman and child in the UK in the path of an oncoming train, and the closer a collision comes the more it justifies staying there. The fallback plan, apparently, is to tell the maimed victims that it was the train driver’s fault.

So that’s the first and, clearly, the foremost blame game on display, that between the UK and the EU. Again, it’s a purely domestic game, because the EU itself won’t be that interested in it, and the member states even less so.

Would the Brexiters be blamed for making false promises?

There are alternatives to blaming the EU. The most obvious – ongoing since the referendum, but which has new zest as the end of the transition approaches – is the disjuncture between what is happening and what was promised by Brexiters. That disjuncture will exist almost as much if there is a deal as if there isn’t, since it is clear that any deal will be far less commodious than was proposed to leave voters in 2016.

We had a small taste of this when former cabinet minister David Gauke pointed out this week (in response to the Shipman article) that Brexiters have long-promised that “the EU will give us whatever we want as long as they believe we’re prepared to walk away” and – in line with my analysis above - are lining up the excuse that “the EU underestimated our determination”. This engendered a huge and furious reaction and what was interesting about that was how precisely it exposed the central flaw of Brexit.

On the one hand, Iain Dale said that Gauke was talking “utter bollocks. Literally no one argued that the EU would give us all we wanted” and Julia Hartley-Brewer said simply “no it isn’t” (i.e. that what Gauke had said was the Brexiters’ position was not). But only a couple of days before during a (separate) discussion of the issue of what Brexiters had promised Hartley-Brewer had re-affirmed that “we do hold all the cards because we will do just fine with or without a deal and the EU knows it” (emphasis in original, but denoted with the symbol “*”).

Since some of the debate about Gauke’s tweet has descended into who has used the literal words “whatever we want”, let me spell out that if one side ‘holds all the cards’ it must follow that it could get whatever it wants since the other side would have no cards, and if those cards consist of being able to do fine without a deal then the leverage consists of being able to walk away. So in all substantive senses, Hartley-Brewer is still making the same claim that Gauke says Brexiters made all along but which both she and Iain Dale say was never made by Brexiters.

I’ve deliberately focused on this micro-fragment of what is in itself a relatively minor discussion because in the welter of all that has been said over the last four years it has become easier and easier for Brexiters to muddy, disown or misrepresent the claims they made. As it would now be an impossible task to subject the entirety of the Brexit debate to the same level of detailed reconstruction, it’s useful to give an illustration of how it works.

What’s especially difficult is that Brexiters often conveyed their message by means of an overall upbeat tone (e.g. that there would be a deal, and a good one) even if sometimes adding in, as it were, the small print some qualification to this message (e.g. but if not we can fall back on WTO terms and that will be fine too). Thus when, now, faced with the overall message, they are able to quote the small print as a ‘get out’ so as to deny they made any promises at all. It is a tactic familiar to dodgy salespeople the world over. Although in this case, in fact, the ‘we hold all the cards’ line was widely used, most famously by Michael Gove, and that is so well-documented as to be beyond reasonable dispute.

That such claims and promise were made matters, and it is important not to allow history to be re-written. But the present point is that, even now, two leading pro-Brexit broadcasters, each with large audiences and presumably significant influence, are able to make diametrically opposite statements – I assume in good faith, and I am not casting aspersions on either of them - about the nature of the Brexit negotiations and what was promised for them. And Dale and Hartley-Brewer are just two examples – the same story could be told using any number of Brexiters in politics or the media. This is not, by the way, an example of the familiar theme of ‘history being written by the victors’, in that what it shows is that the victors give as varied an account of that history as, at the time, they made promises about the future.

This is central to how the Brexit vote was won, because quite contradictory claims and promises were made as a deliberate campaign technique. It is also why the process of actually delivering Brexit has been so fraught, because what those claims meant and how those promises would be delivered was not defined or agreed. This in turn sets up what will inevitably be years of recrimination, denial and counter-attack.

So that is the second of the main emerging blame games: what Brexiters said and promised versus what actually happened or will happen, and of course this goes well beyond the specific example given by Gauke this week.

Would it be blamed on those who didn’t back May’s deal?

Also rumbling away in the background are assessments of what happened during the convoluted and complex political events of 2019. These include, in particular, the idea that politicians (and others) who favoured remain, or at least a soft Brexit, are at fault for not having backed May’s Withdrawal Agreement. On this account, especially if there is no deal, but even if there is a hard Brexit deal, the blame lies with those who were too recalcitrant to back May.

This involves several highly dubious propositions and, again, a certain amount of re-writing of history. It forgets, or downplays, how the hard core of opposition to May’s deal came from the ERG and, especially, the self-styled Spartans amongst them. It forgets that throughout much of 2019 every Brexit outcome was conceivably possible (or, as it often seemed, impossible) and so all shades of opinion opposed to May’s deal had reason to hold out against it in the greater or lesser hope that their preferred outcome would triumph.

Crucially, it neglects the fact that May’s deal was itself ‘hard Brexit’ – out of the single market and customs union - pointing to the eventual Canada-style outcome that remains Johnson’s stated aim – the only real difference being the extent to which she seemed to accept the realities of what that would mean, especially as regards the Level Playing Field. It also neglects that May, too, was not averse to threatening no deal. So hers was by no means the ‘compromise’ approach it is now spoken of as being. And, related to that, it neglects the fact that as the Brexit Ultras now say, as quoted in the Shipman report for example, Johnson’s WA is “basically the same as May’s deal. It’s more than 99% the same”.

Given that the major difference between the two was the substitution of the Irish Sea border for the Irish backstop arrangements, about the only group who can really be criticized for not supporting May’s deal are the DUP – and of them a better critique would be that from the outset, long before the WA or even the triggering of Article 50, their entire support for Brexit was a massive mistake given their core political priority of preserving the union.

Would it be blamed on those who enabled the 2019 election?

A somewhat related revisionism is that those opposed to Brexit were guilty of a terrible error in enabling the 2019 General Election. This charge is aimed especially at the LibDems and also at remainers within the Labour Party. Perhaps it could apply to the SNP, too, but that is less likely to stick since it’s easy to argue that the SNP’s central goal of Scottish independence is well-served by Brexit and, for wider reasons, by a Johnson government – indeed developments since the election seem to bear that out.

This criticism of remainers neglects the fact that there was no prospect of a parliamentary majority for a referendum (and still less for a revocation of Article 50) in the 2019 parliament. Moreover, Johnson had already passed his (then) Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading by some 30 votes. So there was a strong argument – and I made it at the time, as did others including Ian Dunt – that, highly risky as it was, a general election was the best and possibly only way to head off the eventual passage of the Bill and to re-constitute parliament in ways more propitious to remain.

None of that is to defend the way that Labour and the LibDems fought the election as regards Brexit, and the LibDem Article 50 revocation policy was – as again I argued that at the time – a total fiasco both in principle and practice. But the fact that agreeing to an election turned out to put a definitive end to the remain cause does not mean that it was a mistake to take that risk, though it is obviously true that taking it did not pay off.

Nor is any of this to deny that the internal state of the People’s Vote movement was – as we now know in more detail (£) – shambolic or that remainers made plenty of mistakes in 2019, including a failure to work together with soft Brexiters (and vice versa). But the calculated risk of the election was not one of them, and can only be presented as such by ignoring what was actually happening in parliamentary votes at that time.

Why does any of this matter?

It may seem pointless to revisit the, often, arcane details of the last four years of Brexit. But doing so is not a scholastic exercise: it is still very much live politics. Brexit was never going to be – and surely everyone can now see this? – a single, quick, or simple event. It is a long, complex, ongoing process which we are still living through. In that context it is vital to retain an accurate record of what was said, by whom, and of who did what, when, and why. The purpose being not, in fact, to assign blame but, rather, responsibility and also, perhaps, to hold on to a sense of reality in the face of the Zersetzung-style techniques that increasingly characterize Brexit.

Much of what is now happening  –  and Johnson’s whole strategy, most obviously in his ban on the use of the word ‘Brexit’  –  can be thought of as a battle between remembering and forgetting. The coming months are going to be crucial ones for defining what Brexit is going to mean for Britain and that is now certain to be very different to what those who voted leave were told it would be. So it’s going to be important to recall how we got to this juncture. After all, if, to reprise an earlier metaphor, a massive national train wreck is in prospect, it’s not unreasonable to ask what led to it - even if it’s small comfort to know the answers.

Friday 21 August 2020

The political psychology beneath the Brexit talks

Despite another round of negotiations having been held it has been a relatively quiet Brexit week. The main noise emerging from the talks has been about UK fury at the EU’s “intransigence” (£) over road haulage rights. It’s a story with long familiar components, including the attempt to ‘cherry pick’ desired parts of single market membership, and arrogant and probably unrealistic calculations by Brexiters – including the ‘they need us more than we need them’ motif - of where the EU ‘should see’ that its interests lie. As regards the latter, the present case is another version of the tired old argument that the UK’s goods trade deficit with the EU will be in Britain’s favour.

That relative quietness is not surprising because the real action will come in the autumn, with a deal, if there is to be deal, needed by mid-October for ratification to be viable by the end of the transition. It’s also not surprising because the news has been dominated by others important things, principally the fiasco over exam results.

There are some interconnections between the Brexit and non-Brexit news. First, in a general way, and as with the handling of coronavirus, it is increasingly obvious that a government defined solely by ‘getting Brexit done’ is singularly ill-equipped to govern. That arises from the combination of Johnson’s lazy boosterism, Cummings’ arrogant control freakery, and the application of a Brexit loyalty test – rather than competence – as the sole criterion for ministerial office and civil servants’ influence. Together, to labour a point repeatedly made on this blog, this means that we have a Vote Leave campaign in office rather than an administration in the normal sense of the word.

Beyond that, the latest example of incompetence and backtracking has led some commentators to wonder if it will make Johnson more cautious of risking the debacle of no deal and others to anticipate that on Brexit, too, he might perform a U-turn (I suppose that means in terms of softening its form, or perhaps by belatedly finding some way to extend transition).

I don’t think that either of these scenarios is at all plausible. Whilst it’s true that there is now a repeated pattern of this government underestimating or ignoring complexities and having to U-turn as a result, because Brexit is such a central and defining policy it is highly unlikely to carry over into that. Doing so would be certain to rip the Tory Party apart and end Johnson’s premiership. It is the one piece of incompetence (even though others would see it as pragmatism) that his increasingly fractious party will not tolerate. For the same reason, his continual failures in every other area are likely to make him, if anything, even more reckless as regards the EU, and even more likely to seek to curry favour with the Ultras in his party who don’t want a deal.

Deal or no deal?

So the question of whether or not there will be a deal with the EU still lies in the balance – and it shouldn’t be forgotten what an extraordinary state of affairs this is, given the promises made by Brexiters and the fact that the transition ends in just four months’ time. Early reports on this week’s talks suggest very limited progress.

Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform made out a strong case this week for why a deal would be preferable. In brief, he gives five reasons: avoiding tariffs and quotas; making non-trade agreements on regulation more likely; enhancing customs co-operation; facilitating the implementation (which anyway has to occur) of the Northern Ireland Protocol; providing a platform for further agreements in the future.

Other analyses this week make related arguments. Pernille Rudlin, an expert in Japanese business, pointed out that, notwithstanding the possible UK-Japan trade deal, a UK-EU deal remains crucial to the future of Japanese investments in the UK. And Sir Julian King, a former senior diplomat now affiliated to Oxford University and RUSI, discussed the need for a future security relationship (analysis of which has been often eclipsed by the focus on trade). At UK insistence security (like defence and foreign policy) has been treated separately from the current talks, and barely discussed at all*, but as King and Lowe both, in different ways, imply, the fate of the two is interlinked to a degree if only because the animosity that would attend no deal on trade would be likely to spill over into any talks about security.

Somewhat related was a fascinating article by Naomi Smith, Chief Executive of Best for Britain, about EU-China trade talks (actually published last week, but I missed it then). She makes the point that these talks are ambitious in scope, seeking a deep relationship, with the establishment of (yes!) rigorous Level Playing Field conditions the likely requirement and consequence. This, she suggests, offers an obvious template for a comprehensive UK-EU agreement which could be achieved immediately, built on existing alignment and links, rather than over the years that the EU-China deal will take. With Brexit delivered, why not take advantage of such possibilities, be similarly ambitious, and steal a march on a China?

In a way, this is a particular version of the argument I made in a recent post about the need for a whole new Brexit debate, one no longer viewed through the prism of the Referendum and British Euroscepticism, but starting afresh from the fact of Brexit and calculating where British interests lie without the dead weight of the ‘in or out’ question that has dogged relations with the EU for decades.

For we know the stumbling block to what Smith is proposing. It is the Brexit Ultras' refusal to consider the kind of comprehensive agreement she advocates. Even Lowe’s more downbeat suggestion that a trade deal is “better than nothing”, or King’s “dialled down [security] relationship” that is “still worth doing”, goes too far for some of them. Some believe that any such deal would end up being the basis for a gradual, re-integrationist project (£), overlapping with others who prefer the ‘sovereign purity’ of no deal. In other words, they still view the post-Brexit relationship entirely through the lens of the pre-Brexit question of membership.

Should remainers** hope for no deal?

But what of those of us who view Brexit as a terrible mistake? That is not an easy question. There is a strong temptation to welcome no deal at the end of transition so as more fully to expose that folly. Only if the damage done is blindingly obvious – with significant food and drug shortages, price rises, border queues and other disruptions – will the Brexiter chickens finally come home to roost. For as Lowe points out – contrary to the wholly fallacious claims of some Brexiters – there is a significant difference between even a ‘thin’ deal and no deal. But tempting as it may be, such a position has big problems.

First, most obvious, and most important is, precisely, the damage that would be done. This wouldn’t be some academic seminar in which an argument would be satisfyingly won. It would impose real hardship, and possibly worse than hardship, on the entire country, remain and leave voters alike. My own view is that it would be an unconscionable position in itself, and an impolitic one to boot: if ‘no deal 2.0’ comes about let it be because of the intransigence of the Ultras or governmental incompetence, and not accompanied by remainer cheers.

Second, it’s unrealistic anyway. Whatever damage is done by no deal the Brexit Ultras will never admit that they were wrong. They will claim it was not due to Brexit and/or that it was due to Brexit not being done ‘properly’. Some ordinary leave voters will not be convinced by that, of course, but the politicians and commentators who have brought us Brexit are never going to recant, whatever happens. Certainly not a single one of any standing has yet done so, and I can’t see that changing in any circumstances now. So, although the temptations are entirely understandable, wishing for no deal in order to discredit Brexit is all pain and no gain.

The Museum of Brexit

Such temptations are obviously related to the discussion in my recent post of the Brexit culture war, ‘remainer vengefulness’, and the perhaps now permanent divisions that have been created. The main reason why it is so tempting for remainers to imagine a ‘gotcha’ moment is the daily taunts and sneers directed to them by Brexiters. The latest goad came this week with the revival of plans for ‘Museum of Brexit’, reported in various newspapers. It’s clear that the intention is to be a celebration, rather than any kind of even-handed record, of Brexit. However, the reports might almost have been parodic, since it is hard to imagine even the most enthusiastic of Brexiters being much attracted by the – at once underwhelming and slightly distasteful - suggestion that exhibits will include “Wetherspoon beer mats, one of Nigel Farage’s old suits and even pro-Brexit condoms”.

In any case, despite having the support of several Tory MPs, and assorted other high profile Brexiters, it’s by no means clear that this particular chamber of horrors will ever see the light of day. But that’s not really the point. It’s (presumably) more intended to gee up leave voters who may now be wondering what the point of it all was. In that respect, it is interesting and important that the museum is intended “to remember all the little people in pub meetings up and down the country who kept the flame of sovereignty and independence alive during the dark years”.

The fantasy of the Brexiter resistance

It would be easy to sneer at this, but doing so misses the opportunity to gain insight into some aspects of the complex political psychology of Brexit. Because it’s actually quite a fascinating identity to offer, partly because of its strange elitist yet anti-elitist formulation of “the little people” which I think ties in with the ‘Passport to Pimlico’ strand in Brexit and also the way (as I’ve discussed before) this can be consonant with accepting as leaders those who are self-evidently of the elite (Johnson, Rees-Mogg etc.) and yet are seen as ‘authentic’ toffs, rather than the moralising, political correct killjoys of the ‘liberal elite’. So ‘little people’, here, isn’t seen as condescending as it would be if remainers used it. Rather, it codes an ordered world in which each has their proper, but respected, place.

More to the point, the museum’s purpose invokes an image of an underground resistance movement to an occupation. Of course this, with Brexit as liberation, is precisely how some Brexiters imagine the situation, comparing – quite ludicrously and, actually, insultingly – leaving the EU with escaping colonial rule. Similarly, ludicrous and insulting comparisons of the EU with the USSR or the Third Reich are all too common. The Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole has written eloquently and persuasively about this mythology of invasion and resistance as being at the heart of the political psychology that lay behind Brexit. Depicting longstanding leave activists as resistance cells – along with the very idea of a museum – suggests that Brexiters are now beginning to develop a kind of historical narrative of themselves above and beyond the immediate one of Brexit being ‘the will of the people’.

That matters because – to the extent that it takes hold – it serves to cement leaver identity well beyond the enactment of Brexit, since one of the key ways that (sub-)cultures are produced is through a narration of their own past. It obviously has the potential to morph into the already familiar victim narrative of ‘a people betrayed’. But it contains something else that is important and possibly less obvious. For unlike, say, the French Resistance after the Liberation, these keepers of the flame have not emerged from the “dark years” to be feted, admired and even envied by their more cautious or compromised compatriots. Still less – again unlike the French Resistance – do we see non-resisters queueing up to pretend that they, too, were amongst the freedom fighters.

Brexiters’ need for validation

I think that this is significant for how events have unfolded since 2016. Committed Brexiters, to the extent they believed that they would win at all, expected that on that glorious day they would be recognized as national saviours. Equally, many of them expected that the EU itself would swiftly collapse, and other countries would follow the trail they had blazed to liberation.

That none of this has happened partly accounts for the way that Brexiters continue to be so embittered and angry, despite having won. That psychology is multi-stranded, and the strands are not necessarily consistent. So it’s partly, as I (and others) have written before, including in a piece this week in Byline Times, about a victimhood both wanted and denied. Associated with that it’s also – as again Fintan O’Toole has repeatedly argued – that liberation from an entirely imagined oppression is bound be unsatisfying. And it’s about the unerasable knowledge that victory was achieved only through lies.

But there’s another strand, which is about recognition denied. For even if the EU really was every bit as oppressive as they claim, what kind of ‘liberation’ can it be when about half of your compatriots didn’t want it in the first place and more than half now think it mistaken? This explains why, even now, day after day in arguments on social media and elsewhere, Brexiters keep trying to get remainers not just to accept the referendum result but to accept that leaving is a good and desirable thing. That’s more than a demand for “losers’ consent”, for what is being demanded is ‘losers’ validation’. That contradicts, of course, the desire for victimhood, creating one of the many paradoxes of this political psychology.

Similarly, this explains why – despite having left the EU – there are still constant attempts to depict it as being in crisis and on the point of implosion, whether over coronavirus, or budget negotiations, or events in Hungary and Poland. Why do they care, now that we have left? But, again, what is being sought is validation through the anticipated domino effect that ‘we were right’. And again, it contains a paradox since were the EU to disappear then so, too, would the entire basis of Brexiter political identity.

Why does it matter?

More hard-headed readers may feel impatient with all this psychological speculation. But it has a specific and immediately practical significance which reaches right inside the negotiating rooms where the future relationship was being discussed again this week, framed by UK insistence on being a ‘sovereign equal’ and EU insistence on ‘conformity to rules’. Because for Brexiters – who now control the government – this framing is precisely that of resistance and invasion, which explains why progress has been so limited. It is the hidden background to every row about EU ‘intransigence’, such as this week’s about road haulage.

More broadly, it is one driver of the constantly antagonistic approach to the exit and, now, future terms negotiations. Rather than striding confidently to national freedom and renewal, the tone from the outset has been one of resentment, hostility and suspicion, wanting and needing to depict the EU as unreasonable and punitive so as to ‘prove we were right to leave’, whilst acting as if Britain were the aggrieved party, almost as if we were being forced to leave. This in turn makes a ‘successful’ Brexit – one that at least minimizes economic damage and which does not trash national reputation – an impossibility. Which in turn makes those who did not vote leave even less likely to recant and validate the idea of Brexit being a good thing.

The even more hard-headed may want to know what the solution to all this is. The answer to that is that, for now at least, there is no answer. How can there be, when a nation is completely re-inventing its place in the world against the wishes of half its population, and with the other half gripped by a political psychology woven of paradoxical and contradictory impulses that have led them to vote for something undefined and that, however defined, is, because of that psychology, offensive to large numbers of those who did so?

*I’m grateful to Professor Simon Usherwood of Surrey University for confirming that this statement is correct. The question arises because there are some complexities as to how ‘security’ is defined and to what extent it can be separated from issues of law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which have been discussed.

**It’s really not satisfactory to keep using the word ‘remainers’ now that remaining in the EU is no longer an option. I just mean people who did not want to leave and still wish we hadn’t. But to constantly use a term like, say, ‘erstwhile remainers’ would be very clumsy.

Friday 14 August 2020

The sillier season

This week’s headlines about migrants seeking to cross the channel served as a reminder – not that it should ever be forgotten, still less forgiven – of the way that the more general migrant ‘crisis’ (in scare quotes for a reason) of 2015 was weaponised in the 2016 Referendum campaign. Of course, as with their economic claims, Brexiters have now deemed it politically incorrect to even suggest that migration and immigration were central to their case (which, we are now expected to believe, was all about Edmund Burke’s theories of sovereignty).

The official Vote Leave campaign confined itself, relatively speaking, to dog whistles, most notoriously in the implications of the, in any case untrue, claim that ‘Turkey is joining the EU’, and the linkage of this to Syria and Iraq. Nigel Farage and UKIP, by contrast, were happy to blow the hunting horn, as with their hideous ‘Breaking Point’ poster. Indeed, cynics might say that the two campaigns were not so unconnected, and that Farage acted as an enabler for the official campaign to keep itself relatively clean whilst reaping the rewards of that which they ostensibly disavowed.

At all events, between them the two campaigns exploited the refugees both directly and also by the wholly dishonest conflation of freedom of movement, immigration in general, refugees and asylum seekers (for more detail on this aspect of the Referendum, see this article by Dr Amanda Garrett of Georgetown University).

The current bogus panic about cross-channel refugees also has Farage lurking sweatily in the background as for some months now, like a censorious suburban curtain-twitcher newly equipped with a bus pass, he has been hanging around beaches and hotels (£) in his grubby mac trying to whip up talk of an “invasion” – talk which then all too predictably crossed over into the mainstream. Farage - who let’s not forget no longer holds elected office and heads a basically defunct ‘party’ - may have done more to pollute British politics than any other politician of his generation but, as ever, the government are more than happy to splash around in his fetid cesspit.

Less control, not more

In this way, there are direct parallels between Brexit and this current “artificial emergency”, and polling evidence shows a clear relationship between views about the two, but with a new twist. For what this latest episode brings into focus is that Brexit, far from allowing Britain to take back control, is likely to make the situation much more complicated. This is because, as Professor Steve Peers explained in an excellent blog this week, within the tangled maze of international law and conventions about refugees and asylum seekers, the EU’s Dublin rules provide part of the framework to address this issue.

To very briefly summarise (as so often, it’s a complex issue, so do please use the links to get a fuller picture), Peers explains that the oft-quoted idea that those seeking asylum are obliged to do so in the first safe country they reach is bogus (and there are often good reasons why they do not). However, amongst its participants, the Dublin rules do often assign responsibility to that country, even if asylum has been sought elsewhere in the EU. In practice, this often provides the basis on which some of those relatively few asylum seekers who reach the UK are returned to France and elsewhere which, apparently, is what Brexiters want (the idea of any obligation either to the people themselves or to other countries not being a prominent feature of their moral universe, and indeed, reading posts on social media, the idea of refugees being people at all seems to be beyond some of them).

Yet that and other EU provisions will be lost to the UK at the end of the transition period. It may be that the UK and the EU agree something similar (or, even, better) but it is by no means clear that this is in prospect – or even that it has been the subject of substantive discussion - and Peers concludes trenchantly that as regards asylum seekers “the effect of Brexit may be ultimately to reduce UK control of migration, not increase it”. Equally, the idea that Brexit will miraculously free the UK from the Dublin rules to do more advantageous bi-lateral deals on refugee return with individual EU member states “seems extremely implausible” according to Professor Jonathan Portes. But in the tautological theology of Brexit, any EU rules are seen as suspect so it becomes an article of faith that leaving them will be ‘liberating’.

How (not) to make friends and influence people

It does not follow, as is being widely said on social media, that Home Secretary Priti Patel talking about the need for co-operation with France is in and of itself a further indication of the folly of Brexit. After all, there have been bi-lateral agreements with France about refugees even whilst the UK was an EU member. But it does serve as a reminder that international problems entail international co-operation in general and, in this case, constructive relations with France in particular, which have hardly been aided by Brexiter rhetoric, such as Boris Johnson’s ill-judged and offensive remarks about ‘World War Two punishment beatings'.

Nor is the cause of co-operation well-served by the current headlines about Patel issuing ‘ultimatums’ to France, or about the ‘outrage’ of France seeking financial contributions to its control of the border. As with the Brexit negotiations, antagonistic messages that may be designed by the British media and politicians solely for domestic consumption are seen and heard abroad, and inevitably sour international relations. Not just France but Germany, Ireland and Spain have all been subjected to repeated insults during the Brexit process. It would be foolish to think that this has no effect, or that it can make co-operation with such countries (over refugees or anything else) anything other than more difficult.

Post-Brexit, Britain risks becoming friendless as a stark new YouGov survey shows and, even on the Brexiters’ own ‘Global Britain’ reckoning, will need to become adept at neat diplomatic footwork in order to avoid isolation. But such footwork is alien and, even, anathema to this Brexit government, which would prefer to blunder bullishly around the diplomatic china shop so as to pander to its core vote – and its own antediluvian party and parliamentary membership - than do anything that might actually be construed as being in the national interest. It’s yet another example of this Vote Leave administration permanently re-fighting the leave campaign rather than governing. The effects on Britain’s well-being, let alone its international reputation (£), are of course irrelevant to these Brexit ‘patriots’.

An article this week by a senior former diplomat, David Hannay, underscored just how damaging this approach is proving to be for the trade negotiations with the EU. The British government, he argues, is acting in a way which is “unprincipled” and is destroying trust. This is principally because of the way that the Political Declaration (PD) has effectively been treated by the UK as totally irrelevant whereas it had been signed with the EU on the understanding that it constituted a shared framework (I would add that this has come on top of repeated ways during the Article 50 negotiations that the UK behaved in an untrustworthy manner, principally when the phase 1 agreement was disowned). This, Hannay, argues, is damaging not just to the prospects of a trade deal but to Britain’s more general need to build friendships abroad including with European countries.

No one likes us, we don’t care

If the government is already reckless of such considerations, the Brexit Ultras are as always urging an even more irresponsible and dangerous course with their now growing clamour against not only the PD but the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) itself. This of course would be even more serious: in rejecting the PD, Britain is breaking its word but if it rejects the WA it breaks an international treaty.

I wrote about this last week, with links back to how it has been in prospect ever since the 2019 Election, despite the ERG voting for the agreement. This week has seen yet another salvo in the Express from Iain Duncan Smith against the WA (which was nicely taken down by, again, Steve Peers), as well as a report in the Sunday Telegraph (£) which headlined the bizarre suggestion from an unnamed source that the WA was ‘not worth the paper it was written on’. That accusation is usually made of an agreement the other party can readily ignore, and so is a strange thing to say of one which you propose illegally to disown.

But that is hardly the strangest feature. Whereas last week Duncan Smith was talking about things “buried in the fine print” of the WA now – perhaps stung by the many criticisms of him for having apparently voted for something he didn’t understand – he loftily declares (in the Telegraph piece) that “everyone knew this stuff before” but voted for it so as to be out of the EU and able negotiate as a “sovereign nation” (inevitably, it has not sunk in that had Britain not been a sovereign nation it couldn’t have signed the WA anyway). Similarly, in his own Express piece he writes of his “surprise” that his comments of the previous week were a “revelation” (even though he had presented them as just that) and claims that the WA “was always a work in progress” rather than, in fact, an international treaty. He clearly doesn’t realise, or perhaps just does not care, that this is an even more indefensible position since it implies that he and his ERG cronies acted with deliberate bad faith rather than simply incompetence.

I won’t add to what I have written before about this latest piece of Brexiter duplicity and irresponsibility, with its potential to take Britain to international pariahdom. As noted last week, it will be repeated endlessly in the coming months so there will be plenty of opportunities to analyse it then. In any case, repeatedly pointing to its flaws is largely irrelevant: its purpose, probably already achieved, is to persuade the Brexiters’ base that the WA can and should be repudiated.

Even on the most charitable interpretation that it is designed as a signal to Boris Johnson not to make ‘concessions’ in the EU trade negotiations it will already have done further damage to Britain’s reputation – again, the British press is read in other countries. But, increasingly, the Brexit Ultras resemble those Millwall fans who used to chant “no one likes us, we don’t care”, although possibly even this credits them with a greater degree of self-awareness than is warranted by the evidence.

The art of the deal?

Meanwhile, trade negotiations with non-EU countries continue – sort of. A shouty headline in the Express (interestingly now changed to something much more anodyne, but see the original here) reported the “Brexit DISASTER” that talks with the US had been delayed, with the growing possibility that they would end up being held under a Biden presidency if Trump loses the November elections. This wasn’t actually news to anyone following the news (£). But its prominent discussion in such a rabidly pro-Brexit ‘newspaper’ has its own significance in the gradual falsification of all the promises made by Brexiters to its readers.

The idea of a UK-US Free Trade Agreement has always been held up as the iconic economic prize of Brexit (even though its actual economic effect would be very small). Moreover, it has been an article of faith to Brexiters that Trump would facilitate a good, quick deal in contrast to Obama’s much-resented ‘back of the queue’ warning during the Referendum campaign. That, too, was highly unrealistic given Trump’s capricious nature, not to mention his avowed ‘America First’ position (though, by the same token, the substance of talks with a Biden administration wouldn’t necessarily be any different).

So as early as July 2017 The Lord Jones of Birmingham, better known as Digby Jones, the fanatically pro-Brexit former head of the CBI, with all the august dignity we expect from a Peer of the Realm bated “remoaners” that a trade deal with the US was “in the bag”. More seriously, in September 2019 Johnson and Trump were reported to have agreed that a deal would be done “in lightning quick time by July [2020]”, explicitly to precede the Presidential elections (albeit that at that time Trump looked likely to win).

It is in that context of over-blown promises that imparting the news to Express readers that they won’t be kept is important (I assume the subsequent significant change to the headline was because they were infuriated by the original - or someone was). And it can hardly be blamed on coronavirus given that this is not seen as an adequate reason to extend talks with the EU. Nor, given the previous emphasis put on completing a deal this summer, can it be seen as anything other than sophistry to now claim, as Liz Truss did at a House of Lords Committee last month, that setting a target date is being avoided to deny US negotiators the benefit of time pressure.

But the UK-US negotiations have another role within Brexiter mythology. According to former Brexit Secretary David Davis – the man of whom it can fairly be said that he gets everything about Brexit wrong – they would provide leverage in the talks with the EU. Shanker Singham, the Brexiters’ favourite trade guru, agreed that the London-Brussels -Washington “game theory” triangle would put pressure on the EU. It was a highly dubious proposition, which has shown no signs whatsoever of coming true but, in any case, it is now dead in the water since negotiations with the EU – which resume next week - must finish by (in fact before) the end of the year.


On the subject of doing deals, the other Brexit story of (passing) interest this week is the supposedly soon to be completed trade re-negotiation with Japan. This is reported to be snagged on last-minute differences over market access for Britain’s Stilton cheesemakers. Trade negotiation experts have explained that such hold ups over apparent trivialities are more the norm than the exception and no doubt they are right.

At the same time, it is hard to resist the thought that this particular row has a special piquancy as it will be Britain’s first post-Brexit trade deal and the government desires to demonstrate that it can achieve more favourable terms for British interests than those of the EU-Japan deal. And, moreover, to do so in relation to an iconic British product.

If successful, it will be more headline fodder for the core voters but – as with the entire ‘sovereignty’ schtick - will in any substantive sense be meaningless. For, economically, it is only of symbolic value (British sales of blue cheese to Japan last year totalled just £102,000) but, then, as with the US talks, the whole point about an independent trade policy is not the ‘trade’ part but the word ‘independent’. Still, like the issue of fisheries, which it closely resembles in that respect, it is at least a rich source of cheesy puns.

My modest contribution is to point out that the whole thing is crackers, and half-baked crackers at that.

I don’t just mean the Stilton story.

Friday 7 August 2020

The Brexit screw tightens

Almost since the day of the Referendum, the Brexit process has gone round in circles with the same issues resurfacing, and the same contradictions and paradoxes recurring. That continues to be the case, but the repetitions can be misleading in two ways. One is that with each re-run some new evidence emerges to re-enforce the underlying issue or contradiction. The other is that, as the end of the transition period gets closer, each iteration of the circle makes the matter in question more urgent. In the past, I’ve used the metaphor of the Mobius strip to capture these repetitions, but perhaps a better image is that of a thread being screwed inexorably tighter.

Freeports and chemicals

This week has seen several examples. Freeports have for years been touted as a benefit of Brexit, and became government policy when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, with a consultation exercise launched last February. I discussed the issue at that time and won’t repeat that analysis here, except to say that it pointed to the very mixed evidence of their benefit, even in their ‘non-EU’ form. Last week saw another outing of the argument for their virtues but the very same day new research from the UK Trade Policy Observatory showed these to be “almost non-existent” (£). If this is to be a major component of post-transition trade and industrial policy, it is misplaced.

If freeports will not provide an economic boost, the dangers of Brexit to the economically and strategically vital chemicals industry were again laid bare (£) in the latest of a series of excellent reports by Peter Foster on the practicalities of Brexit. The industry is the UK’s second largest manufacturing sector and its trade and supply chains are massively tied to the EU. These dangers have always been incipient because of the decision to leave the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the REACH regulations it oversees, but under Theresa May there had been a plan to seek some form of Associate Membership.

That might or might not have succeeded (a House of Lords Report in 2018, which also sets out in clear detail the entire ECHA/REACH issue, was doubtful), but under Johnson’s even more hard line approach, complete regulatory independence is now the policy. This is going to be hugely costly (£1 billion, according to Foster’s report) and bureaucratically cumbersome however it is done, and the more so if no agreement is reached with the EU on accessing ECHA data – which is doubtful. In short, no one yet knows how it is going to work or whether it will be ready in time for the end of transition, and that’s less than five months away.

But the real kicker is that even if it all goes ahead, what in effect will have happened is to a very large extent a replication of the existing regulatory regime with the sole ‘advantage’ of it being badged British. Indeed, it’s an example of one of the many things that the UK’s budget contribution was paying for, though not included in the crude accounting that dominated the Referendum campaign. Its replication is also an example of how, in practice, Brexit Britain will be pulled by the gravitational force of EU regulation because REACH is also, increasingly, a global standard.

This is the purely theoretical ‘sovereignty’ which is being regained; the costs to businesses, trade and jobs, which are real, are the price. It is a paradigm case of what Brexit is going to mean in practice, as has been clear since August 2017 – back when all we knew about Brexit was that it meant Brexit – when the provisions of the (then) Data Protection Bill were outlined.

Round-up of other news

We have also seen updates on the objections of Kent residents to the new Brexit lorry parks plus the news that Operation Brock is to be revived for the end of the transition (as for Holyhead, goodness knows how its problems will be dealt with), new warnings of food shortages in Northern Ireland because of the Irish Sea border, new warnings of an ‘environmental governance gap’ at the end of the transition,  the revival of government plans for stockpiling medicines in preparation for possible disruptions, a new CBI survey showing business concern about, and lack of preparedness for, the end of the transition period, and the latest culture war volley in the elevation of prominent Brexiters to the House of Lords (forgotten, now, is the Brexiters’ insistence that it is crucial that our laws be made by those the people can vote out of office). As with the list of some of last week’s developments in last week’s post, the sheer diversity of complex problems is striking.

As for the latest good news about Brexit, that’s easily dealt with: there is none. Some might propose that the imminent UK trade deal with Japan is an exception but, although we don’t yet know the detail, it isn’t likely to be significantly different (£) to the EU-Japan deal the UK is currently part of. It’s certainly true that not doing such a deal would have been damaging, but that just means that this story is ‘not bad news’ rather than being ‘good news’ - despite the jubilance of the Brexit press, of which we will have more when the agreement is signed (and, note, this deal is, at Japanese insistence, a speedy re-negotiation rather than a roll over, to which Japan would not agree). It is also possible, as mentioned in a recent post, that if and when the UK and the EU reach a trade agreement then a further, more extensive, deal with Japan might follow.

Similarly, are we really meant to welcome today’s news that up to £355 million is to be spent to support new systems and processes for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? That may be helpful to Northern Ireland’s businesses – though there are many questions as to how, whether and when it will work – and if it was offsetting the damage of a natural disaster might in that sense be welcome. But Brexit is self-inflicted, and all along it was denied that this, or any, damage would occur.

So if good news means something unequivocally good that is happening as a result of Brexit, and which wouldn’t have happened without Brexit then we are still waiting for it.

The significance of Iain Duncan Smith

In the face of this, it might be expected, in any rational polity, that those who have championed Brexit and its unalloyed advantages would now be starting to express some alarm about – perhaps even some contrition for – what they have foisted on us. And in a way they are – but it is a way that is neither rational, nor moral, nor honest. Witness how this week we have seen veteran arch-Brexiter Iain Duncan Smith bemoaning the financial commitments signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

It’s a story with multiple layers of absurdity and disingenuity. He complains that “in the fine print, unnoticed by many” of the WA is a £160 billion bill for EU loans. But this is the WA which was Johnson’s great ‘oven ready deal’ that was presented to the voters at the 2019 Election and which, afterwards, Duncan Smith enthusiastically voted for in the House of Commons. That vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was rushed through, but did he then join the calls for more scrutiny of “the fine print”? No. On the contrary he said “if there is anything about this arrangement that we have not now debated and thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is”.

So he fully supported it, but apparently didn’t understand its implications which it was his job to scrutinise and to which he now objects, and argued against further scrutiny. But – the final ridiculous twist – the £160 billion story isn’t really true anyway (it is based on the effectively zero possibility of every loan made by the European Investment Bank being defaulted on simultaneously).

It’s easy – almost obligatory - to mock this depressing farrago of stupidity and lies, but to do so misses its deeper significance, which is two-fold.

First, it is the latest salvo in the Brexit Ultras’ attempt to disown the entirety of the WA. In a post immediately after the 2019 election I flagged up the likelihood that they would do this, and have since recorded how it is becoming a growing, concerted campaign, which carries profound dangers of international pariahdom. It will intensify through this autumn, and reach a crescendo if there is no trade deal.

Second, and more broadly, it is the latest indication of the truly tragic fate that Brexiters have inflicted on Britain, whereby they insist that Brexit must be done or else the will of the people is betrayed, but also insist that any actual way that Brexit is done is a betrayal of the will of the people. It is a paradox from which there is no escape, and which dooms us to years, probably decades, of culture war.

Culture war ‘refugees’

One effect of that culture war is to produce ‘refugees’. Again, it’s been obvious from the beginning that Britain would suffer an exodus of people alienated by Brexit. Most obviously that means EU nationals in the UK who both for reasons of practical uncertainty and cultural affront no longer wish to be here. It also means UK nationals, and again for both economic and cultural reasons – those who see Britain headed for economic danger but who also feel politically exiled by Brexit.

Inevitably, those most likely to leave are those with the skills to do so easily. Anecdotally, including from my own experience, this has been underway since 2016 but this week saw the first hard evidence of a brain drain as regards UK nationals moving to the EU (though it is still partial, and it will be a while before we know the full effect, which will also be on emigration to non-EU countries; it can be expected that rates of UK emigration to the EU are now peaking, as after transition freedom of movement and associated rights will cease).

That this is a ‘brain drain’ – a term we have only rarely heard in the UK since the 1970s though in June 2017 I warned it was in prospect – is significant because it indicates that this is another economic cost of Brexit. But it also reflects some crucial issues in the underlying demographics of the Brexit vote in which both post-compulsory education and being economically active associated with voting remain, whilst the converse was true for leave voters.

The consequence of this has become the new ‘unsayable’ in the political correctness of Brexit. It means that those who actually have to deal with the practical consequences of Brexit do not greatly overlap with those who chose it. That can’t be a condescending comment to make, since Brexiters themselves constantly say that the remainers are the elite. And what does an elite do, other than run things? Of course, they aren’t for the most part plutocrats, tycoons or even big business leaders (all of whom, by definition, aren’t very numerous). Rather, they are the private and public sector managers, the professionals, scientists, entrepreneurs, academics, game designers, tech workers, musicians and so on.

In the main they aren’t high born – most probably have working-class parents, many may even consider themselves to be working-class – nor are they necessarily very well-paid. What Brexit has done is to spit in their faces. Not so much because of the Referendum result but because of the ‘winner takes all’ refusal to enact a compromise form to reflect the narrow result. And more than anything because of the constant insults since the vote. They are now open game for every taunt. They have been told every day for four years that they are metropolitan elitists, in the pay of the EU, exploiters of Bulgarian nannies or Polish plumbers, cry-babies, saboteurs, traitors, and enemies of the people. And, constantly, they are told that if they ‘love the EU so much’ then they should go and live there. So it’s not particularly surprising that they are doing just that if they can (or, as seems to be happening with the Civil Service, resigning rather than be used as “political punchbags”).

The culture war on the middle class

It used to be a cliché that any History exam paper answer on any period about any country could gain marks by reference to ‘the rising middle class’. Brexit has in effect declared culture war on Britain’s middle-class – or at least the most productive, active parts of it. It’s that which is leading skilled people to leave or to withdraw from public life. Yet at the same time it is they who are charged with actually dealing with Brexit since, of course, most of them are not in a position to emigrate or resign.

For it is not the archetypal Brexit-voting coastal town pensioner who thinks that immigration has gone too far, is fed up with being told what to do by Brussels and just wants his country back who has to manage social care provision for his peers. It’s his, again archetypal, remain-voting grand-daughter with a social science degree who works in local government, is desperate as she can no longer recruit EU workers, has had her hopes of further study in the Netherlands dashed and her relationship with her Dutch boyfriend jeopardised. The horrible achievement of the Brexiters has been to configure the grandfather as an ‘ordinary, decent person’ who has ‘taken revenge on his remoaner elitist’ grand-daughter.

By setting up that bogus – but vicious - cultural conflict, Brexiters have potentially set in train something much more dangerous. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that we’re at the start of an unemployment bloodbath with, daily, new redundancy announcements because of Covid-19 and it’s going to be exacerbated by Brexit, especially when the transition period ends. Traditionally, the socially liberal middle classes were happy – or, if not happy, felt a moral obligation – to support through taxes the unemployed, as a kind of implicit social contract.

A broken social contract?

I’m not sure that will be so true anymore for those who, whilst not able to join the brain drain, now feel like exiles in their own country. Whenever some adverse effect of Brexit is reported social media posts immediately focus on who voted for it – so, for example, the current stories about Kent lorry parks, in a county where the majority voted for Brexit, are not viewed sympathetically. Stories about the concerns of people in Sunderland or Cornwall about the effects of Brexit get similar treatment. The response is invariably to point out, often gleefully, that a majority in those areas voted for Brexit so they must accept the consequences.

I don’t defend those sentiments: leave voters were misled, and worse, by the Referendum campaign and years of media poison and, anyway, the adverse effects of Brexit are not going to smartly target leave voters but spare remainers. Moreover, whilst remainers certainly have no obligation to ‘get behind Brexit’, they need not make their own contribution to prolonging the culture war. And, in any case, it would be a cruelly moralistic world if we all got punished for every mistake we made. But, defensible or not, those responses are real and can be read every day.

Perhaps they are not widely shared, and represent only a vocal sliver of remainer opinion. But if these sentiments are more extensively held, as I suspect they are, this means that the economically inactive and low-skill demographic and the ‘left behind’ regions that voted for Brexit will no longer be seen by the liberal middle class as deserving of support. It will be said that they have got what they voted for, and will have to live with it.

That, after all, is the logical consequence of the Brexiters’ ‘elitist’ narrative: they chose to say that leave voters were ‘the people’ and remain voters weren’t. They infected Britain with this culture war as a tactic to win the Referendum. So, harsh as such remainer ‘vengefulness’ may be, it does grow from soil cultivated by leading Brexiters. For that matter, the first part of my critique, above, of this vengefulness is what Brexiters insist to be the elitist condescension of denying that leavers knew what they were voting for.

Yet as I said in a tweet which – by my modest standards – went viral this week, the proposition that voters in 2016, when Brexit had no detailed or settled definition, knew exactly what they were voting for hardly sits easily with Duncan Smith’s claim that, equipped with the detailed Withdrawal Agreement in 2019, he didn’t understand what he was voting for.