Friday 9 February 2024

Unpicking the defences of Brexit

Bemused by the ‘mysterious silence’ of the government about the benefits of Brexit, last weekend former Trade Secretary Peter Lilley bemoaned (£) that “the consequence of that silence is that the narrative about Brexit is being written by its opponents”. The mystery is easily solved: the benefits of Brexit are effectively non-existent and the failure of its promises is self-evident. And the formidable attempts by Brexiters to proclaim a narrative of success have foundered not because its opponents’ voices are louder but because the public, without much leadership but seeing the evidence accumulating before them, have seen that failure.

But it’s true that, as a result, Brexiters have increasingly found themselves having to defend their project rather than get away with airy promises, or bullish assertions of it being ‘the will of the people’. These attempts have become ever-more desperate and convoluted, and their very variety is, in itself, one of their most important defensive weapons. In the hands of the more adroit, or perhaps just the more opportunistic, Brexiters it enables them to continually shift from one line of argument to another, deliberately creating a swirl of disorientation.

A recent example is the discussion on GB News between Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nick Tyrone, which Tyrone described on his Week in Brexitland Substack. Tyrone did as good job as anyone could of responding to Rees-Mogg’s salvoes, the more so given the huge advantages his interlocutor had by virtue of being the host. But it is impossible to ‘win’ such encounters because they are intended to confuse rather than to clarify, and setting innumerable false hares running is one of the easiest ways of doing so. This doesn’t just apply to broadcast interviews. In any number of published comment pieces, Brexiters layer falsehoods upon half-truths upon questionable assumptions, in ways which can only be unpicked through line-by-line ‘fisking’, which is incredibly time-consuming, and not especially effective.

Nevertheless, it’s worth disaggregating and examining some of the commonest arguments currently used to defend Brexit, and especially those about sovereignty and democracy, which are the Brexiters’ last redoubts. Even so, despite being the longest ever post on this blog, it’s impossible to provide an exhaustive analysis.

Stonewalling and denial

These are the now boilerplate defences of Brexit, so commonly made as to not need specific links. They include the claim that ‘it hasn’t been done properly’, which comes in variants ranging from ascribing this to governmental incompetence, to blaming it on EU punishment, right through to positing betrayal by various actors up to and including ‘the deep State’.

All of these were virtually baked into Brexit, partly because it made utopian promises that could never come true, and partly because it thrives on narratives of betrayal, treachery and victimhood. So, like apologists for communism, Brexiters say it has either ‘never really been tried’ or that it has fallen victim to counter-revolutionaries and to renegades from the true path of purity.

Slightly more optimistic versions of the same thing are that ‘it hasn’t been done properly yet’, or that it ‘hasn’t had enough time’ for the benefits to be obvious. These claims are, by definition, impossible to refute, placing the utopia of Brexit in sight but always out of reach, like a mirage oasis. But one obvious rejoinder is that it wasn’t suggested before the referendum that the benefits would be long in coming, let alone the 20, 50 or even 100 years that some Brexiters have since spoken of.

Still, perhaps it is reasonable to apply the ‘David Frost test’ for what would constitute failure for Brexit. He suggested one piece of evidence of failure would be “if we are still debating this in five or six years’ time in the same way”. That was in June 2022, so the jury is still out, but there is no sign at all so far that Brexit is not going to be a failure in these terms.

One thing which all the defences of Brexit in this category share, albeit to varying extents, is that they render nonsensical attempts to make claims about the benefits of Brexit. That’s most obvious if Brexit has been comprehensively betrayed and is ‘Brexit in name only’ for, if so, how could there be any benefits? Even the much weaker defence that Brexit will take time to deliver benefits has an obvious circularity, whereby any sign of success shows it was right, whilst any absence of signs of success doesn’t show it was wrong. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Bathos and deflection

This category includes what is emerging as a favourite Brexit defence, that which does not necessarily deny that Brexit has been damaging, but constantly invokes the most extreme forecasts of how damaging it would be (or, often, garbled versions of those forecasts) so as to defend it on the bathetic grounds that it ‘hasn’t been as bad as the warnings’. It’s a line which can be traced back at least as far as David Davis’s 2018 assurance that Britain would not be “plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction” and its obvious flaw is that Brexit was meant to be something positive and desirable, rather than ‘not being cataclysmic’ or, even, ‘not being too bad’.

A related defence is to admit the evidence of (especially economic) damage that has occurred since Brexit, but to deflect blame for this away from Brexit to, typically, the pandemic, the Ukraine War or, more recently, conflict in the Middle East. This can readily be run alongside the ‘more time is needed’ line of argument, and has a similar circularity in enabling any supposed successes to be celebrated but any damage or lack of success discounted.

However, it differs from that line in that, whereas the promise of future success can never, strictly speaking, be disproved, the argument of damage being down to other factors can be, by reference to the specific effects of Brexit which have not been experienced by other countries. Thus, for all that Brexiters dismiss them, counterfactual economic models do, at least approximately, strip out Brexit effects from those of other factors.


Such counterfactuals seek to answer the real question, which is how does Brexit Britain compare with Britain had Brexit not happened. That question is evaded by another defence, that of the ‘whataboutery’ which makes comparisons with other countries, especially other EU countries, or with the EU as a whole.

The narrow version of this is to compare, especially, GDP growth so as to show (especially if the ‘right’ time periods are cherry-picked), that the UK is doing no worse than some such comparators. Again, this doesn’t meet the objection that Brexit was promised to be a positive. Moreover, when these comparisons show, as they sometimes can, the UK outperforming its comparators it doesn’t address the real question. At particular times, even when an EU member, the UK performed better than other members. So if there are times, now, that it does so this tells us nothing about Brexit, at least in the absence of a plausible explanation of how Brexit is responsible for it.

The Brexiters do not have such an explanation, since the things they claim for what would be explanations – regulatory divergence and major new trade deals – have, as they constantly complain, scarcely happened. On the other hand, anti-Brexiters can plausibly explain why the UK performs less well than the counterfactual of Brexit not having happened, primarily in terms of the increased barriers to trade with the EU and the loss of freedom of movement of people.

The broader version of whataboutery is to point to events in the EU – not just in terms of economic performance, but actual or alleged crises over things like irregular migration, or Hungary, or, currently, the farmers’ protests – to say ‘look what a mess they are in’. This in turn links to the endless predictions, both before and since Brexit, that the EU is about to collapse entirely.

This kind of whataboutery is nonsense at multiple levels, as well as being incompatible with the idea that the EU is a powerful bully that is able to ‘punish’ us. Firstly, it’s nonsense because few of those who oppose Brexit have ever believed that the EU is some kind of nirvana. Secondly, even if the EU were in crisis, or collapsed, that doesn’t make Britain any better off. Indeed, given geographical proximity, and economic and political connections, any instability and suffering the EU endures are likely to have a profound negative impact on Britain, whilst Britain no longer has any influence upon what happens within and to the EU.

Lies, half-truths and exaggerations

This category could be expanded to fill a whole post, so here I will only give a few of the commonest or most egregious examples. Some are plainly ridiculous, such as Kemi Badenoch’s recent claim that “we have used our Brexit dividend to get the NHS more than a £1 billion more every single week than it had before Brexit” [emphasis in original tweet, where it was denoted by ‘*’ symbols]. Of course, there was no such dividend, and the NHS budget is, as it always was, purely a decision of the British government. The same applies to the similar, and more frequent, claim that the NHS has now received the £350 million a week proposed at the referendum, so Brexit has fulfilled that promise.

Equally untrue, although probably much more widely believed, are the claims that Brexit allowed the early roll out of vaccines (it didn’t: the UK was still operating under EU laws and regulations at the time) and that it allowed the UK to give support to Ukraine (it didn’t, and the UK had begun to do so ever since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, when still an EU member).

Other things in this category are more difficult to unpick, as they may contain some element of truth. Many of the Brexiter claims about trade deals are of this sort, because it’s true that neither CPTPP nor the Free Trade Agreements with Australia, New Zealand, and any which may follow, could have been done by the UK as an EU member. The half-truths and exaggeration relate to the benefits, which are paltry. In other cases, the claims are lies in all but name, most obviously the description of non-binding Memorandums of Understanding with individual US states as ‘trade agreements’, which they aren’t in the standard use of that term (plus they have little or no economic value, and could almost certainly have been made as an EU member anyway).

Likewise, most claims of regulatory independence are overblown, since they either aren’t practical to exercise, or make little difference, or are things which would be likely to have happened at some point as an EU member. I’ve written so much about these things before that I don’t have the strength to do so again and, for regular readers at least, probably don’t need to.

The last redoubts: sovereignty and democracy

What does warrant more attention is what have become the last redoubts of the Brexiter defence, and in some ways its strongest if only because they are the most intangible. Sovereignty and democracy are not, of course, the same thing, as sovereign states can be undemocratic. As regards sovereignty itself, Brexiters routinely deploy this as the central defence of Brexit, the more so given the evident lack of benefits and the mounting evidence of costs. For if sovereignty ‘has no price’, then these inconvenient truths can be ignored.

There is a particularly specious version of this defence, a recent example being furnished by Julia Hartley-Brewer, which argues or implies that people voted for Brexit knowing the damage it would cause, because the remain campaign told them (that this is the meaning of Hartley-Brewer’s tweet is borne out by her previous remarks). The obvious flaw is that the leave campaign thundered assurances to such voters that every single one of these warnings was part of ‘Project Fear’, and it defies belief that many voters believed the warnings but voted to leave anyway rather than doing so because they accepted the assurances that the warnings were false.

Indeed, more generally, it’s worth recalling how Brexit was sold. Yes, the slogan of ‘taking back control’, which may be taken as a proxy for ‘regaining sovereignty’, was central to the leave campaign, but it was proposed not as an abstract virtue but as a means of delivering concrete benefits, most obviously control of immigration to those who wanted that, but also benefits to the economy and, more expansively, to the totality of policy, which Brexiters said had been ceded to the EU. So it is dishonest now to propose ‘sovereignty’ as the justification of Brexit, detached from whether it has delivered these concrete benefits.

Flawed ideas of sovereignty

Alongside that dishonesty lies another, or, at least, an ignorance. Sovereignty has probably never meant untrammelled national freedom of action, and certainly doesn’t nowadays. This is why the regulatory independence of Brexit has proved so illusory. In practice, countries operate within a framework of international standards, whether they be derived from the EU or other trans-national bodies. More broadly, countries pool and/or cede sovereignty for purposes of defence, as with NATO, or for a whole variety of non-economic reasons which give rise to international treaties, conventions and, indeed, law.

Of course, Brexiters are constantly straining against those limits but, in doing so, are simply repeating the same flawed idea of sovereignty. The flaw isn’t just that countries can’t escape external constraints, it’s that to the extent they can do so it has negative consequences which they choose to avoid. That choice is, itself, an expression of sovereignty. Thus the idea that Spain, or Denmark, or Germany do not have sovereignty because they choose to be in the EU is as preposterous as the idea that the UK has gained sovereignty by leaving. Indeed, one of the most arresting moments in the entire Brexit process was when the government published the first Brexit White Paper in February 2017. For it contained the remarkable sentence: “Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.” (para 2.1).

Interestingly, the hollowness of the sovereignty argument was again unwittingly revealed by Rees-Mogg just this week, when he was questioned by Lewis Goodall of the News Agents. He was asked about the PopCons’ ‘anti-institutional’ agenda for changing the structures and systems of government, and why, if this was so necessary, the Conservative government in which he had served had not done so. Rees-Mogg replied, “we had no ability to change the system until we left the European Union”, but went on to say that “they [structures and systems of government] were changed very effectively by Tony Blair”. To spell out the obvious: when Blair was Prime Minister, Britain was in the EU.

Flawed ideas of electoral democracy

It is here that the Brexiters very last line of defence comes in, emphasizing not just sovereignty but democratic sovereignty. It echoes the line that Tony Benn took to justify opposition to EEC membership in the 1970s in saying that ‘at least, now, you can vote out the politicians who make the laws that govern you’ (although it’s notable that Benn didn’t share the Brexiters’ naïve view of sovereignty). It was wheeled out by Rees-Mogg (in his interview with Tyrone) as if it were a sort of dialectical checkmate. But it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

To the extent it works at all, it rests on the premise that Britain is more democratic than the EU. How democratic Britain is can be debated, given, amongst other things, its arcane uncodified constitution, non-proportional voting system, unelected upper house, and extensive executive power underpinned by Royal Prerogative. So, too, can the democracy of the EU be debated. Perhaps it should indeed be constituted as a Federal State, with a constitution and an elected government, a United States of Europe, but such ideas were anathema to Brexiters, as they are to Eurosceptics in many EU states. There’s much more to be said about both debates than I have space for here but, at best, it’s a shaky premise.

Beyond that, the idea that, unlike before Brexit, British electors can now exert control over the policies and laws that govern them is fallacious. First, as with sovereignty, it ignores all those internationally derived regulations which, necessarily, continue to apply despite Brexit. Something similar could be said of the way that - as Liz Truss found, just as Harold Wilson did in the 1960s and James Callaghan in the 1970s - with or without Brexit ‘the markets’ put as much constraint on UK economic policy as, say, the EU did on that of Greece, and for much the same reasons. More generally, it massively overestimates the impact that EU membership had on Britain. We know, because of the extent of Retained EU Law (or what is now called Assimilated Law), that plenty of rules came from the EU, but these turn out to be rather dull and uncontentious things that few people care about or want to see scrapped. They aren’t the stuff of political controversy.

By contrast, the most controversial political issues of recent decades, from privatization and trade union restrictions in the 1980s and 1990s, to Iraq in the 2000s, to perennial battles over the extent of public spending, had little or nothing to do with EU membership (other, of course, than that of EU membership itself). Likewise, the big political issues of post-Brexit Britain remain similar to the big political issues of pre-Brexit Britain. So inflation, unemployment, tax rates, interest rates, the NHS, crime, education, defence, housing, immigration, and so on were and are what people vote about. But Brexit makes little difference to the policy options offered by political parties in these areas, and even if it may expand some options (certain taxes, perhaps) it reduces just as many (security data-sharing, say).

That’s even true for immigration policy because, although the UK has ended freedom of movement, the question of its overall total level was always subject to domestic choices as the government controlled non-EU immigration. Moreover, when an EU member, it was the UK’s choice not to use the controls on freedom of movement available to it, just as in 2004 it chose not to restrict free movement from newly acceded member states in Eastern Europe. On the Rees-Mogg argument, British voters could have changed both those things, so either they didn’t care enough or the idea of voter control of policy is flawed. On the other hand, as regards irregular migration, post-Brexit Britain no longer has the benefit of the Dublin regulations, and British voters can do nothing at all about that, even if they want to.

This also begins to show how the argument that Brexit gives electors control frequently rests on an entirely unrealistic idea of how electoral democracy work. Very occasionally, a single big issue may be defining, swaying large numbers of voters, but it has to be a very big issue. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily determine election results, or even change government policy (recall the Iraq War). For the most part, voters choose on the basis of the overall package of a party’s policy offer, their perceptions of its leadership and values, and similar ‘broad-brush’ considerations. Likewise, the record of an incumbent government is typically judged in the round, over many years and in relation to many issues. So when, to use the Rees-Mogg/ Tyrone clip again, Rees-Mogg says “if you didn’t like a tariff introduced by the EU, you had no means of stopping it” it is irrelevant. Elections aren’t fought or won at that level of specificity.

To be fair, presumably Rees-Mogg didn’t literally mean a single tariff, but trade policy generally. However, as an EU member, the UK could have held parliamentary votes on the ratification of EU trade deals, as other member states, or even regions, do (recall the Walloon vote against CETA), but it waived that right. On the other hand, parliamentary oversight of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals is limited and lacks a statutory basis. Perhaps, if voters really cared about it, they could pressurise politicians, or even vote in elections, to make this oversight more rigorous. But, by the same token, they could have done the same to force pre-Brexit governments to hold votes on EU trade deals, and, indeed, to vote those deals down if they did not want them. In fact, voters were not interested in making this an electoral issue any more than, until the referendum, voters saw EU membership as a contentious or important issue. The underlying point is that a parliamentary democracy doesn’t give voters overarching control of policy any more than sovereignty bestows unconstrained freedom of action.

Flawed ideas of parliamentary democracy 

However, it's also doubtful to whether leading Brexiters understand, or are even committed to, parliamentary democracy at all. It was, after all, Johnson and Rees-Mogg who instigated the Prorogation of parliament in 2019. And just this week David Frost (£), recalling that period, wrote that “the problem there was Parliament deciding to act independently on Brexit, as if it were itself the government”, a reference, apparently, to the Benn Act, and perhaps to the Indicative Votes process.

So, apart from the irony of a placeman lawmaker, especially one of a distinction either nugatory or inordinately well-disguised, lecturing about democracy, it seems that Frost doesn’t understand the most basic fact of parliamentary democracy, which is that the government governs to the extent that it commands a majority. But it’s not actually a lack of understanding, it’s one of the dirty secrets at the heart of Brexit that, even as the Brexiters spout about democracy, what they have done is to substantially increase the power of the Executive at the expense of parliament, most obviously in the growth in the use of Statutory Instruments and ‘Henry VIII powers’.

There must also be more than a suspicion that when Brexiters rail against ‘unelected’ judges and civil servants they don’t grasp that whilst elections are central to democracy and its institutions they cannot and should not completely define them. Or, again, they do actually grasp this, and hate it, partly because of the constraints it places on the Executive and partly because what defines Brexiters, and populists generally, is not a commitment to parliamentary democracy but to a mythologised idea of ‘the will of the people’, mystically distilled and enacted by their leaders. 

For a brief period, the referendum result empowered them to use that slogan as a battle cry to bully and scarify their opponents. Now, with Brexit, in any form, so self-evidently unwanted by the majority of the people, and, in its actual form, so unloved by the minority who still want it, they are forced to ever-more contorted and untenable justifications.

Moving forward

At issue in all this is not a re-litigation of Brexit itself. Brexit has happened, so the real point is to set out and challenge at least some of the extraordinary array of arguments, some contradictory, some illogical, some dishonest, some just wrong, which Brexiters are still deploying.

With some exceptions, they have had to just about accept that Brexit has had many costs and no benefits, but they still seek to excuse that and still fall back on the more intangible claim to have restored sovereignty and democracy. But that too is flawed, not least because, apart from everything else I’ve written in this post, the very fact that Britain could and did vote to leave the EU shows that doing so was unnecessary on those grounds. Stripped of that final conceit, the Brexiters have nothing to protect them from the hard facts of their abject failure.

Exposing the many ways they try to conceal or deny that failure matters, not because of the past but because of the future. Having wreaked so much damage on our country, the Brexiters now want to do it one final disservice by preventing an honest appraisal of what they did, thus preventing us from finding any real solution to it.


  1. Out on the doorstep voters are increasingly very clear. Even those who voted for Brexit are fully aware they were Conned. Some were willing dupes and would do it all over again - and naturally do not want the subject reopened. The rest are rather more mature and wish that Labour (or the Cons) would be adult enough to start an open discussion, and they say they are up for it as they very much regret the consequences of their pro-Brexit vote, and want to Rejoin. The voters are well ahead of the politicians, and I'm knocking doorsteps in Con heartlandia. In the meantime the voters are even more clear about which party they will aim their kicks at when given an opportunity. The longer they have to wait, the harder they will kick is what I am detecting.

    1. This is interesting. I think the Brexit debate cut across party lines - a conservative government took us in to the EU in the first place, after all - arguing that it would be good for our economy. There must be lots of Conservative voters who have just been keeping quiet over recent years as the Ken Clarkes and other Tory remainers or pro-Europeans have been increasingly expelled from the party. I wonder where these voters will go if the Conservatives take a turn towards the more extreme nationalist position after the next election.

    2. My experience ion the doorsteps is very similar is that the vast majority of people will not contradict you if you say Brexit was a mistake/disaster. I am not sure they are up for the "rejoin" discussion yet. This is in a seat (Sevenoaks) which is 50% Blue Wall and 50% Red Wall, strong Lib Dem representation in the rich bits, and where Labour has no representation at all, losing their last seat (to the Tories) last May.

    3. Most of the voters who are commenting they were Conned re Brexit are volunteering that information to me, unprompted. That tells me they are a) seeing completely through the seven veils of mendacity that Brexiters are using to try and conceal that "Brexit-has-failed"; b) they are pinning the majority of the Brexit tail on the Con donkey even though the folk hereabouts are core Conservative voters; c) they absolutely blame the Cons for this; d) and they are blaming both Lab and Con that there is not an adult conversation about Rejoining. They absolutely are up for it as they can see the trainwreck is still in motion and will continue causing damage until such time as it is brought to a halt, then reversed. The ones who do not want the subject broaching are either the BNP/UKIP/Reform types, or the Tory wealthy red trouser brigade who can't beleve they got away with the heist in the name of "sovereignty". In this patch the furious middle ground are going to LibDems mostly. Maybe in other areas other brands are available.

    4. Yes too little is made of the "red trouser" brigade - the real driving force behind Brexit but really encouraging posts

  2. "... thus preventing us from finding any real solution to it."
    Is there a solution to Brexit?
    Brexit is a major episode in the UK's terminal decline. The vote was a very important catalyst, but forms part of an ongoing continuum.
    Red team, Blue team, it doesn't matter, the decline seems to be inevitable as the UK doesn't have the social or institutional maturity to address the issues objectively.
    This is a designed and leveraged situation- the gas lighting, the incessant distraction and deflection are all part of the weaponisation of manipulation so well practiced and executed by the increasingly fascist authorities that appear to be doing quite well from the decline and chaos they impose.
    From afar, this toxicity is seen as unfortunate, but, like Brexit, totally self inflicted, and to be kept at arms length for fear of contagion.
    One can only hope that with generational and broad cultural change, the UK can have a seriously objective conversation with itself and emerge from this with some self respect and gain back its once high reputation for pragmatism and common sense.
    I personally doubt this will happen for decades, if it happens at all, given the historical trends in current and recent UK history.
    As a country, The UK voted for everything that is currently happening to it. The failure of Brexit isn't that it is a failure, which is obvious. The failure lies in the inability to see how to fix it. Eight years on from the vote, the UK still hasn't even agreed what Brexit was/ is supposed to be.

    1. “ Brexiters layer falsehoods upon half-truths upon questionable assumptions”
      Might the in/famous “There you go again” response gain traction? If set up properly.

    2. You have it right, El Fred. Brexit is just a symptom of the decline of the UK. It seems almost to be a consequence of Empire that the loss turns the country into a basket case for decades. Another symptom is the current state of the Armed Forces, although this can't, as far as I can see, be blamed on Brexit. (For a further look at this generally, see:

      I voted 'remain' and I would probably vote 'rejoin' if such a vote were to be held. However (although it may be outside the defined scope of this blog) a subject which is not often examined is whether, apart from the obvious economic and diplomatic advantages for some members, the EU is a positive element in world affairs. With regard to the current war in the Ukraine the EU is acting as a disruptive force. EU governments, with encouragement (to say the least) from the US are adding fuel to the flames rather than pushing for talks and a negotiated settlement, and acting positively for European peace. This refutes the old claim that the EU was devoted to, and has saved Europe, from warfare. Obviously such reservations as mine would not matter much to any UK government that I can envisage in power, but it is certainly something which should be discussed more widely among the populace.

    3. Alastair Northedge10 February 2024 at 08:53

      The EU has changed since the days of the Brexit negotiations. The new generation of leaders is pretty poor, notably over Ukraine and the relationship with Russia. It will presumably change again with the next round of leadership. It is important not to present the EU as having eternal characteristics, when it is in fact the personalities in charge at the moment which are the problem.

    4. I really can't think who is "doing quite well" out of Brexit, apart that is from Johnson - who has done well financially but become a pariah in the process. The Union of professional people smugglers must also be celebrating. But any number of Brexit Conservatives have seen their political careers terminated or permanently tainted, either directly or indirectly as a result of Brexit. And Farage, Tice, GB News etc would still be around - probably even more persuasively - had the referendum gone the other way.

    5. Excellent post Chris as usual. The brexiters obsession with sovereignty is most non sensical in relation to NATO. The most sovereign thing a state can do is engage in war. Yet article 5 of the NATO treaty requires us to go to the defence of other NATO members. So we have traded a massive piece of sovereignty for mutual defence. But you never hear the brexiters railing at the unelected bureaucrats in NATO.

  3. I've often thought that structure of Brexiters' arguments have been an extended version of the 'Gish gallop'. This is a technique where a debater makes a long sequence of largely unconnected claims, apparently supportive of their position, without any detailed understanding of them, and without providing any evidence (though, perhaps, with the implication that such evidence does exist). Not infrequently, careful examination of the points shows it supports the exact opposite. But this doesn't matter to the Gish galloper, who has no interest in facts or evidence, and doesn't expect their audience to check the points raised. They are only aiming to achieve an overall semblence of support - and to overwhelm any rational countering of this position.

    It recently came to my attention that the journalist Mehdi Hasan has suggested a three-point approach to countering the Gish gallop.

    1. Because of the plethora of false claims, pick one and address it directly. Chose the one that is most readily refutable, for clarity.
    2. Tackle that point completely and decisively, without moving on, until the falsehood is thoroughly exposed.
    3. Then explicitly call out the technique the opponent is using, name it, and ask the audience not to be taken in by it. Point out that all the claims can be falsified, as the chosen example was.

    May I, therefore, take a moment to thank you Prof. Grey, for being an exemplar of this process in action, over many years now.

    1. Which of the normal Brexiter seven veils of Gish would you suggest is best pierced by Mehdi Hasan's sword ? What does a good but succinct riposte look like ?

    2. Mehdi Hasan's suggestions are good, but as always when dealing with a Gish Galloper in a real-time conversation, one needs extraordinary focus and persistence in the face of the Galloper's constant and deliberate attempts to divert. Getting a word in edgeways is often difficult, as interlocutors of former Australian PM and Galloper extraordinaire Scott Morrison always found.

  4. I've often thought that structure of Brexiters' arguments have been an extended version of the 'Gish gallop'. This is a technique where a debater makes a long sequence of largely unconnected claims, apparently supportive of their position, without any detailed understanding of them, and without providing any evidence (though, perhaps, with the implication that such evidence does exist). Not infrequently, careful examination of the points shows it supports the exact opposite. But this doesn't matter to the Gish galloper, who has no interest in facts or evidence, and doesn't expect their audience to check the points raised. They are only aiming to achieve an overall semblence of support - and to overwhelm any rational countering of this position.

    It recently came to my attention that the journalist Mehdi Hasan has suggested a three-point approach to countering the Gish gallop.

    1. Because of the plethora of false claims, pick one and address it directly. Chose the one that is most readily refutable, for clarity.
    2. Tackle that point completely and decisively, without moving on, until the falsehood is thoroughly exposed.
    3. Then explicitly call out the technique the opponent is using, name it, and ask the audience not to be taken in by it. Point out that all the claims can be falsified, as the chosen example was.

    May I, therefore, take a moment to thank you Prof. Grey, for being an exemplar of this process in action, over many years now.

  5. On the limits of sovereignty a poster on David Allen Green's blog wrote "Parliament is sovereign, not divine".

    That was in the context of the Rwanda bill trying to declare it a safe country against evidence but it also applies beautifully to all the other international constraints that the government, and more recently the PopCons, are railing against

  6. It is good to point out that quite some of the perceived lack of control over EU decision had been caused by the UK's sovereign decision not to engage.

    Additional to the given example of not waiving the right to vote on trade deals, there was also a massive lack of engagement or unwillingness to engage in the process of EU law creation.

    The so-called European Scrutiny Committee deemed it sufficient to cry foul after law had successfully passed the European Parliament.

    While virtually every other member parliament was working closely with the Commission during the law's drafting stages.

    1. This ties in with a comment by Sir Ivan Rogers, where he pointed out that many member countries, especially the smaller ones, are quite "EU oriented". In that for some policy issues the primary course of action is to push it at an EU level *before* deciding what to implement locally. For anything trans-national, a small country by itself can achieve nothing themselves. NL does this a lot, it had an informal currency union with Germany long before the euro.

      The UK being a large country separated by sea could afford to "'do it's own thing" to some extent, but the result is that apparently the entire relationship atrophied (at a political level at least, I understand at the public service level the interactions were quite positive.)

  7. "There must also be more than a suspicion that when Brexiters rail against ‘unelected’ judges and civil servants they don’t grasp that whilst elections are central to democracy and its institutions they cannot and should not completely define them"

    We use the word "democracy" very loosely in this kind of context. I think it is far more useful to use liberal democracy - which I assume we like - and which broadly describes how most of the West runs itself - as opposed to (say) Orban's illiberal democracy when elections results ("the Will of the People" ) serve as cover for some pretty unsavoury practices.

    . "social democracy" may have its uses in this context also.

    1. Democracy, as understood mostly in serious debate and commentary, is not the dictatorship of 50% of the electorate + 1. By democracy serious people mean a system of expressing majority political will regulated by law which protects the rights of the minority and of the individual. FPTP as practiced in the UK fails in any case the first of those conditions as it structurally converts electoral minorities into political majorities with almost dictatorial power.
      Moreover, in the current political climate the other two increasingly tend to be ground under the wheels of that very vociferous political majority.

  8. Jacob Rees Mogg spouts cynical, mendacious nonsense about Brexit and is ennobled as a Knight of the Realm (not that I will ever refer to him as Sir). Chris writes persuasively, cogently, and wittily about Brexit, week in, week out, and is still merely a commoner. It’s really not fair.

  9. The vast majority of of voters, including the dimwit politicians and pea-brained Brexiteers, had virtually no understanding of the implications of leaving the EU. We now have a self imposed catastrophe which the aforementioned dimwits are frightened to address let alone talk about. In my view, this reluctance to confront the issues is fed by the fear of losing vast numbers of 'red wall/blue wall votes'. Perhaps the Lib Dems can show some courage and lead the way here.

  10. Does it not occur to Brexiters that in ‘taking back control’ of a border, one necessarily gives the nation on the other side of the border equal and opposite control of it.
    So if, say, the French rule that they will physically check all passports and their sovereign voters only allow enough money to pay for one official to wield the stamp, there are going to be very long queues.
    For a highly traded nation than can nowhere near feed itself, that’s not the smartest thing to do.

    1. But it's all 'punishment' isn't it according to the fools who even after all these years are still willing to listen to the likes of Farage and Widdecombe etc when they vent their 'perpetual grievance' diatribes.

  11. The claim that Brexit allowed the UK to give support to Ukraine is not only -- as you point out -- patently nonsense; it is at least arguable that, but for Brexit, the UK could been of greater help to Ukraine. At a time when Germany and France were still hesitant to supply the kit Ukraine desperately needed for its defence, the UK's voice as a leading member of the EU might have counted for much. Whilst decisions on arms supply were entirely a matter for individual member states (which is why the Brexiters' claim is false), the UK would have been far better placed to influence the decisions that others were taking, had it retained its seat within the councils of the EU. It is just one illustration of the 'multiplier' effect that membership can provide, and that the UK has casually thrown away.

  12. Excellent blog, chronicling what happens when a great country is being led by completely dishonest, ignorant buffoons and shysters, thank you Chris.
    An accurate account for posterity will be invaluable.

  13. For decades, the UK was at best a lukewarm member of the EU with its own unique membership deal (budget rebate, non-participation in Schengen, Euro, etc). As most of its members know, the EU is a far from perfect construct involving compromises in which no-one gets exactly what they want (just like a properly functioning democracy) but enough of what they need to make participation both worthwhile and much better than the alternative. The UK’s winner-takes-all form of democracy is not well-suited to the EU model - and rejoining (should it ever happen) will only solve a modest amount of the UK’s problems (i.e. those caused by Brexit). It is not even clear that those problems (as real as they are) are the biggest facing the UK. It is an uncontentious claim that Brexit has been a very divisive issue. Until such time as there is overwhelming support to join the Single Market, a customs union or whatever version of the EU then exists, perhaps the UK should focus on solving its biggest problems (without the scapegoat of blaming the EU for them). Just a thought - happy to be persuaded otherwise.

    1. Brexit affects every other problem - since it fundamentally and permanently affects the economy and therefore the tax take. It even affects our ability to borrow, as the markets would obviously respond more favourably to a country with a credible economic strategy. It's also inconceivable that an eighty seat majority could be overturned in a single parliament just due to a continuation of existing problems or periodic desire for "change". Something historically damaging and fundamental has happened - and that can only be Brexit.

  14. Not only miht we have used our influence, we would have been able to aford quite a lot more

  15. In the long-run it may be good that ‘Leave’ won the referendum because the charlatans that promoted it only have bluster to defend its inadequacies. There are, and never will be, major benefits from it - and time will erode tge defences of Covid, Ukraine, Gaza or whatever reason they feel the need to invoke.
    ‘You don’t know what you have until it is gone’ is a truism for a reason.

  16. Martin Wolf of the FT , just before Christmas wrote that it would be decades or potentially never that we would rejoin the EU. He was right but for the wrong reasons - I argued that after 45 years of membership the the UK didn't have and still doesn't really have a sufficiently positive emotional relationship with the EU.

    It needed a reset which Brexit has provided. This is by far the largest Brexit dividend to date.
    The opportunity now exists to rebuild relationships, currently at a transactional level - the TCA is a good start. Perhaps after another 20 or so years, we could look at more strategic issues like defence and security.

    Brexit is a long term process much like the 45 years we were entangled in the EU. An arms length trading relationship is a good thing - the UK and the EU can be odd bedfellows going forward - just not in the same bed.

    The big challenge facing the EU going forwards is Ukraine and the costs of Net Zero - Brexit is a mere sideshow compared to these challenges.

    1. Try telling that to manufacturers.
      Nothing that wipes 4% off gdp is a ‘sideshow’ when it comes to a trading-deficit-ridden country trying to pay for large-scale investment when the party that governs for two-thirds of the time only has two policies: 1) tax cuts and 2) cut taxes.

    2. Ah, a Richard North zealot found his way here :) So the largest Brexit dividend to date is that there are now...opportunities to rebuild relationships.. That's nice. That's in fact a LOT more than was promised by the likes of you- or maybe not.

      "He was right but for the wrong reasons - I argued that..."


    3. Brexit is a sideshow for the EU but an overwhelming problem for the UK unless more adept politicians can be quickly found.
      The serious issue is that UK institutions are collapsing before our eyes, the highlight today is the failing Court / Justice system which is severely hindering the Police Law and Order processes.
      Not the optimum time for breaking links with the EU. Probably wise that they have U-turned on repealing EU laws.

    4. We really have to stop listening to Brexity boiled brains.

    5. Oh contraire - it would seem that we've jumped from 9th to 8th in the global manufacturing league, even overtaking France. According to Made UK & The Economist (behind pay wall).

      THE FACTS: 2023
      Make UK's annual analysis unveils the latest manufacturing facts and statistics for 2023.

      With a significant jump in output to £224 billion, the UK has climbed from 9th to 8th place in the global manufacturing rankings, cementing its role as a key player in the industry."

      It's acknowledged that Brexit has caused friction but that, over time trade finds new equilibria.

    6. There may be a ‘jump in output’ but most of it is recovery post world wide Covid shutdowns and even the Treasury’s in house OBR says that at 4 yrs post Brexit being ‘done’ that GDP is 4% down on what it would have been if Brexit had not happened and that this divergence will continue,
      The main reason being well explicated by Peter Foster in his recent book on what went wrong with Brexit and about which he has been invited to talk by the usual gamut of economic think tanks and these bare all on line.
      Essentially it’s called the rachet effect which is that while UK industries have managed so far the nature of the TCA is thst divergence is built in.

    7. The UK trade equilibrium is........ very long term chronic and massive deficits, where goods are only partially balanced by services.
      Chronic and massive should really be in capitals, but that being a Brexiter thing I will desist.

      The difference in manufacturing output between the UK and France being very small, the UK can easily move to 8th place simply by suffering higher inflation.
      "More" is not always "better".

      But who knows where this surge has come from?

      From MakeUK "Insights"
      Britain’s manufacturers have seen output surge by three times faster than orders in the last quarter, to +10% from a negative balance in Q3 of -3%.

      Manufacturing represents about 9.4% of UK Gross value added output and the manufacture of food represented 21% of total manufacturers sales in 2022.

      Could the move to 8th place be a temporary surge in food production ahead of the delayed imposition of import controls?

      Who knows?
      Which beans have been counted, and from which sack?

    8. David - you show how difficult it is, even with 'evidence' to prove anything good/or bad with Brexit - constraints on blog length often prevent nuance or context to be clearly articulated.

      As a recent example, the EU issued a compromise on EV battery rules of origin - what wasn't discussed was the intensive year of lobbying by both the UK government & the German automotive industry - who'd have thought the German's would have come to the UKs rescue 😉

    9. Sure... there will be swings and roundabouts.
      My business was hammered on Dumbsday (31/01/2020), as it relied on freedom of movement, and will never recover.
      Somebody probably made a mint.

      You absolutely cannot claim that a compromise on EV battery tariffs is a Brexit benefit.
      Apart from the fact that it would not have been necessary prior to Brexit, the UK government might even have gone as far as to bribe the EU to get this compromise.
      What is written on the other face of the coin.
      It is not hard to imagine the effect on UK public opinion if the Telegraph were to print...
      "Nissan ups stumps due to Brexit Tariffs"

      Without Brexit the little that is left of `UK vehicle manufacturing would not need rescuing in this way.

  17. In the climate change "space" there is equally a multitude of specious denialist arguments. There are also websites such as which list and offer rebuttals (with sources) to the most common arguments. Is there already something equivalent for Brexit, or is that an as yet unrealised opportunity?

    1. You cannot reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into. (G. B. Shaw)

      It seems a good idea but rather than intellectually convincing Brexiters I think it would help make their unevidenced beliefs shameful or laughable. They should be challenged about the lack of a comparable site enumerating Brexit benefits.

  18. The current UK government and parliamentary Conservative party are almost exclusively committed Brexiters which is no great surprise since the 2019 GE was portrayed as a vote to ‘get Brexit done’ but the next one later this year will, in no small part, be a vote on how the electorate thinks Brexit is going. If the polls are to be believed then the ‘Brexit defences’ that Chris so forensically destroys in his blog are already well understood to be shams by the people if not so eloquently expressed.

    1. It would be really helpful if the rebuttals could also be collected together, with both a lengthy erudite footnoted version, and a pithy succinct version.

  19. Brexit is far simpler. As stated it's a con job. Brexit greatly benefits a very small but very powerful minority who owns over 90%of this country and control wealth and the means to sway enough of us to believe it's a benefit to themselves or the masses via politicians and media that have been bought. The take over of UK by RW republican interests was an aim and will remain so. They are patient and it's happening more slowly but inevitably.

  20. It was interesting to see this week a Guardian piece that said the word "Brexit" had entered common parlance of teens to mean "crap", as in, "it all went Brexit" when talking about an incident that took a turn and went south. Things like that show how it's becoming embedded in UK culture that Brexit is seen as a terrible thing that people either regret, or pretend didn't happen.