Lord Adonis’s barmy, prejudicial, illogical depiction of Brexit is partly a symptom of the Government’s own disjointed approach to Brexit, argues Bruce Newsome.
Lord Adonis ends the year 2017 as the barmiest Brexit-basher yet, turning a resignation from a minor advisory role into a vehicle for a blatantly fictional, prejudicial, and illogical depiction of Brexit.
Worse, his depiction of Brexit has been reported seriously. Doesn’t anyone check the facts anymore? Barmy Brexit-bashing became normative in 2017 – common, fashionable, taken-for-granted – because the government is peddling a contradictory policy on Brexit. This contradictory policy feeds left-wing conspiracy theorists and repels Brexiteers: nobody is satisfied, everybody is confused, and the barmiest Brexit-basher receives respectful reporting.
Does Adonis have the ethos to be considered a reputable critic of Brexit? No. Adonis is a Labour peer, who accrued most of his political experience working for Tony Blair on education and transport. He was appointed chair of the National Infrastructure Commission by a Conservative government, where he focused on railways. His letter to the Prime Minister reviewed that role before stating that he was resigning over the European Union Withdrawal Bill. Huh? The technical term for this leap is “non sequitur” – his argument “doesn’t follow.”
Then Adonis switches to hyperbole: “Brexit is a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump.” That’s three prejudices in one sentence.
“Populism” is a term that properly refers to an appeal to ordinary people. From academic obscurity, since 2016 it has been used as a prejudicial explanation for anything popular with which one disagrees. It’s an anti-democratic prejudice. Consistently, Adonis is an unelected peer, whose letter promises to vote against the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords, and never admits that Brexit was and is popular – instead, he blames a right-wing conspiracy, and wants a second referendum.
“Nationalism” has been another prejudicial explanation from the start. The technical term for this fallacy is “reductionism.” Brexiteers had many arguments in favour of Brexit – sovereignty, fiscal savings, social cohesion, border security, amongst other things; no representative Brexiteer ever said, so far as I am aware, that Britain should exit the EU because Britain is a better nation than any other. Yet a convenient way to avoid the worthy arguments in favour of Brexit is to reduce Brexiteers to nationalists. Reductionism is a fallacy – it’s not fair; it’s a failure to contest the other side’s arguments. Adonis’ reductionism should have been called out as such – but no reporter has yet pointed it out.
As for Adonis comparing Brexit with “Donald Trump” – the technical term for this fallacy is “false analogy.” Brexit is a policy, a process, an objective – Trump is a person. Adonis might have compared Brexit with a Trump policy, or a Brexiteer with Trump, but to compare Brexit with Trump is a false analogy. His letter does not explain what on earth he meant by throwing Trump into the sentence, except to throw red meat to those other reductionists who put populism, nationalism, Trump, and Brexit into the same bag in order to throw stones at one homogenous target of hate. It’s not logical, it’s not empirical, it’s just prejudicial.
Adonis has made false analogies before – he had previously compared the government’s consideration of a “hard Brexit” with appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s. Hmm?! Again, he provided no argument to justify why this was a true analogy – except to add “I’m a historian.” This amounts to claiming the ethos of a historian (i.e., “trust me, as a historian, I don’t need to justify my historical analogies”), but he doesn’t have any more ethos as a historian than as a foreign policy-maker.
Yet his prejudices keep coming. His letter went on to claim that the Prime Minister has been “allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right to wrench Britain out of the key economic and political institutions of modern Europe”. In reaction, the Liberal Democrat leader (Vince Cable) agreed that “the Conservative leadership has pandered to its right wing over the single market and customs union.”
What planet are they on? UKIP has nobody in the House of Commons or the Lords with whom Theresa May could ally, even if she wanted. Meanwhile, UKIP has made clear that May is not delivering the Brexit for which UKIP campaigned. In fact, UKIP’s policy is that May should resign to make way for someone who would deliver Brexit. Similarly, those on the self-admitted right-wing of the Conservative Party, such as John Redwood, also accuse May of favouring the Remainers more than the Brexiteers.
Moreover, Adonis is obviously wrong to accuse Theresa May of “wrench[ing] Britain out of the key economic and political institutions of modern Europe.” Her policy is to stay in the customs union, free trade area, all the current security institutions and arrangements, and (consequently) the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as she made clear in her speech in Florence in September.
Adonis’ letter is so blatantly prejudicial and illogical that I am surprised by the deferential reporting that it has received over the weekend. Journalists are partly at fault for generally abandoning objectivity in favour of fashionable Brexit-bashing, but the government is most at fault for talking out of both sides of its face – a contradictory policy that repeatedly promises that “Brexit means Brexit” and that Britain will separate in March 2019, but contrives to separate as little as possible, and leaves everyone confused.