Britain’s political and media elite is manipulating the public’s views to match the establishment choice. Shame on them and shame on us for tolerating their childishness, argues Bruce Newsome.
You wouldn’t believe it a year ago, but Britain’s elite is becoming even more childish on Brexit.
I have done my best: I have pointed out the EU’s false claim to stability, Theresa May’s circular and disingenuous claim that “Brexit means Brexit,” the British government’s pretence to want the best from the negotiations without extolling the virtues of Brexit, Tony Blair’s utterly illogical and counter-evidentiary claims on Brexit, the false characterization of Brexit as right-wing populism (it’s actually closer to a repudiation of left-wing populism), the false characterization of Brexit as fascism by people who behave like fascists, the failure of campaigners for a second referendum to advance a logical argument for it, the hypocritical subversion of the referendum by people claiming to stick up for democracy – the list goes on, and so do the pathologies. On the evidence of this week, the pathologies are getting worse.
Here’s a familiar barmy Brexit-bashing pathology: pose high-mindedly as more intelligent or educated, but ignore the other side’s arguments and pretend that opponents are demented.
The first illustrative example from this week is an article – written by Lord Adonis (formerly a minister in Tony Blair’s government of no relevance to Brexit) and Will Hutton (a journalist of similar politics) – blaming the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 on “problems…made in Britain” – primarily poverty, for which their solution is more integration in the EU. You will not find any admission that Brexiteers have any problems with the EU itself. Adonis and Hutton might as well be children putting their hands over their ears and crying “la-la-la, we can’t hear you,” then pretending the other children in the playground are dumb.
On the same day, Nick Clegg (former leader of the Liberal Democrats) released an article analogizing Brexit to punching oneself. This is a childishly false analogy, as if Brexiteers are so insane as to self-harm they cannot possibly have any reason for Brexit. He segued to a conclusion that resistance to Brexit is “moral” – as moral as to stop someone punching themselves, says Clegg. I say: Clegg shouldn’t be wasting our time with such childishness; editors shouldn’t be publishing it; and readers should be lobbying Clegg to stop his childishness.
The next day, the current leader of the Liberal Democrats (Vince Cable), a wannabe Labour leader (Chuka Umunna), and the Conservative Party’s shrillest Remainer (Anna Soubry) co-authored an article. Surely three political luminaries for three different parties should offer something more erudite? Alas, it is similarly childish. They pretend that Britain’s failure to negotiate a trade deal with the EU is the fault of Brexiteers rather than a resultant outcome of Theresa May’s irresolution and the EU’s intransigence. Consider their early claim that: “There is almost no one who believes there is a serious prospect of such a trade deal being struck with our erstwhile European partners while the government rules out remaining in Europe’s economic area.” (This sounds like plagiarism of Adonis and Hutton’s statement that “Virtually no one still claims, as they did during the referendum campaign, that we can retain the economic benefits of EU membership while leaving the customs union and the single market.”) Their statement is absurd for three reasons:
First, these Remainers want Britain to negotiate a trade deal while committing to stay in the “economic area” – but the “economic area” is a free trade area, so if you commit to stay in it, you don’t need a trade deal, you never leave the EU, and you defy the popular vote of June 2016 –which all have always said they would defy.
Second, these same Remainers mischaracterize Theresa May’s policy as something that “almost no one” believes in. Theresa May’s policy is to negotiate a new trade deal nominally outside the EU. Officially, she and the most authoritative people in government believe in it. To mischaracterize government as “almost no one” is a trick to transfer blame from a government of reluctant Brexiteers to the real Brexiteers mostly outside government.
Third, the most responsible author of the government’s contradictory policy is Theresa May – a Remainer, but Cable, Umunna, and Soubry blame it on the “ideologists of Brexit”.
With so much ridiculousness in one week, I struggle to pick the week’s barmiest Brexit-basher.
Let’s focus on Theresa May, our prime minister of almost two years: she keeps retrenching her plan to keep Northern Ireland in the EU, but if Northern Ireland is in the EU, Britain is in the EU. This is best illustrated by human trafficking: Britain and France have made human trafficking more difficult at their primary border through the port of Calais to Dover, so traffickers have diverted their smuggling through the overland border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. One trafficker told a journalist that the route was a “back door” and “a guaranteed way to get into the UK.” Theresa May can pretend that she is re-imposing sovereignty over Britain’s borders with the EU, but she is closing her front door while pretending her back door isn’t open. Her con is childishly self-defeating.
Then there is the childish terminology of her spin: her government describes keeping Northern Ireland in the EU as the “Irish backstop” as if this is a prudent contingency, but it’s the status quo in the absence of a policy for change.
As a leader, Theresa May is a childishly two-faced fence-sitter. Almost two years ago, she appointed David Davis as her chief negotiator with the EU, but she held him on a tight leash; she forbade him from articulating policy; she appointed a personal adviser who also negotiates in her name; her first speech dedicated to Brexit is dated September 2017; she did not chair a Cabinet meeting on Brexit until December 2017; she displaced Davis in order to sign the ridiculous interim deal with the EU on 8 December 2017 (the one that was immediately disputed by all sides); in March 2018, she made two rare speeches that she characterized as policies, but the first was uselessly contradictory, as was the second, which was meant to clarify the first. Last month, she finally committed to publish a formal policy paper (“white paper”) on Brexit; at the time, she seemed to be rushing to have something to bring to the EU summit in late June, but this week she refused to commit to a date for publication.
Procrastination, mischaracterization, reflected accusation, hypocrisy, denial, and avoidance are common pathologies, but we expect better from those few in the political and journalistic elite with the arrogance to claim to tell us what is best for us. Shame on them and shame on us for tolerating their childishness.