Out of Control
On the third Brexit anniversary Unherd’s polling finds that in every constituency in the country except three – all in Lincolnshire – more people agree than disagree that Brexit was a mistake. There is no popular resurgent sovereignty. This is the opposite of taking back control, this is a collection of nations out of control.
As the anniversary of the disaster known as Brexit passes everyone quietly gets on with it, knowing that there is no way back. This week saw some startling polling from Unherd, on the eve of the 3rd anniversary of Brexit. In all 650 UK constituencies apart from three (all in Lincolnshire), more people now agree than disagree that Brexit was a mistake. I don’t know what’s happening in Lincolnshire. Maybe that’s where the Sunlit Uplands are shining through? For the rest of us this week saw Jonathan Gullis shouting abuse at vulnerable abducted children, the ascension of 30p Lee and the return of the (very unrepentant) Liz Truss, Dominic ‘I behaved professionally at all times’ Raab is in a lot of bother, and Grant Shapps is lying about ambulance workers.
Three years on and – in news that surprised absolutely nobody – Bloomberg Economics told us that Brexit has caused a £100bn-a-year loss in output, leaving Britain’s economy 4% smaller than it would have been inside the EU. Since officially leaving the EU, three-years ago this week, UK-based investment has grown 19% less than the G7 average and the economy has forfeited 4% worth of growth, the analysis showed. “Did the UK commit an act of economic self-harm when it voted to leave the EU in 2016? The evidence so far still suggests it did,” Bloomberg economists Ana Andrade and Dan Hanson, said. “The main takeaway is that the rupture from the single market may have impacted the British economy faster than we, or most other forecasters, expected,” they added.
I mean everyone knew that, but there you go.
So three years on and we’re tied to the economic and cultural self-harm of England’s identity crisis or whatever it was and we will continue to reap the disastrous consequences for years to come. Brexit as an Egregore (a sort of a “psychic manifestation conjured from the collective thoughts of a distinct group of people”) is here to stay, or the consequences are anyway. But here’s the odd thing. We are living through momentous change we didn’t vote for and can do nothing about. There’s mass consensus its a terrible idea but its politically unacceptable to suggest doing anything about it.
This momentous change – that nobody wants anymore has an accidental feel to it. As Fintan O’Toole put it – way back in 2016 (‘Is England ready for self-government?‘): “Brexit is essentially Exit: if the Leave side wins the referendum it will almost certainly be without securing majorities in Scotland or Northern Ireland. For all the talk of reasserting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, the desire to leave the European Union is driven above all by the rise of English nationalism.
And the chief consequence of Brexit will be the emergence of England as a stand-alone nation.”
He continues: “…English nationalists will ask, so what? Many nations that have acquired the power to govern themselves had no modern experience of doing so. (Ireland is an obvious example.) Why should English independence be any different?
But it is different. And the first big difference is that it is unconscious, even accidental. Usually, when a nation cuts itself off from a bigger entity, it does so through long, difficult and often violent struggle. The process is nothing if not deliberate. But England seems to be stumbling into national independence as a kind of unintended side effect of disgruntlement with the EU.”
This is the bigger picture. If Brexit has accelerated the nations on the road to independence, the one that nobody is talking about, is England. As my English nationalist friends are quick to point out almost all of the Brexit arguments are framed in terms of Britain or the UK, as if these historically constructed entities will carry on regardless of the new landscape. Brexiteers want to talk of revolution but experience continuity and harmony. This was at the heart of the gobbledegook Boris Johnson sold to the Irish about trade and the border, managing the amazing task of lying out of each side of his mouth simultaneously.
So is it English nationalism or British nationalism that’s driving all this? Well actually its English nationalism cloaked as British nationalism because England seeks its actual power through cosplaying as larger Britain, and, ironically, doesn’t have the self-confidence and cohesion (Hello Liverpudlians!) to create a real momentum for real change.
So we’re struck with Britain, and if independence fails (as every commentator is telling us) we’re stuck here too. Not in a resurgent Britannia Unchained but in a Britain run by Sunak and Braverman and 30p Lee, by Patel and Raab and Grant Shapps. All of the sheen of 2014 – of a multicultural economically stable Britain has gone, we are left with the remnants of the Conservative Party – the party that elected Liz Truss – to rule over us.
Does this seem like a dismal prospect? Do you want to do something about it? You probably answered yes to the first question and were perplexed by the second? Voting Labour won’t get you back to the EU, neither will voting Liberal (actually voting Liberal won’t have any impact on anything). If you are chokingly stupid and want to continue voting Tory – fill your boots – it’s going great in Lincolnshire. Arguably if you vote SNP it won’t make any difference because their currency policy is a shambles, but at least, in theory, they are committed to returning Scotland to Europe.
If this all feels like a bleak outlook, it is. One Unionist friend of mine this week sparked up with his concern about Nicola Sturgeon’s immanent downfall. He was fearful of the (Scottish) nationalist reaction to the (inevitable ) failure of the de facto referendum strategy / Sturgeon’s departure / Labour’s victory (delete as required). His fear was that after this inevitable catastrophe – and I think the return of a massive populist left-wing British Labour government – nationalist sentiment in Scotland would disappear. His fear was that the remnant diehards would turn to violence. I (politely) pointed out that all of the real-world actual political violence had stemmed from British nationalists, not Scottish ones, whether you take the George Square loyalist riot of 2014 or Jo Cox’s murder of 2016.
The result of all of these grim facts is that we need to re-make the case for independence in new light because everything has changed and is changing. But so do those who defended Britain in 2014 as an acceptable destination, a land of law and order and social stability, a land where it was unthinkable that Boris Johnson could be elected Prime Minister and one where Scotland was a respected partner. Three years on from Brexit such ideas are laughable.
I think I’ll move to Lincolnshire.