We are stuck in the Tory game of make-believe that everything is coming up roses in an English country garden. The reality is that following Brexit the rest of the world looks at England with a mixture of perplexity, pity, and amused contempt.
First published: Nov 2022.
I n an interview with the BBC on Friday, the Chancellor-for-the-time-being – a qualification which needs to be added to the titles of every Conservative cabinet minister – was asked why it is that the UK is the only G7 state whose economy is contracting even though all the others are also facing the same pressures resulting from the war in Ukraine, the global rise in energy prices, and the recovery from the pandemic.
There is only one event which has negatively affected the UK’s ability to trade with its neighbours and recruit the labour it needs which has not been the same issue for the other members of the G7. We all know what that was. Yet Hunt danced around the question trying desperately to maintain the fiction that other countries were being affected just as badly when the UK is the only member of the G7 reporting negative growth.
That was because it would be politically suicidal for a leading member of the party which has so firmly nailed its colours to the mast of right-wing Anglo-British nationalist exceptionalism to admit what we all already know is the reason why the UK is performing so poorly and has, uniquely amongst the G7 members, failed to regrow its economy to the size it was before the pandemic began. But you know it, I know it, even the craven and self-serving Jeremy Hunt knows it too. He just can’t say it out loud and the right-wing British press will certainly not force the issue and demand an answer.
It’s Brexit, stupid. Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster with no redeeming features.
Chancellor-for-the-time-being Jeremy Hunt. | Flickr/Number 10
For Hunt to ignore the malign effects of Brexit on the economy as he is days away from announcing a package of tax rises and cuts to public spending and services is not just insane, it’s criminally irresponsible. It’s the Conservative party putting its short-term party political needs before the public good – again. If Hunt refuses to acknowledge the blindingly obvious harm Brexit is inflicting on the UK economy there can be no hope of repairing the damage. Instead, we are all stuck in the Tory game of make-believe, pretending that all is an English rose in the Brexit garden.
Now the UK is about to enter a Brexit-enhanced recession. You can call it what you like, you can waffle on about Putin and COVID as much as you like, but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s a Brexit-enhanced recession. Brexit supporters can whine about it all they want, but this is the Brexit that they voted for. After you have voted to kneecap yourself you don’t get to complain that you didn’t vote for being left unable to walk.
Sadly the denialism from the Labour party is just as pathetic as it whores itself in pursuit of Brexit-supporting constituencies in the north of England. It’s very cosy for them to blame the impending cuts to public services and the UK’s shrinking economy on “12 years of low growth from this Conservative government”. But there is one Conservative policy above all which is responsible for the current economic malaise of the UK, and it’s a Conservative policy which the Labour party has fully signed up to. The self-censorship from the Labour party is absurd and insults all our intelligence. They also know it is Brexit, but they are too craven and cowardly to say so even though opinion polling collated by the National Centre for Social Research shows that 60% of people in the UK now think that it was a mistake to leave the European Union.¹
Growing majority of Britons think Brexit was a mistake. | WhatUKthinks / NatCen Social Research
The question is – are any British politicians bold and honest enough to grab the Brexit bullsh*t by the horns and do something about it? Sadly we know that they won’t, they will continue to pander to English nationalist exceptionalism and the deluded Anglo-British nationalist belief that the world looks up to England with a mixture of jealousy, admiration and awe. The reality is that following Brexit the rest of the world looks at England with a mixture of perplexity, pity, and amused contempt.
Sadly for England, the best it can now plausibly hope for is to crawl back into the Customs Union and Single Market with its tail between its legs, and to most definitely not be permitted any role in determining the rules and regulations. Unfortunately, both Labour and the Conservatives would prefer to continue to manage the harm and damage of Brexit rather than deal such a catastrophic, and potentially fatal blow to the fragile ego of English exceptionalism.
Obviously, anecdotal evidence must be treated with immense caution but my friends from EU countries all without exception say that England – and they are careful to specify that they mean England and not Scotland – would not be quickly or easily welcomed back into the EU.
Quite simply they do not trust England to be a team player. During its time as an EU member, the UK was frequently obstructionist and often demanded special treatment. Then after the Brexit vote, the UK blew away what little remained of any residual goodwill towards it on the part of other EU member states with the petulant and duplicitous manner in which the British Government negotiated Brexit. The most widespread attitude in Europe now is relief that English nationalism and its special pleading, its arrogance, and its delusions of grandeur are no longer the EU’s problem. They are not going to rush to put out the Bienvenue mat if the UK changes its mind and decides that it needs to get back into the EU.
Next time round there will be no special treatment for the UK, no opt-outs on the Euro or the Schengen area, no special rebates or exemptions. As far as the EU is concerned it will be Brussels’ way or the highway for the UK.
However, attitudes to an independent Scotland will be markedly different. There is a widespread appreciation in Europe that Scotland rejects Brexit, and that when Scotland becomes independent it will be because Scotland wants to return to closer ties with our European neighbours. Scotland, they know, would be a cooperative European nation and a Scottish application for EU membership would be a slap in the face for Brexit and a huge vote of confidence in the European project.
And then Scots could tell right-wing English nationalists that Scotland might veto their application for EU membership.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger who writes and talks about UK Politics and Scottish Independence.
- Text: This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dog’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 14 November 2022, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - PM Rishi Sunak and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt. | 31 October 2022. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)