Of the many things that the Brexit vote has unleashed, the triumphalist shutdown of any debate has to be the most insidious. For those who have the masochistic urge to take to Twitter, including celebrities such as Lily Allen and Gary Lineker, it is obvious that there is a wave of triumphalist nationalism from large segments of the Leave supporters. To question is anti-democratic. To criticise is traitorous and that does not even touch on the despicable tone adopted by the Daily Mail and Express. Many of the arguments made by the Leave campaign have been exposed as the lies that they were; however, we still plough on.
The economic impact is slowly starting to feed through. Over the summer we had a phoney war; once the power vacuum had been filled by Theresa May, investors seemingly breathed a sigh of relief and the Pound stabilised (although didn’t actually recover). Once it became clear that May was more interested in her narrow desire to control immigration at whatever cost to the economy, foreign investors let their opinions be known with a further sharp fall in the Pound. This represents a markdown in the value of British assets, driven by a belief that the UK will suffer in future years and that returns on investments will be lowered.
But, say the Leavers, the lower Pound will boost exports and Britain will become a trading powerhouse. One look at what happened after a similarly large decline in the Pound in 2008 shows that this is far from a given: to increase exports there has to be a demand for British products. Over time, perhaps many years, new industry may crop up, but there was very little sign of existing companies expanding to take advantage of a cheaper Pound in 2008.
On the subject of the single-market, we are told by many (including the likes of John Redwood) that the EU will not want to impose tariffs as they sell too much to the UK; if they do then, apparently, we will stop buying their BMWs. The argument always seems to come down to German cars. There is a problem here as well of course. Firstly, this theory assumes that the rising cost of German cars will reduce demand. However, this only holds true where there is a substitute available. Some leavers point to Jaguar as a substitute (owned by an Indian company it’s worth mentioning), and there is some truth in this, but the reality is that people in the UK will still want BMWs. Furthermore, what about VWs, Audis, Mercs, Citroens, Renaults et al? Are we going to stop buying all of these cars? Jaguar will have to increase its product line substantially. And here is the problem with the basic argument on tariffs and exports: Britain does not produce many of the things we desire. We will still have to buy imports, but they will cost more, so we either reduce our living standards by buying less, or we increase our borrowing further to purchase the same standard of living.
Then we move on to domestic benefits of Brexit. In one debate, I was discussing the state of the NHS with someone recently (relevant due to the £350m a week claim). Another winter, and the NHS faces another crisis. The person I was debating with rightly pointed out that the problems in the NHS were nothing to do with Brexit and in this case he is correct (if we accept the fact that recent xenophobic rhetoric has not yet led to a mass desertion of foreign staff). However, the question has to be, where is the benefit to the NHS from leaving the EU? We already know that it won’t be getting any of the spurious £350m a week as the PM has already made this clear. In addition, the fall in the value of the Pound will make the cost of goods that are imported more expensive placing a further burden on an already stretched budget. Another problem is that we seem determined to restrict the number of immigrants, and will probably face something of an exodus of those already living here. Immigration has propped up the working age population for some time; by reducing immigrant inflows (the vast majority of them of working age), we leave a smaller proportion of active workers supporting a growing proportion of non-workers (the elderly and disabled). So, less income and additional outgoings.
If I am making any business decisions I have to plan carefully. I must make an estimate of costs and returns on those costs. I have to plan, with a timetable, and identify risks as well as key milestones in any timeline. None of this is apparent in our current government, and nothing (beyond not buying German cars or French wine) is offered by the vocal supporters. To question anything proposed or assumed by the Brexiters is anti-democratic; to criticise is traitorous. The real traitors are those who have set about destroying more than forty years of planning, institutions and partnerships without any clear proposals as to their replacement, leaving a vacuum. They’ve razed the foundations and now expect the new Britain to magically grow from the ruins. Theresa May promised the EU that Britain would remain strong and dependable outside the EU: Strong and dependable madness is still madness. The Brexiters have erected a monument to madness: Leave at all costs. To quote Shelley:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.