A cautionary new collection of essays argues that Brexit will inevitably damage usby Will Hutton / June 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
This book is a cautionary tale—or rather a collection of cautionary tales. You may have had your concerns about Brexit before reading them. Afterwards they will not be allayed—only worsened.
The fundamental argument, shared by all the authors over 18 chapters, is that whatever the problems associated with the liberal economic model that Britain developed within the EU, the economy at least worked—if inadequately. Suddenly the regulatory, financial and trade framework that EU membership offered is about to be scrapped; but there has been no thought over what comes next. Will the current model adapt in some way, only to malfunction even worse because its principal prop has gone? Or will there be a bright new dawn as Britain re-constructs its institutional arrangements to deliver more innovation, productivity and well-paid jobs?
The decision to rupture its economic relationships so profoundly was taken with no forethought about what might replace them, no widespread support for the rupture among the country’s key economic interest groups and no consensus even among leavers about what Britain’s new economic model could and should be. Economic liberalism on the Hong Kong model? Or some variant of Europe’s economic model? Or socialism in one country? Overlaid is the constitutional crisis, which means we have to tackle all this with a broken politics.
Reading these essays you are constantly struck by how weird it was that a serious country could contemplate such a choice with so little groundwork. Small wonder our mainstream politicians have failed to deliver what is palpably impossible—a Brexit that doesn’t damage us. None of the authors is optimistic. Whether it is innovation or inequality, Britain is going to struggle to solve its endemic problems. The irony is that the least bad way forward is to develop a more European economic and social model.
Britain Beyond Brexit, edited by Gavin Kelly and Nick Pearce (Political Quarterly/Wiley, £14.99)