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Put out more flags! That’s the mood of the moment. A new preoccupation with borders is palpable from Hungary, where a contrived plebiscite just notched up a 98 per cent vote against the European Union’s refugee quotas, to a rageful presidential election campaign trail in the United States, where Donald Trump’s distinct pitch is that America’s openness to the world is shortchanging its workers and firms. A new nationalism is evident across the British political spectrum too.
Labour’s Liverpool conference was defined by divisions over the leadership, but under the surface was another split, between an unapologetically pro-immigration Jeremy Corbyn, and his MPs, who warn that he has closed his ears to the anxieties of the electors. The progressive intellectual David Marquand, who writes on p34, has decided that the left is doomed to fail if it swims against the political tide of national identity, and that its future lies instead in hitching itself to the benign civic nationalism, found in places like Scotland and Wales.
There was, by contrast, no need to delve beneath the surface of the Conservative get-together in Birmingham to sense the turbo-charged patriotism. Those, including the prime minister, who were recently committed to Britain remaining in the EU were busy forgetting it. In advance of any economic evidence about a Brexit which has not yet occurred, the “Project Fear” script of June was swapped for “Project Not So Bad.” The Brexiteers were giddy to the point of delusion, with Trade Secretary Liam Fox arguing that the UK will somehow be able to trade even more freely with Europe from outside the single market. Theresa May signalled that border control will weigh at least as heavily as economics as she negotiates future relations with Europe. Her Defence Secretary announced that human rights law should no longer constrain British soldiers fighting overseas. And her Home Secretary—not long ago a liberal Remainer—proposed forcing employers to publish lists of lawfully resident foreign staff, as if they were something to be embarrassed about.
Most fatefully, the PM committed to formalise the Brexit process by March, while also—as Jolyon Maugham explains on p7—asking MPs to repeal the European Communities Act now, before they can have any idea of what she will negotiate to put in its place. It is an irresponsible request, and like…