Experts may warn of the risks of no-deal. But they're no match for the hard Brexiteers' visions of British national greatnessby Thomas Maidment / December 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
There are few surviving phrases in the English language with the bombast and pestiferous capacity of “a people’s vote”. While the term is merely a populist synonym for a referendum, the charged egalitarian language behind “a people’s vote” can tempt and entice the politically disenchanted into action. It bestows on the average citizen the tools of revolt; replacing pitchforks and flaming torches with pencils and a streamlined, simplified proposition.
Herein lies the problem. Whatever the individual’s reasoning and rationale behind their vote, whether well-founded or not, every answer is equally weighted and reduced to the same state of ambiguity, the mark of a cross indicating a mere “yes” or “no.” As the Brexit referendum has demonstrated, a one-word answer will always remain somewhat detached from the rationale behind each vote. It is now the burden of the current government to deduce the popular motives and logical grounds from the obscure result.
As a result, a political battle has ensued in the United Kingdom about the meaning of a “real Brexit.” In the mind of Theresa May and her negotiators, the cornerstone of Brexit is the immigration issue. Despite what some may claim, it is not wholly unreasonable for them to have arrived at this conclusion. After all, the Brexit referendum would most likely never have occurred had it not been for the anti-immigration sentiment spurred on by the growing popularity of UKIP. Yet, despite the prime minister’s attempts to persuade MPs and the public that her deal extends beyond the issue of immigration—freeing the UK from the legal and legislative shackles of the EU—it is failing to correspond with the wider public’s Brexit vision.
While the prime minister’s deal is failing in this respect, it is worth noting that her approach is, in fact, more conservative than the reactionaries opposing her. One of the core tenants of the conservative philosophy is the belief that society must grow and develop organically; prioritising an “evolutionary” instead of “revolutionary” approach to government policy.
As most experts and politicians have highlighted, a no-deal Brexit would result in abrupt radical change with the consequences still relatively unknown. To any conservative, this approach should be too radical and potentially damaging to seriously contemplate. However, as it stands, a significant number of Conservative MPs still prefer no-deal.
This alternative and perhaps more popular Brexit, championed by the European Reform Group and the majority of prominent Brexiteers, claims to offer a purer form of departure. Driven by the fear that the UK will subtly remain within the remit of the European Union, the no-dealers have substituted pragmatism and caution with faith and boisterous national pride.
While economic forecasts and the majority of businesses express concern at a no-deal scenario, Leave campaigners’ stress on British sovereignty, economic prosperity, and faith in Britain’s greatness resonates with Brexiteers more strongly than Theresa May’s deal. With the European Union dismissing a “Canada++” arrangement, the ERG no-deal plan is also the only serious Brexit challenger to Mrs May’s deal.
Once one has realised this, the reasoning behind Brexit becomes easier to elucidate. While there are many different ways to leave the European Union, there will only ever be one kind of Brexit that can appease the Leave support base. This is because the Brexit desired transcends ordinary deals and government legislation. It is a paranoid anti-establishment fantasy, shrouded in modern myth building and rhapsodic sentimentality.
Despite the retrospective adjustments and wishful forecast dismissals made by Brexiteers, the Brexit argument did not win because its economic arguments were convincing. Instead, it relied on an era of distrust in the political establishment and an easiness towards alternative facts and history.
Steeped in generations of British myth building, Brexit conjured a narrative that touched upon a weakness in the British national psyche. It offered a vision of a nation free from imaginary subjugation, oozing prosperity that could radically improve the lives of the downtrodden. Most of all, the Brexit myth conjured an explanation and a solution to Britain’s national decline. It underplayed the significance of our relationship with our European neighbours, and exaggerated our national significance to the United States and the rest of the world.
Theresa May’s deal does not fail to deliver Brexit on the basis that the UK will not leave the European Union—it fails because its narrative does not mirror this imagery of British excellence and prestige. To only leave the EU will never be enough to achieve the Brexit dream. Brexit is part of a larger fantasy to restore Britain’s status as an independent global power.
How we leave is only important so long as the public have faith in the Brexit dream. This is why Theresa May’s deal will fail: its pragmatism may appeal to the head, but it will never win over the heart.