Is the lesson only to be learned once it is too late?by Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / February 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
In 1984, the celebrated American historian, Barbara Tuchman, wrote a book entitled The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam. In this work, Tuchman asks why governing classes have (throughout history) persisted in policies contrary to their country’s self-interest, even when those policies were identified at the time as foolish and counter-productive, and sensible alternatives were clearly available. Such behaviour she defines as “folly.” I believe the handling of Brexit constitutes “folly” as Tuchman uses the word.
Today, prime minister Theresa May persists with her Brexit conduct, despite warnings from even her own government forecasts that any form of Brexit will make Britain economically worse off. She insists the only alternative to her deal (a deal so staggeringly unpopular to parliament that the government suffered the biggest defeat ever in modern times) is “no deal,” which is increasingly portrayed as an Armageddon like event. What government knowingly pursues a policy that even its own forecasts reveal to be bad for the country? As Tuchman suggests, “If pursuing disadvantage after the disadvantage has become obvious is irrational, then rejection of reason is the prime characteristic of folly.”
There are myriad examples of why the government’s Brexit strategy constitutes “folly.” The original folly was to hold the EU referendum with no clear strategy as to what would follow in the event of a Leave vote, a folly unmitigated by government handling since. There have been many analyses which show Britain will be poorer under any form of Brexit, as compared with staying in the EU, while under WTO rules British exports to the EU would face tariffs of £6bn (roughly two thirds of Britain’s current net EU budget contribution). Imports will also be affected, increasing the cost of living. Britain has already lost billions in investment since the Brexit vote, and there is no evidence that our infrastructure could cope with a sudden shift to WTO trading. Liam Fox has not secured the 40 free trade agreements he assured would be ready for exit day and business is now exiting Britain at a frightening rate. Moreover, former MI5 head, Eliza Manningham-Buller, stated that any form of Brexit will render Britain less safe. It is remarkable how frequent these warnings are, and yet how little credence they are given. Folly has its day.
Most recently, warnings of the risks of a “no-deal”…