Whatever the economic consequencesby Oliver Letwin / March 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Most professions have fairly obvious aims. Medics aim at curing patients; pilots, at reaching destinations safely; generals, at winning wars.
What makes politics so difficult is that politicians aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, in this sense mono-teleological. Their job is, rather, to balance off one kind of result against another.
Even within a single kind of valuable social result—say, achieving prosperity or preserving liberty—there are bound to be difficult tensions between the short-term and long-term consequences arising from a given political action; and when it comes to tensions between two or more different kinds of valuable result—say, between maximising prosperity and maximising liberty—the political going really gets tough.
Never is this truer than when a nation comes face to face with fundamental change. Unlike in the ordinary run of elections, during which politicians (and the journalists who are parasitic upon them) can at least pretend that “the issues” are self-defining, once the nature of the state and its fundamental relationships to other states are up for discussion no one involved in the debate can ignore the tensions between differing, valid concerns.
This is precisely the position in which we now find ourselves as we head towards Brexit.
If ever there was a fundamental change, this is it. And if ever there were differing, valid concerns that need to be balanced off with one another, there are now.
Who knows how to balance the value of open markets (even supposing them to be accepted as the engines of prosperity) against the value of national self-determination? Or the value of international cooperation in Europe against the value of freedom to pursue British as opposed to European interests in the world at large? It was, indeed, such vast imponderables that formed the core of the referendum debate. And we will know only many decades from now, if even then, whose arguments came nearer to the truth.
Following the referendum, some “Remainers” have taken this continuing uncertainty as a reason to prolong the argument. In various more or less covert and ingenious ways, they have attempted to keep open the question whether we should in fact leave the EU as mandated by the electorate if X or Y or Z cannot be guaranteed as part of the terms upon which we leave.
But, as a Eurosceptic remainer who…