by Frank Schnittger
Sun Sep 10th, 2017 at 07:39:10 PM EST
Nobody had really expected Brexit to have quite the consequences it eventually had. For some it was simply an expression of a latent English nationalism that had been triumphant in the Second World War, and which had been overwhelmed by the peace which followed. Somehow the EU didn't quite give adequate expression to the enormity of British success in that war, or compensate adequately for the loss of empire which followed.
For others it was simply a domestic response to a domestic problem. Immigration was changing the shape of English life. Whole towns and cities were becoming dominated by an immigrant culture that might have had many merits, but it simply wasn't English. Ethnically Indian and Pakistani immigrants might speak with posh English accents and play cricket. Footballers and athletes of African origin might dominate the Premier League and bring Olympic success. But it wasn't quite the same thing as having Ethel or Timothy next door make it to the big time.
For still others Brexit was a rebellion against an establishment which had delivered years of austerity; at declining public services and rising prices for privatised public utilities. A protest at the bankers and financiers of London who grew wealthy while every other region of the United Kingdom declined. A rejection of the globalisation which seemed to benefit the third world more than the first. A resentment that so many decisions seemed to be made by faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. A sense of powerlessness in the face of a world being moved by foreign forces, beyond English control.
But very soon after the referendum result in June 2016 the goalposts seemed to move. Whereas before even ardent Brexiteers had argued that "of course the UK would remain in the Single market", and that Brexit was all about taking back political control, Prime Minister May announced, in her January 2017 Lancaster House Speech, that the UK would be leaving the Single Market and Customs Union as well. Not only that, but the UK would no longer accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the quite separate European Court of Human Rights as well.
Much of the debate which followed was about economics: How would the UK economy continue to flourish if access to its largest market was in any way diminished? "Not to worry", said the Brexiteers, "the EU needs us as much as we need the EU". "We will negotiate a trade deal with the EU which gives us access to the Single Market without having to be in it". "We will have reciprocal customs arrangements without having to be in the Customs Union, and thus will be in a position to negotiate our own, much more advantageous trade deals with our friends overseas than we ever could as part of the EU".
Furthermore, they argued, the UK will negotiate joint disputes arbitration procedures with the EU as we would with any other trading partner. If the EU want to involve the European Court of Justice in that process, that would be their business, but we will no longer be under the direct supervision of their Court. EU laws would be transposed into UK law through the Great Repeal Act and then be amended as required by British Ministers. They would be interpreted and applied by British Courts.
Immigration would be controlled on an economic need basis, with immigrants having to register with the authorities and granted work permits only if suitably qualified British workers were unavailable. Their families could only follow them for limited periods, and all work permits would be for a limited period only. Access to unemployment, disability and health benefits and services would be severely curtailed, and long term rights of residence permitted only in exceptional circumstances - for individuals with strategically vital skills or great personal wealth.
Above all, the UK was to take back its Sovereignty and regain its place among the free nations of the world, trading for mutual advantage, and conducting foreign policy in line with its own interests. Of course this would require a continuance and strengthening of the UK's "special relationship" with the USA, but Britain would retain its separate nuclear deterrent and intelligence capabilities. Life would be so much simpler than having to take the competing and conflicting interests of 27 other EU members into account.
Many observers outside the UK were bemused by much of the reasoning behind these policy objectives. The UK had been a driving force behind the establishment of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. It had been instrumental in the establishment of the Single market. Enlargement to include 10 Eastern European states almost immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union had been Britain's big idea. English had just become the main working language of EU institutions. Why would the EU allow the UK to simply walk away from all the obligations it had incurred as part of these developments? Would the EU not seek to to extract a considerable price in recompense?
But that possibility simply played into an ongoing British narrative about the EU: that it was all take, and very little give. Not only was the UK one of the biggest net contributors to the EU, but the EU was seen as exerting an almost entirely baneful influence on the UK. The Brussels bureaucracy was seen as stifling British entrepreneurship with senseless red tape. The European Parliament was a bye-word for useless vaporings and needless expense. The EU was becoming nothing more than a cloak of respectability covering up an emerging German domination: A Fourth Reich in all but name. Best to get out, before that useless house of cards collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. The EU has failed on its own terms declared Brexit Minister Steve Baker, saying that it was an obstacle to peace, incompatible with a free society, and should be torn down.
How ironic then, that it was ultimately the UK which was torn down.
to be continued...?!?