Take care what you wish for
I think the people pressing for Britain to remain in the EU are not telling the truth.
That’s a pretty strong statement from one such as myself, isn’t it? So what makes me say it?
The reason is simple. The truth is so frightening it can’t be admitted, as it would be seen as a scare tactic the likes of which even the Daily Mail or the Sun would draw back from. Here it is. All the figures presented about the cost of Brexit are cumulative, that is they add up the individual costs. The result is not pretty to read, but even the worst case presented is nowhere near as bad as I believe it could well be, because it ignores multiplicative factors.
What’s a multiplicative factor? Well if you have a number simple factors, such as unemployment, the value of the pound and the success or otherwise of doing trade deals, then you can put a price on each one and add them together. But this ignores effects that come into play simply because two or more things are going bad at the same time. Strikes, political turmoil, a brain drain, frightened investors and so on; the more things that are seen to be wrong the more leverage these other factors get, and they then act to multiply the original damage. Unemployment costs the state money – lots of it – and political uncertainty puts off investors, which creates more unemployment as companies start looking for more secure places to invest. Which costs the country more, and so on.
Brexit will change many things – this is widely acknowledged by both sides, and the country is already in a fragile economic state, with the Government unlikely to meet its target of debt reduction. The most likely post-Referendum event will be the resignation of the current Tory leadership. It is doubtful that David Cameron will have the heart to embark on a major renegotiation of all the trade treaties after he has spent so much time saying what a thankless task it will be. Several other prominent heads will roll too, leaving a huge hole at the top of the Government. The effect of this on investor confidence can only be imagined, but given how the markets are responding just to the thought of Brexit it’s unlikely to be good.
So the next event will be a leadership election, taking at least a couple of months, during which time no attention will be given to getting new trade deals as there will be nobody in charge. Let’s assume Boris Johnson will be the lucky winner of the poisoned chalice – he certainly deserves it. The Referendum campaign – and the Tory leadership race that follows it – will both have been marked by outrageous claims about the benefits of taking one side or the other, and the pressure will immediately be on to deliver. Not a good time to tell the faithful that the rules we signed up to mean it will be another 2 years before Britain actually leaves, during which time it will be obliged to stick to all existing Treaty obligations. Would you want to explain that to the Faragists leaping about in joy at their victory and wanting change NOW?
It’s taken the Conservative Government less than a year to go from victorious heroes to scheming villains. I see no reason to think that a Johnson Government, unable to deliver on their inflated promises for two long years, will survive even that long before anger starts to mount, especially as the economy will already be paralysed by the months of inaction. The Conservative majority is small and will by then include some very disaffected people; most of the pro-EU MPs. It’s quite likely we’ll see some embarrassing, screeching U-turns to avoid losing Commons votes, which will anger the faithful even more.
Now let’s take a look across the border into Scotland, whose people have been far less passionate about the need for Britain to leave the EU. Already unhappy about rule by Westminster, their feelings are unlikely to be improved by watching the installation of Boris Johnson as PM after months of internal Tory Party wrangling. The blame for the tanking economy will be laid firmly on Brexit and demands for an independent Scotland will soon mount. After all, it’s a bit hypocritical to insist that Britain should leave the EU but that Scotland should be forced to remain in Britain. At what point feelings will come to the boil is difficult to judge, but I’m guessing it’ll be about the same time as the Conservatives find it impossible to hold their own side together and keep on board their supporters demanding an end to EU payments, immigration and the rest. Whether Scotland can be successful in rejoining the EU on their own account is hard to tell, but my feeling is that the EU might welcome them as they could provide the Anglo-Saxon balance that is needed by Europe, without being big enough to cause a nuisance the way the UK does.
For the purposes of this discussion I will ignore Wales and Northern Ireland. All this is far too complex to make predictions, though I wonder if the people of Ulster might start to view their countrymen south of the border in a new light once England become completely preoccupied with its own problems and not yet ready to face up to its new, reduced role in the world.
We’re now down to England, all by itself, with an economy under terrible stress and a Government elected on the promise of a golden dawn following Brexit. England is far from self-sufficient in anything but financial services and produces very little that isn’t owned by global multinationals. We aren’t able to feed ourselves without huge imports, we’ve run out of oil and our new nuclear power plants are decades away from completion. Under such circumstances the future for the country will be a difficult one and I cannot begin to imagine a return to the prosperity of even a few years ago. The slide will be fast and it will be steep. The blame will of course be laid at the door of everyone except the fools who voted for it to happen, and the country might be an unpleasant place to live in if reprisals start. To be a member of an ethnic minority, or perhaps even to be visibly rich, might be to become a target of anger from people who foolishly allowed themselves to believe that putting a cross on a piece of paper would at a stroke become a poke in the eye for an overbearing, inefficient EU and restore the glorious days of the past. English people have no divine right to the better things of life but we’ve become soft and complacent, seeing ourselves as special and expecting the world to make way for us. The price we eventually pay for our arrogance could be very high indeed.
Is this all an overly-apocalyptic vision of the future? Will England one day crawl back to the EU with its tail between its legs; a minor country, maybe the equal of Holland or Portugal but certainly not of Germany, France or Italy? Why would anyone want such a situation? Is it really worth “getting our country back” if it’s reduced to so little in the process? But above all, can you prove that this nightmare scenario is impossible? If you can’t, please don’t take the risk.
Postscript: The following article appeared in the Mail on Sunday, after I posted. It suggests I’m not the only one fearing the breakup of the UK as a result of Brexit.