Opinion polls tell us that Boris, helped by Corbyn’s extreme political programme, is headed for victory in the general elections next week. In that event Boris will rule for several more years and presumably deliver the Brexit project that he brought about, and which forms the core of his party’s election campaign. Some friends keep asking, why does this matter to me? So I summarise what the Brexit project means, and conclude with its human cost.
The Aims of Brexit
● Stop the UK’s already very reluctant contributions of around £4 billion net per annum to the EU’s regional funds, which go mostly to the poorer Southern and Eastern member countries, such as the ones I particularly love, Poland, Greece and Portugal. The UK was a net contributor being, as Brexiteers are fond of pointing out, one of the richer members.
● Stop the rest of the UK’s reluctant contribution, around another £4 billion net pa, which includes the cost of running the single market and structural funds such as agricultural production in the UK and EU, which keeps our farmers going and gives the UK a closer and more reliable source of food in the event of trade disruption.
● Keep full access, known as “frictionless trade”, to the EU single market and all its benefits, partly invented by Margaret Thatcher. So the stronger parts of the UK economy, such as finance, services, British Aerospace, Japanese and other foreign owned manufacturing plants, can continue freely making hundreds of billions more there than these contributions.
● End the right of EU citizens to come and work in the UK’s businesses exporting to their countries. Let us sell to your single market, but you can’t come and work here.
● Sign free trade deals with “all those countries” with which the UK does not already have free trade deals via the EU. This list has been getting shorter and now seems mainly to consist of the USA, which Trump happily declares, truthfully for a change, to be a competitor economy, and which has broken off trade negotiations with the EU.
● So the UK would both benefit from and compete with the EU.
● With luck, even become a smuggling operation between the EU and the rest of the world?
● This strategy of all take and no give was summarised by Boris himself as “having our cake and eating it”.
● Abandon the UK’s earlier rather noble foreign policy of promoting expansion, and defending democratic standards and the rule of law in EU member states, particularly the newer post-Communist ones. Leave that to France and Germany and criticise them at the same time.
● Instead, persuade Eastern member countries that “Germany” is their true enemy, and use negotiations and diplomatic contacts to set EU members against each other.
● Ensure that the UK has no legal or moral obligation to assist any member state such as Greece, should it ever again be flooded with a million refugees from the Syria that the West handed over to Russia in 2015.
● Make no contribution to the EU’s funding of camps and other assistance for the refugees, such as that given to Turkey to stop refugees coming to Europe.
● Work closely with Trump, who supports Brexit and has started a trade war against the EU.
● Farage has repeatedly declared that the ultimate aim of Brexit is to destroy the EU.
The English people are largely nice, intelligent and tolerant. The EU is perhaps the largest and most successful altruistic organisation that has ever existed. It has preserved peace in our continent for an unprecedented seven decades and provides a counterweight to Russia and China. Its aim is to create a large successful single economy comparable to America’s, which is why Trump hates it. It has brought prosperity to member countries, not only in Eastern Europe, but also Germany and, of course the UK, which specialised as the financial centre of all Europe. So how do you convince these decent people that the EU is in fact an ogre that Boris should be conducting a heroic fight against? The answer is a steady drip of propaganda which became a flood:-
● Do not mention the regional funds. Or, if you cannot avoid them being discussed, lie and pretend that they are so corrupt that they are useless, hoping that the audience does not visit poorer regions and see for themselves the enormous amount of good they do.
● Do not mention agriculture unless absolutely necessary, as British farmers also benefit from agricultural funds and the ability to export to Europe. They wouldn’t stand a chance exporting to the Third World without such subsidies.
● Do not mention assistance the funds give to projects in the UK itself – rarely advertised.
● Lie and pretend that the UK’s net contribution to the EU is unreasonably huge. It isn’t. It is very considerably smaller than the economic benefits of EU membership.
● Do not mention that the UK pays out nearly twice as much, aboout £14 billion pa, in Overseas Aid, because this will suddenly make people realise that the contribution to the EU is relatively small. This Aid incidentally goes to countries that do not give Britain the benefits of the single market, free trade, etc, is largely invisible at its destination, and is rumoured mostly to end up in dictators’ Swiss bank accounts.
● Lie that the EU contribution is £350 million a week = £18bn pa, more than double the true figure.
● Lie and pretend that membership of the EU harms the UK’s economy, when we can all see looking around us that it has been very beneficial.
● Lie that the EU is undemocratic when it is actually very democratic: the Head of the EU, President of the EU Council, is elected by member states, the EU Council is elected, members of the Commission are appointed by member states and approved by parliament, laws need the approval of member states as well as parliament, and so forth.
● Avoid any comparison with the UK, whose head of state is elected by nobody, whose House of Lords is elected by nobody, whose Prime Minister and Cabinet do not have to be approved by Parliament, and whose member states such as Scotland have no say at all.
● Minimise EU educational material at schools, keep people ignorant about the EU.
● Lie that the EU Commission is a “bloated bureaucracy” when it has only 32,000 civil servants, the same as the number of employees of the City of Leeds, an amazingly SMALL number for an enormous single market economy of 500 million people, one of the biggest in the world.
● Terrify England that it will sink under the weight of immigration caused by the EU.
● Do not mention that immigration from non-EU countries, mostly Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, is and has always been significantly larger than from the EU.
● To the extent that people notice that most immigration is in fact Asian, lie with propaganda such as the lying Breaking Point poster, implying that it is somehow the fault of the EU. Have a close look at the Breaking Point poster on the right. The people shown on it are not European are they? The point of it was clear: terrify people into thinking that the EU is responsible for it and it is””uncontrolled””. The truth of course is that the EU is NOT reponsible for Asian immigration into the UK, this is already “”controlled”” by the UK and the EU has nothing to do with it.
● In the meanwhile, to win Asian community votes, Brexiteers made targeted promises to increase Asian immigration and then did so – but didn’t tell anyone else!
● Lie that EU citizens are lengthening health service queues when in fact, representing 10% of doctors and only 4% of the population, they are shortening health service queues.
● Lie that EU citizens are worsening the housing shortage when most observant people can see that many Poles and others come to build houses, reducing the housing shortage.
● Hide evidence of Russian financing and interference, do not publish investigations, etc.
The tabloid press had been attacking the EU as a kind of national sport for years when the Daily Telegraph hired Boris Johnson, known for having invented quotations by EU representatives, to launch an even greater campaign of disinformation and deceit. Now we come to the classic populist trick: find a conflict, become a national hero fighting it and win subsequent elections and referenda. In the case of Margaret Thatcher, I suspect she can hardly be blamed for the Argentinian attack on the Falklands, but the subsequent victory benefited her politically. Blair and Bush tried a repeat with Iraq, but they were less lucky: they “won” but it soon became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Bush’s victory celebration on an aircraft carrier was of little use to him, and we are still living in the aftermath of an unnecessary war.
The lesson that conflict can win elections has nevertheless been learnt and Boris has been using his unscrupulous charisma to lead the Brexiteers in an invented struggle against Europe in which they cast themselves as posturing national heroes. Slogans such as the Dunkirk Spirit, Fascists, Gauleiters, Stalinists, Lest We Forget and the British Lion Roars make the point for anyone who misses the message.
Brexiteers focus on selfishness and promise that the UK will be better off. Unlikely. Exports will not be boosted much as the EU has become the largest exporter in the world by being already well structured for exporting. Britain blocked a EU free trade agreement with India because it feared Indians would get too many visas. Perhaps it will sign one now after all. But Indians point out that they also drive on the left and think Nissans and Toyotas assembled there with negligible labour costs will flow to the UK. They also look forward to more visas. Or will Brexitain will defy gravity and will there be a net flow of Nissans and Toyotas assembled using far more expensive labour to India?
One of the very few countries with which the UK actually has a trade surplus is the US and whether their negotiators will allow it to be increased further remains to be seen. Trump has an irrational hatred of counties with net exports to the US. It is quite possible that American banks will do extremely well here, as will private health companies. Americans will make a lot of profits here, but it will be mostly one sided.
As Boris is also lying about what kind of Brexit he is actually planning to deliver, one cannot calculate the economic effects precisely except to say that the more it damages EU trade, which represents around half the total, the more it will weaken the UK. There is a lot of Bertie Wooster like confidence around that foreigners are stupid and the EU will be outmanoeuvred in the negotiations. Unlikely. Barnier has done very well so far. Perhaps, like Switzerland, the UK will effectively stay in the EU, its pre-eminent financial position being gradually eroded, and without a vote.
If the EU negotiates well, this will be laughed off as the work of the devilish French, fascist Germans and shifty post-Communist Eastern Europeans. For the narrative of a national hero fighting a huge unnecessary battle against the EU this will be fine because provided people in the UK are still alive afterwards Boris will still declare victory.
The Human Cost
Millions of people have remained impervious to Brexit propaganda, and my loyalty and love is to them. I remember fine people in the Foreign Office and their great support for Europe when I helped to make it a better place. A splendid example of a decent diplomat appears to be Alexandra Hall, the lead Brexit envoy in the British Embassy in Washington, who has just resigned because she was dismayed by demands on civil servants to deliver messages which were not “”fully honest””. I shudder to think what instructions British diplomats receive nowadays.
As Goebbels said, if you repeat lies often enough, people will eventually believe them. What we might politely call the less well informed have got the message that the EU and its citizens are at least the opposition if not the enemy. Being British and being European used to be practically the same thing. Now, if not schizophrenic, we are divided, no longer Europeans together. Signs at airports have already been changed. Our EU passports are being taken away. Now it is “them” and “us”. Surely it is not surprising that there have been death threats, insults, questions asked – “when will you go home?” – and that my YouTube site on a Polish Saturday school was besmirched by someone naming himself after a SS war criminal telling the children “We know you Poles intermarried with Jews and you should all now f… off”. Many Brexiteers declare undying love for Europeans, but these are the side effects of their propaganda. You wonder whether another side effect will be to make it easier for people to accept closer cooperation with Russia, following Trump’s example – is there another Yalta on the horizon? How you experience all this depends on whether you are at the delivering end or the receiving end. The human costs are incalculable and will last a long time.
Foreigners are not that stupid and people in the rest of Europe also watch TV, read newspapers and use the internet. Brexiteers may get away with a condescending attitude to East Europeans, but nations such as the French and Germans consider themselves as advanced as the English. They used to love the British, wanted them in the EU and are still rather bemused. But the penny is dropping that their feelings are not reciprocated. They now remember De Gaulle’s veto: Britain displays “”deep-seated hostility to Europe” and will not forget. Some EU leaders are beginning to feel, to paraphrase US President Lyndon Johnson, that “it is better to have the Brits outside the tent pissing in, than inside the tent, also pissing in”.
Pope Francis defined populism as the exploitation of the selfishness and hate of the electorate by politicians for their own ends. Like Trump, who sometimes behaves as the Enemy not Leader of the Free World, Boris seems to have reversed the words of St Francis of Assisi: “where there is peace, let me bring conflict; where there is love, let me sow hatred; where there is pardon, injury; where there is union, discord…..” Then, as the London Troy exhibition quotes Homer’s Iliad: “Discord, only a slight thing when she first rears her head, but her head soon hits the sky as she strides across the earth.” Or, in Jeremy Clarkson’s more earthly words (Sunday Times, 3rd July 2016): “live for ever in a festering nest of warts, mud and minority bashing”. Is this how the next generation will be brought up?
We should continue supporting defence groups like the3million and British-in-Europe, and anyone fighting Brexit, but the future looks bleak.
I love Britain but certainly not those behind this hateful project.
7th December 2019
P.S. Around 100,000 Poles, over 10% of the total, are said to have returned recently. The prospect of registering to stay on in the UK did not appeal that much.”