Brexit: are they insane?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis (R) watch Prime Minister Theresa May (unseen) delivering her speech on the final day of Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Britain, 4 October 2017. T [Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/EFE]

Four individuals in the Cabinet Brexit sub-committee, namely Theresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davies and Liam Fox, are so trapped in their rhetoric about taking back control and regaining freedom, that if they changed their position, their political careers would be over, writes Michael Emerson.

Michael Emerson is associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels and a former EU ambassador to Moscow.

Looking again after a pause of some months at the white cliffs of Dover through my binoculars from over here on the continent I see this:

  • Unilever moves its HQ to Rotterdam;
  • Land Rover shifts investment to Slovakia;
  • Airbus warns it may quit the UK;
  • BMW (= Mini and Rolls Royce) says me too
  • Honda (UK assembly plant their only one in the EU) says me too;
  • Siemens say me too;
  • -Her Majesty’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, says “f**k business”;
  • City firms begin to migrate to Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris;
  • The UK’s place in Galileo, crucial for the space industry and defence security is up in the air;
  • Immigration from the EU has already greatly declined because of the ‘hostile environment’;
  • Agriculture and construction sectors see labour shortages – Brits don’t like these jobs;
  • The Prime Minister, incredibly, has repeated the lie over a Brexit dividend for the NHS;
  • Meanwhile, the shortages of nurses and doctors from the EU in the NHS deepen;
  • A proposed customs deal is so complex that I only recall its acronym C.R.A.P.;
  • Young people massively don’t want to lose their rights in Europe;
  • Only grandparents don’t get it. Leave they will fairly soon, leaving behind a sad mess;
  • Boris Johnson (again) say the unsolved Northern Ireland border problem is exaggerated;
  • The talk of free trade in the Anglosphere is sunk by Trump’s global protectionism;
  • UK economy sinks to the bottom of G7 growth ranking.

Brexit becomes indeed before our very eyes the dreadful mistake many had suspected. ‘Project Fear’ was the slogan invented to test patriotic courage, and so to dismiss warnings. The warnings come true, thick and fast. Yet two years now after the referendum, the government still cannot agree on how far it does or does not want to quit the customs union and single market. Cabinet minister, Jeremy Hunt, says it is ‘wrong’ for businesses to ‘threaten’ the government, a vacuous reply to the reality that Brexit is threatening business.

Is the leadership of the country insanely incompetent, irresponsible and irrational? One might think so. But no, not entirely. It’s all very rational for a few. It’s just that four individuals in the Cabinet Brexit sub-committee, namely Theresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davies and Liam Fox, are so trapped in their rhetoric about taking back control and regaining freedom, that if they changed their position their political careers would be over. And the Tory party dare not throw them out because it might let in Labour.

How to get out of this farcical tragedy, when neither the prime minister, cabinet sub-committee, cabinet in plenary, nor parliament can rule sanely in the interests of the people? Only one way now. A second referendum, or ‘People’s Vote’ as it is now being proposed.

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