Home Politics The penny drops

The penny drops

by Ellie Hopgood

I haven’t written anything about British politics in a while, though that isn’t because there hasn’t been anything to write about. Quite the opposite, actually; it has been almost impossible to follow the constant and confusing developments crashing out of Westminster, from Boris Johnson’s questionable cabinet to his “do or die” approach to a no-deal Brexit (which, given reports on post-no deal issues with the insulin supply chain, may not be hyperbole) to any of the other odd and frustrating policy proposals and negotiation tactics gracing the newspapers each morning.

It’s worrying how easy it was for me to lose track of the Brexit threads. After only a few weeks of passing over Brexit articles and think pieces about our PM’s perplexing policy positions, I felt out of the loop and embarrassed about it. But recently, I decided to dive back in, and was confronted by a truth that is personally comforting but ultimately concerning: the reason that it’s hard to follow Brexit is that, still, there is little concrete information to follow. Very few of the new proposals are rooted in real possibilities, or represent truly new ideas. The Brexit story is as aimless as it seems, which is such bad news for the people of the UK and the Europeans who used to live somewhat peacefully on this little island. So I may have ducked out for a time, but I didn’t miss much.

Unfortunately, that in itself is a very big problem. The EU warned us back in April not to waste this extension, but despite that warning, we have spent the last six months bickering over the Conservative leadership elections and ignoring the real facts of Brexit.

As we barrel toward no deal, made painfully likely by Boris Johnson’s unfathomable commitment to crashing out of the EU – he has even suggested proroguing Parliament to prevent them from stopping a no deal Brexit, a move that many have made clear is illegal – more and more depressing information is coming to light about how just how awful a decision Brexit really is. The insanely convoluted and arduous process by which businesses will now have to apply to export products is laughable, as are the ridiculous tariffs we will now face. There truly may well be food shortages, issues with the supply of medicines and there already have been hundreds of thousands of job losses. The UK economy has suffered over the past few years amid Brexit uncertainty, and the pound continues to weaken. Now that BoJo is in charge, it looks scarily likely that a no deal Brexit may come to pass, an economic, social and political tragedy that no one – least of the all the government – is prepared for.

And then on the Remain side, the infighting is bizarre. Jo Swinson won’t work with Jeremy Corbyn, even though Corbyn is trying to get a caretaker government together to stop no deal and Swinson ostensibly wants to do everything she can to stop us leaving the EU. It also took Corbyn this long to, well, do anything that could be construed as trying to stop Brexit, which, for many Remainers, may be unforgivable. Then Caroline Lucas came out with her weird all-white, all-women emergency stop Brexit council and many of us ended up with heads in hands, despairing about how otherwise smart politicians are being driven to bizarre decisions among all the confusion.

I assumed I must have missed something, as many of us have assumed since the start of all of this. It cannot be as poorly considered as it looks. It cannot be so obviously destructive. It cannot be the case that building after boardroom after chamber of smart people are allowing this to happen. It cannot be the case that an act of national self-harm of this magnitude honestly cannot be stopped, because a ham in a blonde wig refuses to back down, for reasons that are largely unclear.

My first year of seriously competitive rowing, I trusted my coaches implicitly. There were many points where I questioned their methods, particularly when we ended up sick, injured or burned out, but I trusted them because they were the experts and they were in charge. Then we lost our biggest race for reasons that could have been avoided with better team management and that trust was broken. Because they didn’t actually know what they were doing, and believing that they did meant that we stood by while something we cared about deeply got fucked up. This feels like that, but on a much grander scale. Our politicians, our leaders – they’re just people. Some of them are power hungry or self-interested or just not that smart. And there’s no guarantee that they can enact Brexit in as harmless a way as possible, or even that they want to, which is a tough realisation to stomach when you’ve spent the last three years watching the slowest, most frustrating car crash in history.

To start reading more about Brexit developments is to be saddened, because it is as meaningless as it all seems. Words mean nothing anymore. Truth and facts have become irrelevant, which is what gets me the most. I cannot stand reading these articles and tweets and watching videos of prominent politicians saying things that directly contradict their earlier statements, if not outright lying. It made me want to scream when I saw that Sajid Javid wants to inscribe the new Brexit 50p – “please do not waste this time,” warned Donald Tusk – with the line “friendship with all nations.” WHAT? We are backing out of the most significant trading bloc in the world, which has allowed our little nation to continue to be part of a global powerhouse and keep our seat at the world table. I can’t handle the blatant obfuscation of motivations, the ignorance of real facts and the refusal to ever just say what you mean and think. To inscribe a pointless, expensive 50p coin that we have created to commemorate the UK taking the most significant step possible to isolate itself from the world with the phrase “friendship with all nations” is unforgivable. Brexit is about imperialism, it is about nationalism, it is about ignorance and it is about misguided greed – but it is not about friendship, and it is not about collaboration with other nations. To pretend otherwise feels frighteningly Orwellian.

Just because you want something to be true does not make it true. Just because BoJo thinks that no deal will have no disastrous consequences does not make it so. And just because Sajid Javid wants to commemorate Brexit by emphasising international friendship does not make it a truthful representation of what this disaster has been about. Trump has set the stage for lies and everyone is gleefully piling on. Of all the broken elements of our political landscape that scare me, this denial of truth scares me the most. Once our most self-interested, nefarious politicians realise that there are no consequences for lies (as they sadly may already have realised) we are all in deep trouble.

This is all I took from diving back into Brexit. There’s a lot of hot air, a lot of confusion, and a lot of well-meaning people who are tweeting a lot and writing a lot of opinion pieces for leftie magazines but aren’t actually doing anything that moves the conversation forward. If you are lost when it comes to Brexit, then don’t worry – our leaders are just as lost as you. Though of course that’s the most worrying thing of all.

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