Congratulations to David Easton on Facebook for finding the argument we’ve all been awaiting.
Most of the UK couldn’t care less whether we’re in the European Union or out of it, because most of us don’t understand the arguments one way or another and will only notice any differences if the consequences of a ‘Leave’ vote actually affect them in their working life – and by then it will be too late.
So Mr Easton’s argument about the immediate future is the only one that may cut through: “The entire UK political scene will look like the 90s Tory Party”.
That, dear readers, is a fate too horrible to contemplate.
I hereby announce the launch of my new campaign (consisting of one Facebook post): “Apathetics for Remain”. #apatheticsforre
I haven’t enjoyed this referendum campaign, I don’t really know anyone who has enjoyed this campaign. It’s been crap from both sides. I’ve followed it dutifully, but found precious little to inspire from anywhere – and a fair bit to be disgusted by (I’m looking at you, anti-Turkish bigotry).
When it comes to the pros and cons, I’m deeply sceptical about our ability to predict the future, at least in the long run. I don’t believe economists who tell me that leaving the EU will cost £1tn over 20 years or others who say that there will be some kind of magical “Brexit dividend” that will fix the NHS. No one knows the long-term impact of Brexit. If people tell you they know, they are lying or delusional. And in or out, I feel optimistic about the future of this country. Very clearly we can be a successful country inside the EU – for all our faults, we are a very successful country already – and I have no doubt that in the long run we can be a very successful country outside the EU as well.
I also think that in the end, it won’t matter all that much. If we leave, we’ll find a way to strike a free trade deal – not getting one would be too economically disastrous for anyone to countenance – both in the EU and in the UK. And in doing so, we’ll end up making compromises, as always happens when sovereign states cut deals with one another. We’ll end up giving on free movement of people, we’ll end up contributing to the EU budget and we’ll end up following most of the EU’s rules just like Norway, Switzerland and the rest of the EEA does. We won’t end up in exactly the same place as we started – some of it might be better (maybe we can opt out of some rules, though probably they’ll be things like employment rights that at least as many of us would like to keep as would like to lose) and some of it will probably be worse (we won’t get a say at the Council of Ministers or in the European Parliament) – but it will take a pretty nerdy politico to catalogue the variances from what we have today.
But what does the short-term look like? You know, the bit before we get to the settlement we end up with?
It looks like this. THIS, now. This bloody referendum. On loop. For a decade. Arguing about details that few of us care about and even fewer understand. We will descend into years and years of arcane arguments about precisely what the settlement should look like, whether we should have another referendum to undo the last one and who is “betraying” the Brexit cause. The entire UK political scene will look like the 1990s Tory Party. That is not a pretty sight. And Boris Johnson will probably be our Prime Minister, doing a job he is entirely unsuited to, negotiating a complicated agreement where he has to get the details right and can’t just make it up. That is a downright ugly sight.
And during this time, all the stuff that actually matters – the funding crisis in the NHS, our falling productivity, redistributing economic activity out of the South East – will all go on the back-burner. Nothing else will matter, it will all be a side-show to what will become paradoxically both the most important and the most pointless political issue for two parliaments at least. I can see it now: friends who are smart, committed and dedicated civil servants, spending years of their careers working out how the negotiations, disentanglement
s and re-entanglement s impact their policy area. And producing no net change as a result. It is tragic. Like Andrew Lansley’s monumentally pointless NHS reorganisation, but on steroids. And the pound probably tanks whilst the economy goes into recession, at least for the short term, which will make all that wasted effort even more frustrating.
If you are like me and are sick of this referendum, don’t know whether the UK would be better off in or outside of the EU, but think there is so much else that matters more, then there is only one option. Apathetics for Remain. Otherwise it is Referendum Groundhog Day and instead of Bill Murray we get Nigel Farage.
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