I would not seriously dispute Richard Murphy’s assessment of the situation. If anything – and hard as it may be to believe given the despairing tone of his article – I suspect he is being overly optimistic in a few areas. He appears, for example, to reckon that Article 50 might be revoked, and at reasonable cost. I’m trying in vain to envisage the political process that would take us to that destination.
He is also able to imagine a “clear statement of what hard Brexit actually means and what planning is needed for it, with a timescale and costing attached”. I can only suppose the conjuring of such a document to involve faux-Latin incantations, choreographed stick waving and, perhaps, a liquor distilled from the tears of a unicorn.
I don’t condemn Richard Murphy. He is reaching for reason. But if reason there be in the current situation I fear it lies well beyond the reach of any mere mortal. The implications of Brexit may be unfathomable. They are surely not readily amenable to scientific certainty. They reach far and deep into a four-dimensional matrix so complex that even short-term variables may proliferate past any realistic possibility of the kind of comprehension that is a prerequisite of control or management.
Which is my way of saying that we’re not only f***ed, we can’t even figure out how f***ed we are.
What is becoming clear is that the ‘deal’ for which the brightest and best that the British political establishment has to offer are striving would most appropriately be called, not ‘soft Brexit’ but ‘status quo ante’. It is plain enough to see, even if politically painful to acknowledge, that what the British government is desperately hoping for is an arrangement no different in its essentials from what existed prior to Brexit but of such a character that it can be spun as something close enough to the Brexit that was promised to be seen as a lucky escape by Leave voters newly pounded into pragmatic awareness by a peek into Pandora’s Box, while the madder of the Mad Brexiteers are bought off with their favourite confection of bitter recriminations against the Johnny Foreigners of the EU who have denied them their dream of a return to selling fruit and vegetables in measures based on the weight of a medieval monarch’s turd.
All of which is a hope as forlorn as Richard Murphy’s wished-for map depicting a safe, certain and fully costed route through the maze of Brexit consequences. The UK is not getting a deal such as described. Leave voters will believe the worst, or what the media tells them – which are essentially the same things. And the Mad Brexiteers will not be placated – because they’re mad.
While accepting his dour and dismal assessment of the situation, where I really part company with Richard Murphy is when it comes to his idea of a solution. Talk of a “national government created, temporarily, in the national interest” horrifies me even more than the thought of Brexit. It is based on the truly odd notion that an incompetent and infantile elite can be made more “grown-up” by adding to the numbers who are part of this incompetent and infantile elite.
The fallacy is that it is a particular section of the British political establishment that is in error and that this can be corrected by drawing on the remainder of the same British political establishment. It fails to recognise that all this does is remove even the notional opposition to established power by making it part of established power. The problem isn’t that the British government is Tory, it’s that it’s British. Richard Murphy’s proposal doesn’t make that government less Tory. It merely makes it more British.
A government of national unity in London is a mechanism for entrenching and enabling ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. If the prognostications for the periphery of the British state are dire under the present administration, they are nothing short of calamitous under a regime empowered in the manner suggested by Richard Murphy. If this is a real prospect, then it only makes it all the more urgent that Scotland escape the British state while escape is still possible.
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