WATCHING EVENTS UNFOLD post-Brexit reminds me of the scene in the original Dad’s Army movie when a streamroller “driven” by Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones accidentally crushes a line of tents at a training camp. Mainwaring says sorry for destroying the tents, only to be told: “You will be. It was you that was gonna be sleeping in ‘em.”
No one can stop Brexit, and no one can steer or control it either. The hapless Brexit leadership, stuck in the cab like Mainwaring and Jones, have been reduced to shouting “don’t panic” in a grim parody of their campaign strategy, which was simply to ignore facts and shout louder than anyone else. This is a self-inflicted disaster pressed on us by politicians who are simply out of their depth.
The speed with which Johnson, Gove, Hannan and Farage have backtracked on their campaign promises is breathtaking. Just days after the result, we now know there will be no access to the single market without free movement of workers – because all 27 remaining EU states say it won’t happen (and it only takes one). Daniel Hannan has admitted as much. We know there will be no £350m a week for the NHS – because Nigel Farage and Micheal Gove have admitted that wasn’t true. And we can see there will be no smooth landing for the British economy – firms are already axing jobs and our Triple-A credit rating has been downgraded, not by one notch, but two.
Brexit voters were lied to, and Vote Leave wiping their website won’t cover that up. Sooner or later there will be a reckoning. Boris Johnson knew this; hence his funereal victory speech on Friday morning. He tried hard, but mouthing platitudes in a lower register doesn’t amount to statesmanship. That wasn’t steely determination in his eyes, it was genuine befuddlement, with more than a hint of fear.
Nigel Farage’s idea of statesmanship was to jet off to Brussels to gloat for England on the floor of the European Parliament. Insulting the very people we will have to negotiate with is a bloody funny way to get that “special” deal with the EU he’s promised us. But like all demagogues he likes the sound of his own voice too much to care about the consequences of what he says. Cheers for that, Nige.
But let’s not pick on Farage. It’s our great misfortune to have been plunged into this crisis with the most useless political leadership of my lifetime.
Cameron, the dilettante prime minister who precipitated the crisis, cleared off with barely a word, lazily shoving everything into the lap of his successor.
Osborne disappeared for four days, quite possibly on an epic bender. Gove spent the weekend hiding from reporters, before getting down to the important business of plotting against his friends. Jeremy Corbyn turned up on College Green and mumbled something I didn’t quite catch, probably about Palestine.
I haven’t a clue what should happen next, but one way or another we have to hold the Brexit leaders’ feet to the fire. We want the extra cash for the NHS. We want the higher wages and job security they promised. We want our pensions protected. We expect housing to become more affordable.
It would be just if the Tories chose a Brexit leader so we could hold him or her personally accountable for delivering what they promised. But instead, it looks like we will get Remain “supporter” Theresa May, a politician whose idea of courage and leadership was to keep her head down during the campaign for fear it might damage her chances of becoming Tory leader.
Calls for the referendum to be re-run now are daft. You can’t just ask the same question again because you don’t like the last answer or because you think a few people have changed their minds. But if 23 June was Independence Day, it was quickly followed by Indecision Day on Friday. We have voted against something but without voting for anything.
The referendum question itself was another in the long line of stupid decisions taken by Cameron in this sorry affair. He should have insisted that Brexit campaigners present people with a worked out alternative to EU membership, so we could actually make a choice. Instead, we got to vote on a choice between the status quo or “something else”. Looking at it that way, I’m now quite surprised we got 48%.
Whatever settlement the coming Tory Brexit government comes up with, it’s bound to be crap. EU leaders hold all the cards and will make mincemeat of this sorry shower in negotiations. I doubt Brexit leaders will keep any of the big promises made in this wretched campaign. If we ever get another Labour government, it should put the Brexit deal to the people so we can really decide if we prefer it to being a proper member of the European Union.