Richard North, 07/07/2021  

It has to say something – I don't know quite what – that the lead item on my "Brexit" news feed at the time I was looking to assemble today's blogpost was a Financial Times article headed: "Boris Johnson's Brexit win was a Pyrrhic victory".

Written by Bilderberg groupie and dyed-in-the-wool Europhile Martin Wolf, with the sub-heading, "The realities of relative power mean the UK and EU are - and will remain - far from equals", this seems to be the best the FT can offer on the subject of Brexit.

And five years after the referendum, Wolf is still bitching about the result, opening his piece by declaring:
To the victor, the spoils. Boris Johnson won the referendum on UK membership of the EU just over five years ago, went on to win the leadership of the Conservative party in July 2019, reached a deal with the EU in October and won a decisive victory under the UK's first-past-the post system in the general election of December. He has re-made his country.
It's the opening phrase that stick in the craw – so wrong on so many levels – but it graphically illustrates how Wolf and his fellow travellers see the world: " Boris Johnson won the referendum".

The point is, of course, that he didn't. The 17.5 million people who voted "leave" won the referendum. Being a referendum, it was decided by millions of voters – it was their victory. And although we will never be able to provide definitive evidence, there are many of us who think that Johnson's only contribution to the process was to reduce the overall majority, as people turned away from his style of politics.

That he subsequently won "a decisive victory … in the general election of December" was probably as much to do with the behaviour of the dysfunctional parliament in the lead-up to the election, as it was anything else.

However, the alternative of Corbyn, offered by Labour, the very evident disintegration of that party, and a genuine concern that a Labour government would somehow avoid taking us out of the EU, all combined to convince a sufficient number of people that Johnson – loathsome though he might be – was the only realistic choice.

Although in the 2019 election, I deliberately did not vote – rejecting either choice offered (not that it would have made any difference in a relatively safe Labour seat), there was a message sent to Labour in the Johnson victory: however bad Johnson is, it said, you're worse.

But, in the black and white world of Martin Wolf, where there are no shades of grey, nuance doesn't exist. Everything is binary: Johnson is the single and only factor that brought the UK to its current state – whatever that is. At this point, not even Covid seems to exist in Wolf's tiny, introspective world.

Thus framed, Wolf asks (rhetorically of course – he doesn't actually want an answer) whether Jonson has "remade it for the better or for the worse?" Has he. Wolf goes on, "increased opportunities for British people, or diminished them? Has he made the UK more influential and prosperous, or less so?" Unsurprisingly, Wolf answers his own questions – his answer to all them is "the latter", although he concedes that, " it is still early days in this story".

From this slender base, Wolf then asserts that, "A point that emerged quickly (and to no informed person’s surprise) is that the Brexiters had misunderstood the EU". And here one can see how useful is Wolf's narrowness of vision. Everyone who supports Brexit becomes a "Brexiteer" and, thus defined, every single one of them "misunderstood the EU".

To support his case, Wolf calls in aid that towering intellectual giant, Anand Menon – he of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative at King's College – with the single observation that he notes that Dominic Raab (now foreign secretary) said in April 2016 that "we can have proper control of our borders but we don’t need to be bound by all this stifling regulation and it's certainly not in the Europeans' interests to erect trade barriers".

So, on the basis of a secondary source, and a solitary quote from an idiot Tory politician, the case is proven, and all supporters of Brexit are tarred with the same brush. "The EU disagreed", says Wolf. "Many barriers do now exist: they will stay".

Although many of us "Brexiteers" have made exactly the same point, Wolf then has to go through his "no shit, Sherlock" routine to tells us that "the reason for this predictable outcome was that members regard the preservation of the legal order of the EU, including the single market, as an overriding interest". You can tell the man doesn't read EUReferendum or Turbulent Times.

Thus, we learn, again courtesy of Menon, that Denmark does more than six times as much business with the rest of the EU as with the UK. "Economic self-interest", we are told, "meant preserving the EU market, not accommodating the UK. The same is true for the other members. The EU always comes first for all of them".

We then have to tolerate Menon in "sardonic mode". Observing that, "It was curious that a group of ideological purists expected their interlocutors to be ideologically flexible and pragmatic". The " ideological purists", of course, are the Brexiteers.

From hereon, Wolf doesn’t even bother to distinguish between that group, and Johnson and his acolytes. Being "Brexiteers", it follows that ours and his thoughts must be one and the same.

Johnson's "cakeism", Wolf grandly declares, "was silly bravado, as is the view of David Frost, his chief negotiator", that the EU should "shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship between sovereign equals".

Of course, our grand interlocutor opines, "it would be easier to achieve this if Johnson had not lied over the implications of his deal on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and even dared to attempt a repudiation of it. The EU rightly regards him as unserious and untrustworthy".

What strikes one here is that any one of thousands of Johnson detractors could have said this – and many have said words to that effect. But, by implication, such wisdom stems only from Wolf and his merry band of Europhiles.

When it comes to the economic results of Brexit, Wolf finally deigns to bring in Covid, only to dismiss it. It is noteworthy, he says, that between the second quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2021, the UK economy shrank by 4.3 per cent. Italy's performance was similar. But the eurozone’s economy grew by 1.3 per cent over this period.

Brexit, he asserts, also inflicted a large initial shock to trade volumes. A recovery has occurred since then, but UK trade will end up smaller than it would otherwise have been. The effects of this will cumulate over time and show up in worse economic performance than otherwise.

Wolf also asserts that Brexit has lifted constraints on the government. British prime ministers with large majorities could always do most of what they wanted, so long as they retained parliamentary support. Now, horror of horrors, the government does not have to worry about EU rules either, so the government "can act even more freely than before".

Never mind the "second coffin lid" effect, of the "Brussels effect". When he needs to make a point, anything will do for Wolf. And switching back into "no shit, Sherlock" mode, he tells us that businesses trading with the EU and people wanting to work and study there "have lost a great deal of control, not taken it back".

And with this slender thread of argument, to Wolf, "the promises of Brexit seem largely a will-o’-the-wisp". It will not increase control, he asserts, "but reduce it where it mattered most to individuals and even to the public at large".

And this is all down to "skilful demagogues" who "transmuted public unhappiness into hostility towards the EU, which was mostly innocent of what people detested, except over migration". So there we have it – the arrogance of this Europhile, writ large. The [feeble-minded] public could not express its own view until it had been manipulated by "skilful demagogues".

In the longer run, Wolf thinks that Brexit is likely to damage the UK, perhaps split it, while strengthening EU solidarity. If so, he says, it will surely be judged a Pyrrhic victory.

There again, if Brexit, as we have so often said, is a process and not an event, there is room to assert that the inadequate Johnson has so far botched just about everything he has touched. But Johnson's reign of stupidity and incompetence will eventually come to an end. And what then of Brexit?

If it turns out that there is no government in the foreseeable future which can adequately deal with the challenges posed by Brexit, is this the fault of Brexit or a reflection of the impoverishment of the political system in this county. And if Brexit has brought this to a head, how can it ever be said that it has done other than provide a huge service to this nation?

To think in those terms, though, requires nuance and flexibility of thought. This is something you will not get from Martin Wolf or the Financial Times.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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