May’s self-delusions inflate Britain’s capacity for self-harm – but also suggest a way forward
It is starting to dawn on many people in Britain that EU referendum campaign promises of a land that would flow with milk and honey, once it was freed from the shackles of the Brussels bureaucrats, are pie in the sky.
As the realities of what a “hard Brexit” would imply seem slightly clearer, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify any groups of people or even any individuals who can point to concrete ways in which they can be sure their lives would be improved through leaving the European Union. For many, the outcome could be catastrophic, with loss of jobs or income, deportation, or inability to get timely access to quality health assistance and affordable care. At worst, the United Kingdom could break up.
We seem to have been pushed into a process that we know will inflict national self-harm on a colossal scale but that we feel powerless to stop.
Worryingly, this process is being led by a prime minister who seems driven by self-delusion and by frequent contradictions between her stated beliefs and her actions.
Thus, in her foreword for the white paper on exiting the EU, she deludes herself by claiming that she enjoys “The strength and support of 65 million people willing us to make it happen”! If she really believes this, no wonder that she has got the bit between her teeth…..
In the same paragraph, May correctly implies that such broad public support is “The essential ingredient of our success”. Yet she contradicts herself in systematically dismissing all those who don’t subscribe to her own interpretation of what she delights in calling “the will of the people”. She has – arrogantly – paid zero attention to the expressed views of the Scots, the Northern Irish, the Welsh, scientists, environmentalists, doctors and health system managers, farmers, the industrial and business communities, trade unionists, the energy sector, banking and financial services providers, immigrants and UK citizens living in Europe, musicians and artists, and millions of young citizens. Without the genuine engagement of all of these groups, whose members know that their interests and livelihoods will suffer, her determination to push ahead as fast as she can with a “hard Brexit” seems bound eventually to end in tears.
In the same contradictory way, the prime minister vaunts the virtues of Britain’s democracy, but has gone to court, not once but twice, to challenge the constitutional authority of the two houses of parliament in which British sovereignty resides. And when the courts have ordered her to engage Westminster in deciding whether to start the process of disengagement from the EU, she has muzzled democratic expression by constraining conservative MPs, through a 3-line whip, to vote on party lines rather than to represent the will of their constituents or to express what they, as elected representatives, believe is right and in the best interests of the country.
Just as she advocates for democracy and then tries to bypass and belittle the institutions which sustain it, May calls for free trade with distant markets but, even before negotiations start, states her intent to withdraw Britain from the EU Single Market. Here again, she is contradicting her own beliefs, having said less than a year ago, in April 2016, “So, if we do vote to leave the European Union, we risk bringing the development of the single market to a halt, we risk a loss of investors and businesses to remaining EU member states driven by discriminatory EU policies, and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade.”
What is extraordinary – and dismaying – is that, when given the opportunity by the Supreme Court to debate whether to give the prime minister the authority to invoke Article 50, such a large majority of MPs (many of whom expressed their serious reservations over the consequences for Britain of a “hard Brexit”) voted to give her the green light to go ahead. Hopefully now, when they revisit the Bill to address the amendments approved by the House of Lords, the majority of members of the House of Commons will have the good sense to slam their feet on the brakes of this reckless exercise in national self-harm.
Maybe, as public alarm over the consequences of a hard Brexit rises, the time has come for Theresa May to contradict herself once again. She could genuinely admit that she really has listened attentively to all key players in the UK and to her European counterparts and allies. After due consideration of the evidence, she has decided that it would be advantageous for her country to stay in the EU and to exercise a benign influence on how it operates in future, including the formulation of a new migration policy. She could rightfully claim that she has done her best over the past 8 months to make ample space for pro-Brexit leaders to shape Britain’s future but that they have signally failed to present her with a convincing negotiating position on any of the major issues.
This would be the act of a true stateswoman and patriot.