Escaping from Collective Denial
MPs must stop closing their eyes to the harm already caused by 15 months of chaotic government mismanagement and act in the national interest
We are in a surreal situation as our MPs return to Westminster after their long summer recess, with many assailed by grave misgivings about the way in which the brexit process is being managed by the government but not knowing how best to respond in exercising their representational duties. A lot of them will have spent time with their constituents and picked up the sense of a changing mood about Britain’s future relations with its European neighbours that suggests a shift in the oft-proclaimed “will of the people”.
Many MPs are also worried over the threat that the Withdrawal Bill could diminish parliament’s authority in deciding how laws of European origin will be adapted to a post-brexit situation.
Yet, even when their own convictions are strong, few seem likely to translate these into votes in the House of Commons that could halt a process that seems bound to end in tears. If they do not act, they effectively become complicit with the government in knowingly driving the UK towards a deeply self-harming destination.
The extreme brexiteers have been given free rein to run the country for 15 months. In chasing an illusion of renewed national greatness, they have wrecked the currency, pushed up the cost of living, undermined the unity of our Kingdom, stoked xenophobia, sought to diminish the powers of parliament and forgotten their promises to improve the NHS, education and the living standards of just-managing families. Internationally, respect for Britain has taken a big dent! Most seriously, the prime minister, rather than listening and responding to the wide spectrum of views amongst her MPs – and the constituents that they represent – is using trumpian threats to muzzle any whiff of dissent.
If you think that this as scare-mongering – an extension of “project fear” – you only need to look in your own wallet and see the effect that the actions of the brexiteers have already had on the value of your savings and what you can stll afford to buy.
We can be sure that MPs will spend many hours debating the one-off fiscal costs of divorce from the EU. However, whether this is 20 or 100 billion pounds, it is small compared to the scale of the deep long-term damage to the economy that has already been unleashed by the massive devaluation of our currency, triggered by the referendum result and worsened by its subsequent interpretation by this government. MPs should be shining the spotlight on these costs,
Every time the prime minister has spoken about what she intends for brexit, the pound has fallen further against the euro and dollar. The 17% drop in the pound-euro exchange rate is not just a vivid signal of a collapse in international confidence in the British economy. Nor is it a figure that can be quietly brushed under the carpet and ignored.
A cheap pound has very practical consequences, in that, though it may stimulate UK exports, incoming tourism and the attractiveness of inward investment, it pushes up inflation rates through raising the cost of our imports. This, in turn, diminishes family purchasing power and so eventually cuts domestic consumer demand. As many travellers have discovered this summer to their dismay, it also adds to the costs of foreign holidays.
With inflation now running at 3% per annum and a low prospect for wage rises, the average British household (which spent £528.90 per week in 2016) will have to cut its spending by over £15 per week or around £800 per year to live within its means. This comes on top of the effects of many years of austerity!
Perhaps more seriously, the very large drop in the exchange rates, makes it almost impossible for the Bank of England to defend the value of the pound against further devaluation because any rise in base interest rates could further weaken economic growth and cut jobs. Put bluntly, the weakened pound – even before brexit has happened – is hitting British living standards where it hurts. Beyond, this, it raises doubts about the capacity of the UK to maintain the pound as one of the world’s official reserve currencies, given its now limited ability to defend sterling against currency speculation.
There are many other signals that the brexit process, the muddle-headed approach to negotiations and the climate of uncertainty that it has fuelled will have deeper future negative economic effects. These will be worsened by any withdrawal from the customs union and single market. But we suggest that, rather than make scary predictions of future outcomes, MPs should simply draw on the reality of the decline of sterling over the past 15 months and its impact on people’s livelihoods power as hard evidence of the dire failure of the brexit team to act in the interests of the British people rather than in the pursuit of their personal ambitions and rivalries.
The time has now come for this government that claims to uphold British democratic principles to seek a vote of confidence, with party managers leaving their MPs to vote according to what they believe is best for the UK as a whole. This would be consistent with the approach taken by Cameron in the referendum campaign. It is the best way of restoring true democracy in the country and of government allowing itself to be held properly accountable for all it has done since June 2016.
Given the gravity of the situation, hopefully a majority of MPs will have the courage to call for such a vote of confidence, thereby signalling their intent to have parliament “take back control” from a power-grabbing executive.