I haven’t written much about Brexit, lately. I’ve been adopting a wait and see approach.
I realised pretty quickly how technical and complex the process of exiting the European Union actually was and I thought it would be wise to read and learn from people who were experts in trade and regulation. Much of the discourse around Brexit focuses on ideological and theoretical matters, with the minutiae of actual EU legal code rarely discussed. Very few people are knowledgeable in such matters and we didn’t hear from them at all during the referendum campaign, which, in hindsight, was woefully short on substance. The single market and the customs union were hardly mentioned and Leave (with some exceptions) never put forward a model for leaving the EU. No one had any clear idea of what the UK would look like post-Brexit. It really was a leap in the dark.
It is only becoming clear now what an intricate task it is to disentangle Britain from decades worth of integration with the EU. The risk to the UK economy is real. Throughout the EU referendum campaign, the economy consistently came up in polling as the top concern of voters. It was David Cameron’s main argument in opposition to Brexit and it did sway huge numbers for Remain. Brexiteers were hoping that these fears were overblown, but they would be wrong to assume that trade won’t be impacted by leaving the single market and the customs union, which is why so many companies have been voicing their concern. They should not be dismissed out of hand as “Project Fear”. Even Christopher Booker, The Telegraph writer who has spent his career vociferously arguing against membership of the European Union has been ringing the alarm.
The fact is that leaving the European Union was never going to be some romantic adventure. It was always going to be slow, bureaucratic and legalistic, with the EU being incredibly protective over the integrity of the Single Market. It is easy to blame Theresa May and I have been critical of her lack of vision, but I don’t think anyone else would have had it much easier. There are just too many hard realities that cannot be avoided.
We need to be very careful of straying into Dunning-Kruger territory and not know what we don’t know. Right now, we need humility, maturity and compromise to negotiate this process and to cease viewing it as some zero-sum battle between the forces of good and evil.