I have written many times about how the world would be a better place if politicians could admit they got things wrong.
The simple fact – and it is a fact – is that those who proposed “Brexit” on the basis that the EU would be bound to give the UK a good deal plainly got it wrong. Now they should simply admit it.
From the very start, on these pages, I warned that entering negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship on the basis that at the end of those negotiations the UK would 100% have to leave was simply ludicrous. It hands all the cards over the EU and means – as is now happening – that the EU will simply dictate the terms of the UK’s exit. As Lord Heseltine said, this is not taking back control but ceding it.
A much more sensible route would have been for the UK to identify the reasons for the “Leave” vote and then propose a new relationship based, quite possibly, on greater border control (mind, it already has a lot more control of its border than it likes to admit) and perhaps even a reduced budget contribution (perhaps, for example, by separating UK aid to the developing world from EU aid). Whether that relationship was technically “in” or “out” would have been almost irrelevant – it would have maintained a free trading relationship with our closest allies, while also taking full account of the referendum result (i.e. of the reasons for it). The UK would have had a strong negotiating position, as other EU states would have been keen for the outcome to be “technically in” in order for no one else to be tempted to leave. The UK chose to ignore this sensible route.
And so it is that all the claims the Leave side made are proving false; and indeed many of the warnings the Remain side made are proving correct. Most of these claims and warnings involved finance, but in fact the most startling example thus far (and we are only a few days in!) came in the form of a bizarre comment by a Conservative and former Leader that the UK would go to war over Gibraltar if it came to it.
The whole point of the EU, its advocates constantly pointed out, is that it removes the need for petty nationalism and thus drastically decreases the prospect of war. If people in the UK, Spain and Gibraltar all have EU passports, agree EU standards and trade under EU rules, it frankly does not much matter whether Gibraltarians regard themselves as British or Spanish. If, on the other hand, this is made to matter by the UK not just leaving the EU but in fact even leaving the Single Market and Customs Zone, then conflict will inevitably ensue. It is, of course, utterly ludicrous for anyone to suggest that conflict will take the form of a ‘war’, but it will inevitably see tensions between the UK and Spain rise – noting that 26 other European states will have it in their interests to take Spain’s side.
This all simply leaves the British utterly humiliated. Far from a “modern” or “global” Britain, we now have buffoons hinting at war with Spain and restoring imperial measurement units (that no one else uses). The country is split down the middle – between those who want to live in the 1950s and those who want to live in the 1590s.
The whole thing is utterly ludicrous and demands an immediate rethink, before the UK’s delusions do some real damage – noting that such damage will only be to itself.