Entitled Isn’t Exceptional: Why Brexit Will Fail, part 4

For readers joining this series late, here are parts one, two and three

So far this week, I’ve discussed the lies and indecision at the heart of Brexit that make it impossible for Johnson to deliver on any of the grand promises he makes.

The biggest lie of all is British Exceptionalism, the lie that we tell ourselves that Britain is somehow special, because of our history, because of the Empire, because of the ubiquity of our language, because of the “special relationship”. The dangerous delusion of “Empire 2.0”.

Johnson in particular, refers to Britain in towering, cod-Churchillian terms, forgetting what Churchill knew – Britain never “stood alone” in World War Two, when we had the support of India, Australia, Canada, and African nations. We only won when we made alliances. And Churchill, after the War, was one of the biggest voices speaking for a united Europe.

His ministers too will often cite that Britain is the “fifth largest economy in the World”, overlooking that our economic status depends in large part on our trade with and through the very EU they are ripping us away from.

Because here’s the thing: every country believes they are “special” and none of them care a hoot about Britain.

Large parts of the world blame us for the partitions and wars that afflict them. The Commonwealth, in particular, is full of countries that resent Britain for imperial colonisation. The Chinese who have spent a good couple of thousand years believing they are the most civilised nation on Earth and rightful rulers thereof, still remember the Opium Wars and have not forgiven the humiliations of the Twentieth Century. Our European friends we are in the process of snubbing. The “anglosphere” aren’t going to rescue us – to the Americans we are somewhere between quaint and irritating, the Australians stopped taking us seriously during World War II when Britain could not defend them from Japan, even the Canadians are losing respect for us. Our list of friends grows short.

Johnson, I am sure, imagines that a post-EU Britain will enter the world economy much as he entered a children’s game of touch rugby in Japan, snatching up the ball and knocking down 10-year-olds, flagrantly ignoring rules, decency and frankly sense.

He could not be more wrong.

What is more like is if he were to find himself facing the victorious South African world rugby champions. Imagine the damage they would inflict upon him. That’s what Britain’s economy could be heading for.

Or even, as Europe turns inwards without us, and the US and China face off, making the Pacific not the Atlantic the World’s dominant arena, we could just be left dangling, like Johnson on his zipwire, with no one interested in us at all.

2000 years ago, Yemen, as the only source of the frankincense vital for temple rituals, was the richest country in the Roman World. And then trade routes to China and India opened up, and the World just passed Yemen by. And for 2000 years, it’s been a desert.

Sometimes economies just die.

No one owes any country a living. Not Yemen. Not the UK. And if we don’t make ourselves a part of this World, quite possibly it will turn its back on us the way it did Yemen.

In the Nineteen-Forties, countries responded to the Wall Street Crash by retreating into Protectionism – the Brexit of its day – and the result was a decade of Great Depression, and a spiral into Nationalism.

Today, the country that most seals itself off from the World is North Korea. And it is famously not a land flowing with milk and honey or freedom for its millions of suffering citizens.

Over and over, it is the lesson of history that countries that lower barriers to trade and migration are hugely successful, and the ones that sink into isolation are not.

Seventy years after we won the War and lost the Empire, Britain still needs to decide our place in the World. We need to stop thinking that our past makes us special, and instead look at how we can become special in the future.

Liberal Values are about looking forward to a future where we reach out to our friends and allies to make peace and prosperity together.

Together, European countries built a peace that has lasted seventy years. That is exceptional. Together, the global science community has built the International Space Station, are planning a base on the Moon, are taking our first steps to the Stars. That is exceptional.

To be exceptional, we need to BE exceptional.

Beside that, Brexit is merely entitled. And that is why Brexit must fail.

Brexit Will Fail – But Britain Doesn’t Have To

Change is coming.

Just as the first post-War paradigm, the “Butskellite consensus”, broke down over the course of the Seventies, the last decade has seen the second post-War paradigm breaking down too. The 2008 banking crash was a mortal blow to low regulation, free market economics. Thatcherism is dying. That, more than anything, is at the heart of the chaos that is gripping the UK (manifested in Brexit), the US (in Trump) and the World.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wants to take us back to the 1970’s. But the first paradigm broke in the Seventies because of the fundamental (and very Labour) flaw that it was based on the Government knowing best. It doesn’t.

Boris Johnson’s Tories want to take us back to the 1980’s. But the second paradigm has broken because of the Fundamental (and very Tory) flaw that it was based on the Government doing nothing. It mustn’t.

It is essential that the new paradigm, when it comes, is a Liberal one. We must, must shape it to bring balance to rich and poor, worker and employer, indigenous and migrant, north and south, Freedom and Fairness, laying foundations of the rule of law, and truth, so that we build a better, fairer, freer future for everyone.

* Richard Flowers has been a Party member for 20 years. He’s campaigned in many an election, stood as a local councillor, and Parliamentary candidate, was Chair of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, and in 2020 will be Liberal Democrat candidate for the Greater London Assembly constituency of City and East. Thanks to Liberal Democrats in government, he is married to his husband Alex Wilcock. He also helps Millennium Elephant to write his Very Fluffy Diary.

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25 Comments

  • Yes the way combat a sense of exceptionalism is for all the those former European colonial powers France, Spain, Germany, Portugal. Belgium, Italy and Holland ( Britain isn’t the only former imperial power) to join a big pseudo imperial union that sees enemies everywhere from The USA to the Middle East. We could also try helping those former colonies by using strategic airpower for another 20 or so years just like we did in the good old pre-Brexit days, with sensible centrist leaders like Blair, Bush and co running really great economies that didn’t crash on an unprecedented scale in 2007-2008.

  • Richard, you lost me a bit there. Why do you hate our nation so much?

  • John Samuel 30th Nov '19 - 7:19pm

    Lol. Richard appears to love our country and worry about the lies that now underpin its future. He has the temerity to trust British experts.

  • Bless to try to stop people in their delusion and prevent them ruining theirs and other people’s life is not hating our nation it is trying to save it. Unfortunately the delusionist are in full delusional mode and are heading for the school of fools. No amount of whatabouttery and we are pariots will save them from a life of pain, tis sad but true somethimes you can’t prevent fools being fools tis in their DNA.

  • nigel hunter 30th Nov '19 - 7:54pm

    One thing is sure. We must welcome workers from abroad to develop our economy and to diversify from the EU and the World to remain vibrant. The Australian point system whilst asking for workers does not stop people coming to the country to work ONLY if a job has been put on one side for them. They are skilled and can obtain benefits whilst a job is found for their skills. UK a job has to be there for them ,no talk about benefits whilst finding a job. It makes us not a welcoming economy and therefore we do not get the workers required. Not being a welcoming country people will ignore us and decline will follow.

  • Immigrants often tell us that we are the number one destination in Europe. They line up in their thousands in France to come here. You cannot tell me that they are escaping threats to their lives in France.

  • Tories want to be at the heart of world free trade not isolated from it so this is a rather strange interpretation. The Liberal protestation at this aim is more likely to be that it will only work if the State is much reduced, the UK becoming lean and mean, much more dynamic, with much lower taxes.

    BTW the appeal of the UK for professional immigrants has been much reduced by the ruined state of Sterling, the actual money they can export back home much lower, especially when combined with high tax rates if earning a decent wedge, This will get much worse under a Labour govn even if we stay in the EU.

  • I have a different take on the “butskellism” – the apparent consensus between Conservatives and Labour in the fifties. After the war the Labour government was in fact successful in rebuilding the country. The Health Service was introduced, but also huge numbers of people rehoused. The mood of the country was one of building a country fit for heroes. The Tories had to go along with this to gain power, which they did. They have since continued the agenda they have always had. This is not because they are conservatives but because there are rich people prepared to fund those who support the short termism that enables them to make money out of the country.
    We are seeing the same thing now. The Tory leader is prepared to propuse anything to get votes. In the meanwhile they are prepared to stoop ever lower to attack their opponents.
    Until we clean up our financial systems we the country will continue on its present path. At least for fifteen years when the environmental crises catch up on us.

  • Peter Martin 1st Dec '19 - 9:38am

    “even the Canadians are losing respect for us.”

    Any evidence for saying this?

    For the last couple of hundred years or so Canada has had a policy of staying separate from the emerging superpower to its South, but, at the same time staying on friendly terms and encouraging free trade between the two countries.

    Brexit means that the UK and Canada are now of like minds.

  • Arnold Kiel 1st Dec '19 - 9:50am

    Richard,

    I entirely agree with your description of widespread voter-sentiment. I do not believe, however, that Johnson has the same view, he has none. His support of the Brexit-cause was purely instrumental: he had to unsettle a rather stable status-quo and a decently popular and rather young PM, both threatening to recover further, to prepare the country for himself. The referendum was his chance.

    He does not believe a single one of his own words, and would rather be the PM of the UK as EU member, had that possibility existed. After all, he is a lazy narcissist: leaving he EU is hard, painful, and unrewarding work he and his incompetent cabinet could do very well without. The real Johnson-problem is that he is devoid of vision and values, and will ride any wave that will bring and keep him in power. Currently, that is the Farage-ERG-Trump-wave. Unfortunately, if that ebbs away, it will be too late.

    Apparently, the experience of the 70s and 80s were not enough to cure the English (i.m.o. not the British) from the disease of exceptionalism. Maybe the 2020s will, because the Johnson-problem might persist during that entire decade: he will not even do the wrong thing right because he has no principles or beliefs to base his strategy on. He will continue to follow the currents of power and public sentiment which will be mostly directionless turbulence. The national humiliation of the coming years under Johnson will be so profound, that the illusion of exceptionalism will either be eradicated or the only remaining source of pride. I feel compelled to quote Paddy Ashdown: “God help our country”.

  • Escapism and exceptionlism define the politics of our time. The problem is as we hit reality we will find no matter how hard we try we can’t escape hard reality and reality will judge us for what we are not what we delude ourselves to be. Twill not end well for any of us but it will be worse for the delusionists.

    Here is an article from a Canadian for one of our chief fantasists, it makes intresting reading

    in Canada are looking at the U.K. wondering why on earth are they doing this? Certainly money isn’t everything, but impoverishing yourself for some sense of independence in the 21st century when no country is really independent is to put it frankly — plain stupidity. Thinking that trade agreements are going to replace a totally integrated customs union without massive job loss and economic disruptions is a ruinous fantasy.

    https://medium.com/@drgutteridge/a-canadian-view-of-brexit-baa6149c28b8

  • As far as « exceptionalism » is concerned, I spent a month in Greece recently, and I met people who were proud of their thousands of years of history and pointed out their contribution to so many aspects of our life. The same applies to China – perhaps though with a longer history.
    As far as the European Union is concerned, the reality is that people are looking for the truth, but all they get is the strange stories about the alleged misdeeds of an organisation in which our government was a lead!ng decision maker.
    If only we had an active pro-Europe party!

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '19 - 10:50am

    Boris Johnson has been interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Marr who asked him why he was refusing to be interviewed by Andrew Neil. Boris said he is willing to be interviewed “by anyone at the BBC called Andrew”, so perhaps the BBC will hold him to that, but maybe he will need to mug up on some details, accept that previous Conservative governments have done things, or failed to do things, that are of interest in this election.
    Talking alternately is preferable to talking simultaneously, which is disrespectful to the interviewer and to the audience.

  • If Johnson were to succeed in his bizarre ambitions for national self harm in aid of the glorification of himself, we might begin to get a clearer picture of the string-pullers behind him for whom he appears to be the “useful idiot”.

  • John Marriott 1st Dec '19 - 7:12pm

    I gave up on the Marr Johnson interview. Now I can see why Johnson looks like avoiding an interview with Andrew Neil. Marr was far too polite and Johnson would not answer his questions. In fact he just wouldn’t shut up, while clearly winging it.

  • nvelope2003 1st Dec '19 - 8:00pm

    Just seen the Andrew Neil Corbyn interview. Neil kept interrupting Corbyn so he was unable to answer the question before he asked it again and this was endlessly repeated. I suppose this is intended to be a form of entertainment like the activities in the Coliseum of Ancient Rome. It did not do much to inform the voters. Only Conservative fanatics would have enjoyed this undignified behaviour. Unfortunately there are plenty of them about talking about the Corbyn car crash etc. This is the worst and most pointless election I have ever seen and I have seen rather a lot. Jo Swinson had better be on top form if she is to do any good speaking to Neil. Johnson was wise not to do it.

  • Frank West – a lame duck Corbyn without a majority being unable to pass any of his agenda is not worse than Hard Brexit.

  • Thomas, unfortunately you are dealing with Marxists who are running out of time and they won’t play by normal parliamentary rules once they get their hands on the levers of power.

    As to the Andrew Neil interview, the last time he did over Boris he called him craven with regards to his dealings with Trump and you could see the genuine incredulity on Boris’s face at this accusation and almost a physical restraint from reacting physically to it… so he is probably not going to talk to him again.

    I would like to see a real head to head between Corbyn and Johnson where they can have a good go at each other rather like in PM’s question time.

  • @ Frank West I do wish Liberal Democrats would back away from personal attacks and offer something positive and grown up instead.

    The personal stuff against both Messrs. Johnson and Corbyn by the party leadership has, in my opinion, been totally counterproductive…… and I’m afraid, Frank, that you’re falling for the old Tory tabloid line when you say, “unfortunately you are dealing with Marxists who are running out of time and they won’t play by normal parliamentary rules once they get their hands on the levers of power”.

    Is Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist? Not according to the official Student Marxist website. It states , “Although Jeremy Corbyn is a sincere fighter for the working class, he himself is not a revolutionary or a Marxist, despite what some Tories may think. His idea is to try to reform capitalism, to try make it work better for workers, whilst still allowing a tiny handful to own nearly everything.”

    I suspect Mr Corbyn won’t be the only one returning to his/her allotment and making jam after the election.

  • John Marriott 2nd Dec '19 - 9:34am

    @David Raw
    Just as we try to make out that the members of the Royal Family are just like us (the Royle family, perhaps), similarly we try to ‘humanise’ politicians like Johnson and Corbyn, even Farage and Swinson. They are not. Most people are not driven by the kind of ambition that they are. A knowledge of the writings of the late US psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, might help to explain why some people, in their outlook and motivation, are indeed different from most people, particularly his motivator-hygiene theory.

    Whilst referring specifically to the world of business, I always feel that the theory can be applied to life in general. Most people are motivated by ‘intrinsic’ factors, such as a desire to have a decent job, a family and a roof over their head. Some exhibit what Herzberg terms ‘hygiene factors’, in his case, ‘company policy, administration, status, doing something that leads to a distinct outcome.’ That could, with a little imagination, be a description of ‘politics’. These so called ‘extrinsic’ factors are, in a slightly different way, what distinguishes in particular, the Johnsons, Corbyns and Farages. All three, if you believe the gossip columns, would appear to have sacrificed certain personal relationships for personal ambition. Many people might view their antics as outside their own moral compass. Those, who might share their desire to influence things may just turn a blind eye, possibly because they themselves share many of their motivational factors.

    Wow, all this philosophising at this time of the morning! Time I got back to the papers!

  • @John Marriott

    I think any attempt to create a category of ‘driven by ambition’ that contains Johnson must of necessity exclude all other current British politicians, regardless of whether you agree with their aims or not.

    Johnson is nothing more than ambition personified – I’ve seen no evidence that he values anything else at all, political or personal.

    Even Farage gives the impression that he possibly has some belief – however reprehensible – to which he might cling; Johnson, none at all.

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