The Observer on a hard Brexit


We don’t usually cover newspaper editorials, but the one yesterday in The Observer was extraordinarily angry and intense. The subeditors and author seemed to have had second thoughts about how it should be titled. The online version was originally headed “The triggering of article 50 jeopardises 60 years of unparalleled peace” – a quote from the piece, and a strong enough sentiment, but it does not do justice to rest of the hard-hitting post which begins:

Like sheep, the British people, regardless of whether they support Brexit, are being herded off a cliff, duped and misled by the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory.

By the time it appeared in the print version it had become “Hard Brexit is an epic act of self-harm – only reinforcing rancour and division”.

It goes on:

The ultra-hard Tory Brexit break with Europe that is now seen as the most likely outcome when the two-year negotiation concludes is the peacetime equivalent of the ignominious retreat from Dunkirk. It is a national catastrophe by any measure. It is a historic error. And Theresa May, figuratively waving the cross of St George atop the white cliffs of Dover like a tone-deaf parody of Vera Lynn, will be remembered as the principal author of the debacle. This is not liberation, as Ukip argues, nor even a fresh start. It is a reckless, foolhardy leap into the unknown and the prelude, perhaps, to what the existentialist writer Albert Camus described in La chute – a fall from grace, in every conceivable sense.

Every day produces more evidence that this hard Tory Brexit is a disaster in the making. Carmakers and other export manufacturers, fearing swingeing tariffs, are demanding special protections and exemptions or else they leave. Professional bodies, ranging from lawyers to economists, warn of endlessly damaging business consequences. The NHS faces the loss of tens of thousands of qualified doctors and nurses it has no prospect of replacing. Care homes are in a similar plight. Banks, financial institutions and airlines face unavoidable decisions about moving jobs and operations to mainland Europe.

The prospective political, diplomatic and reputational cost is every bit as daunting. Take the damage to Britain’s democracy. Last week, parliament was at its best, uniting in defiance of terrorism. The week before, it was at its worst, agreeing to deny itself a meaningful vote on any final deal. The government argued that to do otherwise would tie its hands. This is baloney. David Davis, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and the other Brexit blowhards know they have no chance of achieving their stated aims, such as a £350m weekly NHS payback. So they pre-emptively reject parliamentary scrutiny, dismiss any criticism as unpatriotic and hope, like the cheap chancers they are, that they will get away with it. They’ve peddled a fake Brexit, full of false promises. The reality is beginning to dawn.

The editorial concludes:

Truth and common sense are in short supply as Britain charges towards the precipice.

You can read the full article here.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • I do wish that people would stop it with WWII analogies. It comes across as really muddled and a bit odd. If we hadn’t withdrawn the troops from Dunkirk they would have either been killed or ended up in prison camps. Also we were on the right side in WWII so I’m not convinced that it works if you’re trying to paint it as terrible disaster to break with a German dominated Europe. Surely, it would be better to just talk about the EU for what it is and to present a case that does not involve confused analogies that accidently make it sound like some progressives think WWII was a terrible English mistake!

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Mar '17 - 5:10pm

    On a general point about the sort of post brexit deal we need: we need a liberal visa regime. The idea favoured at the moment, besides staying in the single market, seems to be EU passports for UK citizens who want to pay an annual fee, but the problem with this approach is the EU won’t be able to offer UK passports for any kind of fee and some EU migrants currently in the UK think they won’t be able to benefit from this optional EU citizenship idea because it is about UK citizens.

  • Nick Collins 27th Mar '17 - 5:21pm

    I agree that Dunkirk is a bad analogy. Dunkirk was a disaster averted: fortunes of war. The hard Brexit upon which our absurd government is embarking is, by contrast, a self-inflicted disaster. The rest of the article, however, is excellent and makes that point very well.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Mar '17 - 5:25pm

    PS, the optional EU citizenship idea could work if the UK also offered optional UK citizenship to EU citizens who want it. This is a big ask but without it you could get EU migrants stuck in the gap: unable to get UK citizenship and no longer to get free movement to the UK from their existing EU citizenship.

  • The use of war analogies is not unwarranted given the right wing Empire2 mindset driving Brexit.
    We now have isolationism coupled with the need for WMD, Aircraft Carriers, Astute class submarines all to show force projection ability.
    Take back control from these foreigners rhetoric abounds
    Everything must be presented from the historical viewpoint of past greatness which involved violence
    ( strange it looks at the role against “evil” and skips past British aggression abroad – how did the map get pink)

    It is unhealthy and it gives an insight into the the drift right of UK politics.

    However it must be the anniversary of the start or end of some war or terrible event so celebrate being British and buy a map covered in pink representing our glorious rule of the World and the rise of the New Order.

  • “Like sheep, the British people, regardless of whether they support Brexit, are being herded off a cliff, duped and misled by the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory.”

    It will be interesting to see if the residents of Scotland will ultimately avoid the cliff by this ‘least worthy (Tory) government in living memory’.

  • Julie Gibb;
    Actually think about the analogy. When you invoke WWII as a example of nasty British isolationism you’re on extremely odd ground. You can put “evil” in inverted comma’s all you like. but I have Jewish and Romany roots and I actually find it incredibly dodgy.
    Also what isolationism. All we’ve done is start to withdraw from the EU. not put up an iron curtain. You can co-operate , visit and trade with any country in world without being in a political union with them.

  • The survey found that the proportion of people expecting the economy to fare better over the next ten years as a result of Brexit has fallen to 29% from 39% last July.

    Meanwhile, the proportion who think the UK’s economic prospects have got worse has risen from 42% to 53%, resulting in a net balance of -24% — down sharply from the -3.5% last July.

    The data also shows that the country’s lowest income group has shifted from being the most optimistic about the economic impact of Brexit to the most pessimistic.

    The merry Brexiteers better get a move on it appears there appeal to mindless optimism is fading. Reality is starting to bite and soon there cries of believe or Tinkerbell will die are likely to be met by a firm raspberry.

  • @Glenn – “I do wish that people would stop it with WWII analogies.”

    I agree in part, however, that is because, in both WWI and WWII, GB only prevailed because of the assistance provided by its allies both in the USA and Europe. So the question over Brexit is more about who are our allies who will help GB succeed?

  • Just as remarkable as the editorial was the description of Tim Farron “cementing his growing role as the political leader of the Remain movement” in the news item on Saturday’s rally.

  • Roland,
    Mainly America and Russia in WW II, which was the war we were talking about.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 28th Mar '17 - 7:57am

    I agree with Glenn that the comparison with Dunkirk is bizarre, nonsensical, and really quite offensive.

  • Antony Watts 28th Mar '17 - 8:34am

    What WAS interesting yesterday was a passing comment from an SNP interview, that the EU has set up a web site to publicise the negotiations! Anyone know the URL?

    This will mean that May cannot keep things secret as I am sure she wants to.

    Her target also is to give Ministers (her three Brexiteers) all the powers to tick through laws under the bill to be announced Thursday to make EU law into UK l aw.

    The fun has only just started – no, sorry its not fun at all, it is deadly serious. Will be a challenge to us all to keep up with 40 years law-making in 18 months of negotiation!

  • Bill le Breton 28th Mar '17 - 8:48am

    Rancour and division take two sides. We are hardly ‘peacemakers’ in this process.

    The old elite still can’t react calmly and constructively to the fact that they didn’t get their way.

    Here however is an example of a constructive approach from the Institute of Directors. I wish we could use our combined brains to join this process.

  • @Glenn – “Mainly America and Russia

    Sorry my omission, but I think you got my point; the UK gets by because of its friends and allies, post-Brexit we will be needing all the friends and allies we can get to make it a success. The really big question is whether we can leave the EU and still be on good terms with the neighbours…

  • Keith Browning 28th Mar '17 - 9:59pm

    Here is the EU Brexit website that will give us all a true running commentary of the negotiations.

  • @Keith – Shame the EU’s website don’t seem to support streaming, perhaps they should invite a broadcaster in to provide live Internet broadcasting of proceedings. 🙂

  • The Brexit letter represented “P45s in our time”

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