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October 2, 2022

Brexit: The enemy within

At this week’s European Council summit, we will undoubtedly see what the subsequent evolution of the Brexit negotiations will be. According to the timetable of negotiations, the conditions in which the relations between the two sides will evolve should now be decided, since, according to the same timetable, the first part of the divorce process based on Article 50 of the Treaty has allegedly been finalised. But that is not the case at all. Not only have the two sides failed to reach a closing of accounts regarding the UK’s negotiated exit from the EU, but it seems that a failure of this round of negotiations is taking shape, something that could not avoid being noted at the European Council summit in the following days. Are the negotiations heading toward final failure, maybe sought-after by the EU’s Brexit camp? Or, in other words, has the current dynamic in the UK reached such a standard that Brexit no longer has any other way out but to force a failure of the negotiations?

In Europe, the progress of the negotiations has not kindled far too great of an interest, being accepted, at the level of public opinion, that in such circumstances it is good to wait for palpable results, even if there are concerns regarding the size of the budget after the departure of one of the great contributors, but also because other pressing problems at local level exhaust the attention span for the time being. On the other hand, in the UK one can notice the emergence of a phenomenon that seemed unthinkable several months ago. It is what G. Rachman dubbed – in an editorial recently published by ‘The Financial Times’ – the Brexit followers’ fight against “the enemy within.” But who is thus identified as an enemy within?

Here it is, named by the same editorialist: “the Leave campaign is now also rounding on the enemy within: the British people and institutions they accuse of undermining Brexit” (including institutions such as the BBC, or renowned universities, magazines such as ‘The Economist,’ famous dailies such as ‘The Financial Times’). The campaign is ongoing and is not short of grave epithets – “sabotage” – and imagined punishments for the culprits, punishments rooted – at least in the case of a democratic state – in the field of guilty fantasy.

Thus, last week, Philip Hammond was publicly accused of sabotage – for opposing the earmarking of a large sum of money needed to leave the EU without an accord – and “tried” for “treason.” Even more peculiar is the fact that such accusations are levelled by those who, during the Brexit campaign, presented incredible sums of money as bound to enter the UK’s national treasury if the UK were to leave the EU. Moreover, the hard Brexit camp is trying to use ingenious public relations actions to ensure society unites in attaining this objective of leaving the EU.

Thus, the film “Dunkirk” was screened this summer, re-enacting the famous and exemplary national mobilisation seen during the retreat from the continent in the spring of 1940, in the face of Nazi attacks. Expecting and pleading for a repeat of this mobilisation on the part of British society in the case of Brexit – at any rate the analogy with feats of war is fairly strange – the current campaign saw the publishing, in the British press, of articles such as “For Brexit to work we need Dunkirk spirit, not Naysaying Nellies,” published by the ‘Daily Telegraph.’ Moreover, certain portions of the campaign carried out by this camp that is searching for “the enemy within,” hence promoter of a veritable “witch-hunt,” does not shy away from invoking outlooks seemingly drawn from Orwellian fantasies, such as asking the Treasury to publish optimistic – hence made-up – data on the economic situation.

However, it seems that at least half the country – if we are to take into account only the result of the 2016 referendum, hence without referring to those who voted for Brexit but have now changed their mind, their ranks including even the incumbent Head of Government who preferred not to answer when asked how she would vote in this dossier today – consists of “saboteurs” or worse if we are to mention the formula – unbelievable but true! – used in this campaign, namely “enemies of the people,” and does not intend to give up. You only have to read what journalist Jeremy Cliffe, The Economist’s Berlin bureau chief, wrote on October 17: “Entirely possible to transform UK for the better while staying in Single Market (and perhaps even the EU). Here’s the radical manifesto,” including among the measures to take: the immediate guaranteeing of the rights of EU citizens in the UK; the commitment to remain within the EU’s single market and to reform the free movement of persons in it; abandoning immigration caps; building 5 million homes in 5 years, under the mantra: “private where possible, social where necessary”; the deepening of administrative decentralisation by consolidating the processes of devolution; guaranteeing home rule for Scotland; abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with a Senate of cities and nations; moving the capital from London to Manchester; etc.

Obviously, the current “witch-hunt” launched by the Brexit camp has low chances of success for the simple reason that there are facts that cannot be denied in any way. Just like a comment posted to the aforementioned editorial emphasised through a suggestive comparison: “Is Brexit actually a dilemma? How can it be/…/. The war is over, people have moved on, Great Britain is a small island reliant on trade from the EU. These are facts. To make an analogy – the UK boarded a big cruise ship with everybody in the EU contained on it. The drinks were expensive sometimes, we had to put up with those loud ‘Johnny Foreigners’, but then again, we ate loads from the breakfast buffet. Now, we’ve jumped off and we will be trying to throw a line from our little boat to get a tow. The other ships (WTO etc) are in different seas all around the world and we will have to do a lot of sailing in our small craft to get to them and convince them to let us on board. It is perfectly rational for everyone of the 48% of people and their media representatives to fully explain the unfolding disastrous predicament for this country.”

In other words, the dream of joining the top league of powers of the future international system of states – a league that includes giants the likes of the U.S., China and India –, a dream that the Brexit camp pursued, is a ghost denied by the facts. On the contrary, to remain in the EU or not, but to be part of the continental single market and to promote wide-ranging internal reform, as proposed by the “radical manifesto” launched by Jeremy Clife, represents the reasonable solution. The debate in the UK must be followed carefully because it reveals quasi-similar dilemmas in other parts of Europe too, being a major warning for some leaders who may put in the balance even the survival of their own states with more or less similar projects.

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