Sometime towards the end of the second series of the American version of House of Cards, Frank Underwood still hadn’t got his come-uppance and there were rumours that Netflix was planning a third series. We had invested a lot of time in this drama and had to decide whether to plough on through another 13 episodes (many more than that, as it turned out) or give up on the whole thing. We gave up.
This is what Brexit now feels like.
I don’t know what to write about it any longer because I don’t know what to think. And if I stop thinking and go with what I feel, I don’t have confidence in that either. The only outcome I can support rationally is if Theresa May somehow manages to solve the Irish backstop problem and gets a deal through Parliament. This seems unlikely. Failing that, none of the three options – no deal, no Brexit or soft Brexit – is logically appealing.
‘No deal’ is routinely described as catastrophic by its opponents and as a piece of cake by its supporters. The fact is that nobody knows. It will certainly be disruptive, but how disruptive and for how long is unknowable. It could be anything from a short-term headache to a protracted disaster. When Britain voted to leave the EU, that was – and was intended to be – a long-term decision. Its impact will be felt for many decades. How many lorries are stacked up outside Dover and Calais on 30 March is irrelevant to that. Of course, business unanimously opposes ‘no deal’, but business always dislikes change and it isn’t always right. Yet to leave without a deal would seem, rationally, to be a huge risk.
‘No Brexit’ is a non-starter for me. Long before the referendum, I had felt that the democracies of Europe and the United States were becoming markedly less democratic, albeit for different reasons. As I argued in an earlier blog (11 November 2018), the EU may have started life as a bulwark of liberal democracy, but it decided long ago to make a choice between liberal despotism and a democracy that would at times be illiberal. It chose the former. I dislike crude nationalism as much as any other liberal, but I don’t think that ignoring it is the best way of avoiding its malign consequences. It wasn’t the best way in the 1930s and it isn’t now. Over many decades, the EU has attempted to repress national emotions, with entirely predictable results. If Britain’s political establishment now decides to overturn the referendum result by holding another one, on what to me would be wholly spurious grounds, we might as well not bother calling ourselves a democracy. I cannot rationally support this course.
As for the option of a Norway-style soft Brexit, that is and has always been the worst of both worlds. Still subject to all the things we dislike about the EU, but without any ability to influence them. It is the least logical alternative. It makes no sense whatsoever. It would be better to remain than to choose this dog’s dinner of an option.
So, rationally, I have nowhere to go. When I look at all the blogs I have written on Brexit, many of them contradictory, the one that most resonates with me now was headed None of the Above (2 December 2018). All options are insupportable. That is still what I think.
Which leaves me with the emotions. Here, at least, I am on solid ground. I have always disliked the EU. I was opposed to being a part of it in the first place and still think it was a great historical error for Britain to have joined. Nothing I have seen or heard since has altered my opinion. Had I voted with heart alone in 2016, I would have voted to go without a second thought. My emotional response now is to say that we should just leave. As soon as possible. With a deal if we can, or otherwise without one.
But nothing in life has yet convinced me that taking decisions based entirely on emotion is a good idea. I voted to remain because, rationally, it seemed too big a risk to leave. Admittedly, nearly three years later, it feels less of a risk. The hype of Project Fear has so far proved just as inaccurate as the promises of Vote Leave, even if more honestly motivated. But some risk remains, and it would be greatly compounded if we left without a deal.
So, I don’t know where I am or what to think. I do not support any of the options rationally, and I’m reluctant to abandon reason and give in to emotion. I am Brexited out. I expect to watch the votes this week in a zombie-like trance, devoid of feeling, devoid of opinion.
In some ways, I envy those who feel certainty over Brexit. They know exactly where they stand. They are adamant that their solution, whatever it may be, is the only sane one available. I have no such certainty and nor, I think, do millions of others. We are not the ones pontificating on TV every night. But we may yet be the ones who determine where all this ends up.
I retain faith in some things, though. I am confident that, wherever the present process ends, it will not be the last word on the subject. I am confident that, although all discussion takes place on the assumption that the EU is a fixed and unchanging entity, it will undergo enormous change over the next 10 or 20 years, which will in turn create new situations and perhaps new opportunities. I am confident, therefore, that there is enough potential movement to ensure that, whatever is decided now, it will not be set in stone for ever.
But I have invested too much in this soap opera. Time to turn my back on the house of cards. What do I want to happen this week? Whatever.