In the latest turn in the soap opera which has become Britain’s attempts to leave the European Union, witness right wing Brexiteers within the Conservative Party imploring the Prime Minister and her Chancellor to spend more public money “preparing” for a “no deal” Brexit. In other words, fiscal conservatives are asking that a Tory leader be less fiscally conservative in order to build “post-Brexit infrastructure”. So, let’s get this straight: people whose whole political lives have been arranged around arguing we need to leave the EU in order to open the floodgates to free trade around the universe are currently requesting that the government to spend public money on customs posts, i.e. physical impediments to free trade. And yet they don’t ever seem to grasp the irony in all of this.
Truth is, Brexit is exposing the cracks in the Conservative Party, ones that have been there for decades. On one side you have what you could crudely call the Cameroons: economically and socially liberal types. On the other, social conservatives who realise (unlike their American counterparts) that only a big state can move social progress backwards; that economic liberalism always leads inevitably to liberalism on social issues. For the latter, Brexit is a good excuse to enlarge the state and take the referendum vote as a sign that the country rejected liberal values on June 23rd, so I get where they are coming from, in a way. Since they want to leave, cut immigration and enlarge the state, all at the same time, complaining that Hammond isn’t spending enough erecting walls to keep out the rest of the world makes sense.
It’s the free trading Brexiteers like Dan Hannan that I find inexplicable in all of this. If Brexit equals more free trade with the world, thus greater prosperity, why do we need to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit whatsoever? Couldn’t we just crash out, open the barriers to the world’s goods and services and then wait for the bounty to hit us, which will come extremely quickly? The fact that they know leaving the EU with no deal means spending a great deal of cash on customs posts puts a lie to most of the rest of it. They just hope no one realises the absurdity of their argument: “We need to spend money in order to make money here, don’t you see? We need to erect customs posts and have queues at Dover in order to have more open trading with the world. Doesn’t that make perfect sense?”
A reckoning of some description is coming: Brexit cannot continue to be the key to a free trading utopia and a way to shut Britain off from the rest of the world. Reality is starting to set in that if we leave the European Union, the reality of it will not be as many of the Leavers described it, for good or for ill.