The debate around no deal Brexit has heated up to a place I never imagined it would. I always knew pretty much what Theresa May was going to do, and I have been mostly right on that front; what I failed to see was that the hardcore Leavers on the Tory backbenches would vote down May’s deal in such numbers. I just figured they’d vote for it in the end, and May would in that case carry enough votes from the Labour side of the House to see it through. Instead, they have doubled down on the idea that leaving the EU with no deal whatsoever will be a piece of cake.
Now, reading the headline, I know where a lot of you think I’m going with this. That if we leave with no deal, the planes won’t fly, there will be queues at Dover miles long, supermarkets will run out of food, and if that happens, civil unrest will ensue. I’m not going down that road. For a start, the fact that if all of that stuff happened we’d have massive civil unrest is so obvious as to be redundant, and anyone who denies that would happen is frankly an idiot. No, what I want to do here is give the no deal Brexiters the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say none of that happens and no deal Brexit is remarkably smooth for various reasons.
We will still have a massive medium term problem to deal with. Remainia is filled with the following quote from Patrick Minford, a Brexiter economist, talking to a Select Committee in 2012, which I am excerpting for a slightly different reason:
“It is perfectly true that if you remove protection of the sort that has been given particularly to the car industry and other manufacturing industries inside the protective wall (of the Single Market), you will have a change in the situation facing that industry, and you are going to have to run it down. It will be in your interests to do it, just as in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industries. These things happen as evolution takes place in your economy. In the long run they are in your interest, but of course you have to deal with the compensation problems along the route.”
Although Minford has been more forthcoming about this sort of stuff (at times, at least), the truth is that this is what Brexit is really all about. It is what every proper Brexiter, right or left, actually thinks will happen. It is Thatcherism on steroids. The Right think this is good for the reasons Minford described eloquently: it isn’t in anyone’s interests to keep moribund industries afloat. Let them die, and those who can prosper in the new environment will do so. The left-wing leavers believe the same things will happen, only they figure this will cause the masses to break out of false consciousness and demand socialism. The Right wants to take capitalism to a more intense, less socially democratic phase because it thinks this will cause its next triumph; the Left wants that phase to happen because it thinks it will destroy capitalism for good. Both are certain Brexit, and the harder the Brexit the better in this regard, will bring these scenarios on.
What I’m interested in is what the guys who lose their jobs in these so-called moribund industries do when this all happens – particularly those who voted Leave? Particularly those who voted Leave with the expectation that it would improve their lives directly? This is the situation I worry about in terms of civil unrest, not a dozen morons in yellow jackets blocking traffic in Westminster.
I don’t ever want to say “if x happens there will be civil unrest”. For one, I have no idea what will get people upset enough to engage in such behaviour, and secondly, I don’t want to encourage or even be in the ballpark of encouraging civil unrest either. I hope everything works, whatever happens with Brexit, I really do. It’s just that I have what I think are valid fears about how a large group of people will react when they at last realise that the thing they have been calling for so boisterously over the last several years will mean them out of a job with no prospect of another, at least not in their area, while policy experts in London, to take one obvious example I know a little something about, get richer.
Dr Jon Moon says
Very insightful and I totally agree: It isn’t always the obvious that sparks a major event. If we end up with a no-deal Brexit, we are indeed likely to end up with the equivalent of the USA’s “rust belt” in various places across the country. Places that largely voted to leave the EU.
Our history tells us that we are pretty useless at retraining those put on the scrapheap when large industries close for the new industries that might emerge. We have seen the result of that many times.
It is not only the Brexit voting communities in the industrial North, there are Remain voting regions of Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland, that with some justification, demand particular protection from the effects of a politics that they did not vote for.
Under circumstances such as these, an SNP led campaign for Scotland to rejoin the EU (slogan – better together! ?) could be pretty effective.
Huw Jones says
Civil unrest is hard to define. May talks about it as if a failure to leave the EU will result in an organised attack on parliament, followed by a dictatorship (no doubt with her in charge) But the Brexiteer s that I talk to would not support that sort of unrest. Like us they engage in political discussion, I can understand that unemployed car workers would protest, but would that be worse then Fleet Street or Orgrave? (Both events where political decisions about the intensity of policing aggravated behaviour and left police and protesters permanently traumatised.) But we should have learned from that, and should be able to organise protests better then that now. And we should be able to look after people who are made redundant in a way that looks after their immediate needs and leaves them with a positive view of the future. (Wishful thinking? Surely even the Tories are capable of learning from the failure of recent benefit “reforms” etc))
David Murray says
May’s deal was rejected by parliament, because it did not satisfy Leavers or Remainers. If the ultimate solution leads to a People’s Vote, then there is no point in offering May’s Deal to the public. If the Remainers option is to stay in the EU, then the Leavers option has to be a No Deal, as these are the only alternative outside the bad deal compromise. As May herself has said, the alternative to her deal is No Deal or No Brexit, and she frequently claimed that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal, which May’s deal has proved to be. Meaningful changes to the Withdrawal Agreement have already been declined by the EU, and the threat of civil unrest is Project Fear 3, while the clock ticks on to the 29 March deadline, unless extended.
If No Deal is as bad as forecast by business and others, then the argument for No Brexit must not be to reform the EU, but to tackle regional inequality in the UK, a major cause of voter resentment following a decade of austerity.