There are many things about Andy Burnham I dislike but I have to credit him with one thing: the guy always finds new ways to make me like him even less than I already do. During one of his recent copious interviews in which he is in no way seeking to put himself in the shop window to be next Labour leader, Burnham said that the reason Labour had been deserted by so many of its former voters was because of its pro-EU tendencies and that “people are embracing the fact that this is a new reality now in the UK, and I think that’s the way everybody needs to embrace it.”
I genuinely often wonder to myself why I can’t just accept Brexit and move on. It isn’t anything tribal – I have found and continue to find a lot of the pro-EU campaigning to be something I can’t relate to at all. I don’t have anything politically in common with the vast majority of pro-EU campaigns or campaigners so why can’t I just accept Brexit as the “new reality” and move on with my life?
Politics often comes down to strong emotions born out of experience. I grew up in Canada, a few hundred miles from the US border. That border really influenced my politics in way nothing now ever could. When Brexiteers started talking about how if we wanted a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland we should look to the Canada-US situation, I knew they had even less idea of what they were talking about than usual. For those who don’t know, the border between Canada and the US is incredibly hard – it is almost certainly one of the hardest borders in the world, when measured in terms of security build up and ease of crossing. The trees along it are chopped down so that surveillance towers have a clear view of anyone trying to sneak across either way, as just one pertinent example.
I have loads of memories around the horror of crossing that border that were very formative. You can be turned away for absolutely no reason at all and heavy duty searches of your person and property are de rigueur. As for working and living in America if you’re Canadian or in Canada as an American if you don’t have a visa, forget it. And while loads of visas are given out each year, you need to have a job first. I would have loved as a young man to have gone to New York with a few dollars in my pocket and given things a go but that was out of the question.
Luckily, I have British citizenship through my parents and have lived in the UK the vast majority of my adult life. One of the things I loved when I first travelled in Europe as a young man was how easy it was as an EU citizen; I loved the fact that I had a right to go to France if I wanted and further, I could stay as long as I wanted and even try and get a job in Paris if I thought my French was up to it.
So now when I read about EU citizens coming to the UK for job interviews and face being detained, I find the core of my political being incensed. I knew that Brexit would bring this and to see it unfold angers me. I fundamentally believe in the free movement of capital, people, good and services wherever and whenever logically possible. I hate the idea of putting up barriers to any of these things once they have been lowered, unless very temporarily in times of extreme emergency (like during the Covid crisis, as an example).
I also find it hard to understand how people on the right who supposedly believe in free trade can celebrate trade becoming more constricted with our geographic neighbours. Perhaps if I was a socialist like Andy Burnham may or may not be, I’d find Brexit easier to accept. But I’m not and I don’t.
So, Im sorry but I will always hope that the barriers put up by Brexit to our freedoms are someday bashed down again. Whether that’s by rejoining the EU or the single market or some other way, in a sense I don’t care – I just want the freedoms back. To that end, this will animate my politics – and I feel politically homeless given no party seems to want to do this right now.
I think its inevitable that one day we will have a liberal party rise in Britain that will be pro-free trade, pro-four freedoms, pro-market, pro-open. There are too many people who think the way I do on this stuff – particularly on the right, come to think of it – for this to not assert itself at some point. In the meantime, instead of accepting Brexit as the “new reality”, I will be thinking about how to open Britain up to the world again in real terms.
While I’m here, I’ve got a new book coming out in the autumn entitled The Patient. Here’s the blurb, followed by a link to pre-order on the WH Smith website (you can of course pre-order on Amazon, but the link isn’t working for me at present):
She went willingly to the hospital. She couldn’t have anticipated how difficult it would be to leave…
Mr and Mrs Sincope are anticipating the birth of their first child. On the way to the hospital for Mrs Sincope’s induction their squabbling over their daughter’s name betrays an unquestioning trust that everything will go to plan. And why wouldn’t it?
But as the hours pass and Mrs Sincope’s labour doesn’t begin, the couple start to worry. And as the hours bleed into days and there is still no sign of progress, it becomes clear that there is something far more sinister going on behind the white hospital doors…
I can see that, but there’s no reason why freedom of movement requires a political union (or even a customs union).
The UK and the Republic of Ireland, for example, had a common travel area for decades before they joined the EU, and they weren’t in any sort of political union.
If your main concern is freedom of movement (a laudable aim), would you not be better off embracing the reality of the fact the the UK is outside the EU and will remain so, and instead working towards a way of establishing some kind of common travel area between the UK and the EU (and indeed between the UK and other countries that aren’t in the EU) that isn’t dependant on a political union?