Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
If one was fortunate enough to own a hyperbole mine, you’d do no better than be exporting into the no deal brexit debate, where your commodity would find good prices and healthy demand. If you were then to rely solely on the partisans, you’d be left with two clear impressions. The first is that a no deal brexit will be such a “Shaun of the Dead” dystopian apocalypse that you should not be surprised if you encounter, on the streets of London, a zombified Jacob Rees-Mogg shuffling towards you demanding to “eat your brains, assuming it is of course a convenient time for you”. Alternatively, you could also come away with the idea that a no deal Brexit will be the equivalent of either Idris Elba or Jennifer Lawrence (your choice) ringing you up to inform you that they need you around their place to help them try on all the new ridiculously tight swimwear they’ve just bought.
I say this as a convinced remainer and believer in the European project. My “own side” has been guilty from day one of flinging a tsunami of hysteria, promising such terrible consequences upon Britain that when those consequences did not immediately occur it did if anything call into question the very credibility of the remain side.
Only last week employment statistics released in the UK showed that unemployment in Britain has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years, something which if the brexit campaign had promised during the referendum would have been absolutely dispatched by the remain campaign as fantasy.
Now, with no deal hurtling towards us, remainers continue to paint a picture of a post-brexit Britain on the edge of the breakdown of civilisation.
Let’s address a simple fact: even if there is a no deal brexit in March of next year, Britain will recover. It’s true that in the immediate short-term there could be huge difficulties with food and medicine shipments and customs control and clearance, and the recognition of British and EU drivers legal qualifications and credentials as they bring goods to and fro from Britain. It’s very reasonable to suspect that there will be difficulties.
But guess what: Britain can take it.
What’s more is that in the weeks and months after brexit, the European Union having made its point will then do what it always does. It will find a calm and rational solution to accommodate to some degree the needs of both sides because the reality is that both sides do want to trade. Both sides will also have citizens trapped behind “enemy lines” in the others’ jurisdiction and as a result both sides will want to address their needs.
Remainers need to stop painting a picture of economic and social collapse because it will reflect badly upon them when it doesn’t happen. Six months after brexit the situation will be running relatively smoothly, but the images of chaos painted by some remainers will be forever a matter of historical record and used against them for years to come, and that is not in their interest nor is it in Britain’s long-term interests.
This is not, by the way, a suggestion to remainers that they surrender, or indeed cease attempting to bring about a second referendum or as reasonable a version of brexit as is possible.
Instead I’d ask remainers to consider the overall reality of what is about to occur. Whilst it is true that remainers have not used restraint in painting a picture of post-brexit Britain, neither have the brexiteers and in the long term it is the brexiteers who are going to be most disappointed for one simple reason.
With the exception of China which by its sheer size occupies an almost unique position in terms of global trade the reality is that most prosperous countries prosper because they trade with the most prosperous markets closest to them. Brexiteers throughout the campaign have consistently presented the idea that Britain’s natural market is now on the other side of the planet and that somehow the European Union is a vague passing fancy that is bound to disappear into the mists of history any day now, taking with it its vast single market.
Well it’s not.
At its heart, despite the rigidity of Michel Barnier’s negotiating stance, the reality is that the great success that is the European Union has been powered primarily by a pragmatic approach to resolving its challenges.
By logic the euro should not exist. By logic the EU should be disintegrating, less popular across the union than it has ever been. By logic brexit, one could argue, should have triggered a domino effect across Europe. But it didn’t, because the European Union has proven itself to be one of the most supple gymnasts of modern political history. You know the baddy Terminator robot that keeps changing shape as it needs? That’s the EU, that is.
And so, my fellow remainers, cut it out. You don’t have to overhype, because the laws of reality are on your side. The future of Britain as a country is one of a country still hard wired into the region of Europe despite the desires of brexiteers to sail away like Elizabethan buccaneers.
Reality will lead to certain conclusions.
The first is that even outside the European Union Britain is going to be trapped in the economic and regulatory gravitational field of our much vaster planetary body. This is a fact.
Through sheer economic size British exporters will continue to lobby within a post-brexit Britain for British products to be regulatory compatible with whatever the European Union decides to apply to its products.
Just look at GDPR, a clear example of that legal force which applies to economic actors far removed from the physical European Union because they wish to have access to the single market.
Finally, here’s a reason why you shouldn’t overhype the consequences of brexit.
Brexit will allow a future British government made up of former remainers and those who see the benefit of Britain remaining close to its European partners greater opportunities now to integrate Britain into the European legal and regulatory framework.
Think about it. How many Brits can name the director-general of the World Trade Organisation? Essentially the EU is being downgraded from a visible force in daily British life to just another one of those international organisations.
No more UKIP MEPS. No more “Look what some Belgian said in the European Parliament!”
Will the BBC even report from Brussels as much?
Brexit Britain in the future will be a Britain paying hardly any media attention to decisions made in the European Commission or European Council. Yet the British embassy in Brussels will possibly be the largest UK embassy in the world, crammed full of diplomats quietly negotiating very long very tedious and very boring under-the-table technical agreements with the European Union which will effectively bind Britain to the EU, just in a far less transparent way than it currently is.
Hardline brexiteers will twig this, of course, and will probably give out blue bloody murder. But what will they be able to do about it? Try and get a referendum on the Agreement on Furniture Parts (Ball-bearings and castors) mutual standards recognition? Really?
The default of no deal is Britain surrendering its rule-making status and becoming, GDPR style, a rule-taker. Brexit means takes-it.
As an Irish remainer remaining in the EU, I can live with that.