As a Remainer, I was always convinced a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for Britain. Now, I’m not so sure. And while I once thought anything – even a painful and protracted transition period – would be better than leaving without a deal, I’m convinced Britain should push ahead with leaving the EU, whatever happens. The reaction to coronavirus – and, in particular, people’s thoughts about the pros and cons of lockdown – has convinced me why.
Ask someone’s position on the lockdown and you’ll probably have a fair idea of whether they are a Brexiteer or a Remainer. Some Remainers have become passionate defenders of the lockdown, seeing any questioning of it as being paramount to wishing death upon thousands; while some Brexiteers have started to question the logic of lockdown at all, or at least, the continuation of things like the two-metre rule. The fact that we have a Conservative Brexiteer government that implemented lockdown in the first place, or that most Remainers haven't questioned the lockdown implications of the recent London protests only serve my point: this is less about what is the right thing to do about Covid and instead has become another plank in the culture war.
The divide is more real than ever. I fear a no-deal Brexit is the only way this argument can be settled. If it isn’t a total disaster and things go relatively smoothly, then Remainers will have been proven wrong on that one, key point. If it is a complete catastrophe, then Remainers have a real platform from which to argue to re-join the EU, something they lack almost totally at present. Either way, I don’t think we can move on until this is properly settled; I have become convinced that no deal is the only way this can take place.
I still believe that a no-deal Brexit would be bad for Britain. I think it would result in net job losses, higher retail prices and the gap between rich and poor widening. Except, I don’t feel as sure of these things as I once did. Part of the reason is the experience of losing over and over again. Perhaps this should be telling me something? I used to comfort myself with the idea that the leave side of the EU argument keeps winning plebiscites simply because it has all of the campaigning geniuses in their camp. When you deconstruct that, however, it shouldn’t provide Remainers with any relief – why exactly does leave attract the brilliant ones? At some point you have to at least entertain the possibility that you could be wrong if all the really clever people appear to work for the other team.
There are a lot of pro-Brexit arguments I still don’t buy. The biggest one being the notion that the United States of America is going to agree a trade deal with the UK that is unlike anything they have ever done in their entire history as a trading nation. But that isn’t the essence of what a no-deal Brexit, one where the UK shreds all of its large trade deals and trades on WTO terms with everyone, is all about anyhow. The real argument underlying the no-deal Brexit concept is that Britain doesn’t need to make big trade deals that sacrifice sovereignty in order to effectively trade with the world.
This is a revolutionary concept that is refuted by the vast majority of trade experts around the globe. Businesses by and large dislike the whole idea of a no-deal Brexit as well. Yet this doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. What if the revolutionaries here are correct? What if having that level of sovereignty in terms of deciding trade policy really does mean more than being part of large trading blocs in 2020? It is entirely possible that we are relying on old assumptions about how the world really works that are no longer as relevant as we assume they are. Liberal internationalists have lost many elections now trying to force their worldview on electorates that keep rejecting it. If you’re a democrat, at some point you have to concede that perhaps they might be correct on some of the things you were sure they were wrong about. It isn’t about changing your worldview so much as just opening your mind up to the possibility that you aren’t always right about everything.
If a no-deal Brexit happens, I will be hoping to God that I’ve been wrong about it all these years and that it is a roaring success. I’d much rather that than the country be thrown into further chaos, the only supposed comfort being I had been proven right on one issue. I haven’t changed my mind on Brexit but I’ve become open to the idea that perhaps I’ve been wrong about certain aspects of it. In a democracy, I think that’s what members of the losing side should do.