Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Brexit and the rise of the superliar

For an exercise in popular sovereignty, which was meant to take decisions away from the hated ‘elite’, the Brexit referendum has, inevitably,  produced Britain’s greatest outbreak of political lying. Yesterday’s liars look pale and wan in comparison with the latest models. It is as if the long-awaited singularity has occurred. But rather than advances in technology creating a new species of artificial superintelligence , the advance of plebiscitary politics has created a new species of artificial superliar.

The liars of the past were often furtive figures. Like the man who has staggered home at 3 a.m. and tried to explain away the beer on his breath and lipstick on his collar, you did not know whether to shout at them or laugh at them for insulting your intelligence.  There is nothing sneaky about the superliars. They do not try to hide the fact that they are lying. These are open liars, self-confessed liars, out-loud-and-proud liars, who demand and expect praise for lying in the name of ‘the people’.

When they were not being furtive, the liars of the past were often petty. They would lie about little things. The politician pretending the increase in spending was an increase in real terms rather than cash terms. The worker assuring his boss he had been working on a project he had not even begun. The superliars scorn such minor mendacity. They lie about the great issues of our age; about policies with predictable and unforeseen consequences that may hurt us for decades

The greatest liar is our prime minister, as constitutional precedence dictates. Theresa May opposed taking Britain out of the EU for the good reasons that Brexit will destroy jobs, cut the tax base and leave us isolated.

‘I think the economic arguments are clear,’ she told Goldman Sachs during the referendum campaign. ‘I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us.

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