At the Battles of Asculum (279 BC) & Heraclea (280 BC) king Pyrrhus of Epirus suffered such appalling casualties that he would eventually be overwhelmed by the Romans he was fighting. He won the battles but lost the war. This episode in ancient history gives us the concept, still in common use today, of the “Pyrrhic victory”. Never has the phrase been more apt today than in when it is used to describe the Leave victory in the British EU Referendum of 2016. A year later, as we enter negotiations with the EU to leave the single market, we are reminded of how much we have to lose. Thus it is that Remainers never tire of telling victorious Leavers that they too have lost. They just don’t realise it yet.
It would be funny if it was not so catastrophically sad. Britain lived in an economic Goldilocks zone. Outside of both the Schengen and the Euro we controlled both our borders and our currency. All this and we had access to the most lucrative free trade area in the world. We benefited economically from a small flows of skilled migrants in both directions. Our young took freedom of movement for granted. It was a freedom we all enjoyed and given Europe’s unfortunate recent history, it was a freedom we should have cherished. Yet for some reason, a tiny minority always saw the glass has half empty. This took some special form of visual impairment. The glass was always full right to the top. So full was the glass that it kept the British economy afloat at a totally infeasible position as the world’s 5thh largest economy long after the empire had left us. Indeed, this was the very point of being in Europe…
The airbrushing of history today is so vast that it would make Stalin blush. Nothing about our global trade position has got better in the last fifty years. We are what we are because of Europe, not despite of it. Europe always had the edge on us. It did far more with far less bureaucracy. Its democracy was far healthier than ours. But no matter what the facts the Orwellian Big Brother insisted that 2 + 2 = 5. And if we are to love Big Brother we too must see this. And believe it.
This astonishing level of denial continues every time Project Brexit bumps up against reality. A week after Brexit negotiations started, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, called for broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” over their coverage of Brexit. This was a familiar call from Leavers during the year that lead up to negotiation. It deserves some scrutiny. What Leadsom was telling us that the independent media should take sides. The media should have the same faith in Brexit that they do. Hence the answer to any enquiry was simply that “Brexit means Brexit” therefore there was no need to ask the question.
The astonishing level of delusion that this betrays is nothing new. Reality does seem to genuinely confuse the Brexit faithful. No amount of real-life experience seems to prick their bubble of near-evangelical belief in the non-achievable. Brexit is so entirely faith-based that it should properly be called what it is – a religion. And religions need churches.
What would such a church look like? Well we know who the high priests are. We know of it visions of Heaven and of Hell. The language these people use only makes sense in terms of their membership of a new secular religion. Our reference to the novel “Nineteen Eighty-four” is apt. In the book Winston Smith comes adrift from the lies of Big Brother and it made him unhappy. The cure for his unhappiness was to embrace the lies of Big Brother as if they were true. Then he would be truly happy. And anything would become possible – if you just believed in it.
But we do not live in the world of Big Brother. Thankfully not yet. Thankfully the calls for “patriotism” by Leadsom were universally derided across the media. It was a gift for the meme makers who wondered if we had really woken up to find ourselves in North Korea. For those of us who watch this car-crash unfold, through fingers clutched over our faces, it was just another par-for-the-course delight in the alternative-fact ‘reality’ of the extreme Brexiter. Their religion remains a most baffling and troubling manifestation of some form of post-modern angst that has spread across the pond from the Tea Party hard right in the USA. This belief that a different reality can be created if you really BELIEVE in it very hard.
Those of us more used to the modern liberal endeavours of the enlightenment see such divergence as an alarming descent from knowledge and expertise. It leaves us fearful that this retreat from facts may know no end. Will the hard right continue its descent into such arcane beliefs as witches and angels? Should they ban evolution from our schools and bring back the leeches as a cure-all to our hospitals? Where does it end? And, more importantly, why does it comfort them? For the rest of us this great descent is as scary as heck. If it was only a question of a few nut jobs sitting in a darkened room with a tin foil hat on then we could just laugh at them.
…it is just that… you know what is scary? These freaks are in power. What is more, people vote for them and their church. But the tide must turn against them. Eventually. The dark ages finally ended with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. You cannot drag people back into ignorance forever. History is a great teacher and it shows that this is true. We have a good example of just how quickly nonsense can be reversed. in 1933 the National Socialists came to power in Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. He too, as to Brexiters today, believed in a form of economics that was based on racism. Just 18 years later France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and West Germany signed the Treaty of Paris which created the European Coal and Steel Community. This became the EU – a union that has kept the peace and brought economic prosperity beyond the dreams of it creators.
It is my reasonable belief, based upon this example, that twenty years is probably a good rule of thumb for fascism to face complete reversal. For reversed it must be. There is no alternative. Can we imagine that Fascist jack boot in the human face for all eternity as Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-four”? Or do we believe in continued human progress? If we believe in progress then I would predict that it is reasonable for us to expect the current phase of unreasonable British euro-scepticism to pass into extinction within twenty years. That takes us to the year 2037.
What will Britain in 2037 be like? To answer that we need to know something about what Germany was like in 1951. After Allied occupation and a period of de-Nazification, Germany became a shining example of liberal democracy. There is little doubt that few forty-somethings in Germany in 1951 would admit to voting for Hitler. Of course many DID. Many also voted for his policies in subsequent Referendums that endorsed his power over them. Many who survived the war were guilty of unspeakable crimes perpetrated in the name of the Fascist religion that they believed in. But time cures all and changes everything.
By the 1950s the days of the Hitler-euphoria were consigned to the waste-bin of history. Nobody would admit to supporting his policies, and if they did, then they would offer some excuse for their delusion. They were caught up in the optimism of the times, they couldn’t see where it was going to lead, they were desperate for simple answers, they believed what they were told in the newspapers… So it will be in the year 2037 for the average pro-Brexit Leave voter. It simply will not be the done thing to talk about it in polite society or at the more genteel dinner parties. No one will admit to voting to leave the EU. Discussing the possibility will be consigned to the same social space reserved for comparing penis size or masturbation techniques.
The Britain of 2037 will be a very different place from Britain today. Our years adrift in a hostile global market will leave us a shadow of our former economic might. Like Germany after World War Two we will be defeated and in need of a port after a violent storm. The youngsters who were too young to vote in 2016 will have their revenge upon the elderly generation who cast this curse upon them. A whole new generation of voters will propel Britain back into the European Union with a haste that will be breathtaking. It will happen in my lifetime. Many will hate it, but many more will celebrate it. I will be in my late 60’s by then and may well be considering a well-earned retirement.
When we re-enter Europe it will be under far less generous terms than today. We will be inside Schengen and our currency will be the Euro. Our Army will be subservient to some Generals in Brussels. Our position in the World will have slipped so drastically that we will have little choice but to accept the deal. Within twenty years Europe will have moved on without us. It will have made progress whilst Britain will have descended into years of bitterness and dissent. Only when the religion of Brexit is broken on the journey of experience will it pass the way other such creeds have gone. Who now practices witchcraft? How many are still devoted to the god Mars? Who will admit to worshipping the marsh gods? All false gods fall. All false gods fail. And Brexit will fail. So it must fall.
So, those who wanted a “hard Remain” will, ironically, get their wish. Those of us who wanted Britain to be far more integrated into the European political experiment will be seeing the fruit of our dreams come true. Britain is heading, not only for a reversal of Brexit, but also for a completely new European future far beyond the nightmares of the Etonian old boys. Our integration will be thorough and deep. It could have been different if we chose a reality-based path. But we did not, hence we will endure twenty years of pain to end up right back where we started. We will have lost twenty years for nothing. No benefit. No gain. Nothing. We will be poorer. Diminished. Inadequate. The poor man of Europe. A laughing stock for the world. The butt of every joke. Humiliated. A salutatory lesson for any nation who wishes to “go it alone”. A warning from history of what happens when you abandon reality in the hope that your religion can feed your family.
It cannot. Never has, never will. Hitler couldn’t make Germany great again. Dogma won’t feed your children. Unicorns don’t fill hungry bellies. I, for one, will throw something on the barbecue they day we re-enter Europe. It will be a celebration, and a wake. Returning to our European family will be an emotional time and an enormous relief – like a nation reaching armistice after years of bloody war. It will also be a time for sad reflection. There will be a lost generation in Britain. There will be a pent-up anger, a need for scapegoats and revenge. 2037 will not be a good time for a politician associated with enforcing such a catastrophe. Theirs will be a hollowed out existence and hell will have a special new place for them.
They will have lost. We all will. And we will have to get over it.