The Brexiteer blame game is only just getting started – Remainers have to fight harder for the truth

The first part of the plan is to shift responsibility on to the EU by making impossible demands, which are then not met

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Friday 01 February 2019 18:34
Gina Miller explains to Question Time audience why a no deal Brexit is so dangerous

In the days immediately before the EU referendum in 2016, it was said several times that Brexit had become rather like being pregnant, and the vote itself would be like giving birth. We were bored and irritated, we wanted it over and done with.

But then, it happened, and we realised all of a sudden that the real, life-consuming struggle hadn’t even begun. We are reaching one of those moments again. People yearn for the closure of 29 March. In fact, that date, if Brexit even happens then, will mark a new and far more toxic beginning.

And when it happens, the people who are blameless for the ongoing disaster that is Brexit, namely those who did not vote to leave the European Union, should be ready for the fight that is already starting.

Immediately after the Brexit vote, and in the years since, Brexiteers have consistently tried to shift the blame for the failure of their project on to other people.

Not long after the referendum, the City broker, Brexiteer and regular TV news channel botherer, David Buik, was happy to declare: “Call me naive, but I’m strongly of the opinion that if those who voted to remain had made an effort to embrace the democratic decision to leave we might not be looking at such negative GDP forecasts for the next five years. I can’t ever remember a section of the country wanting the UK to fail.”

To call Buik naive would be polite. To me, he is a straightforward coward, fully in keeping with the new brand of right-wing politics. Once upon a time, the core value of the right was personal responsibility. It was why prison sentences should be lengthy, the personal circumstances of the person in question all but irrelevant. Now, those on the right blame others for their problems – immigrants, the establishment, and so on – and are completely alien to the basic dignity required to shoulder the blame for their mistakes.

In the past two years, Remainers, being in the main more likely to be wealthy, and more likely to be educated, have been less likely to seriously engage with the scapegoating tactics of the people who are solely responsible for what is coming.

A tidal wave of lies and cowardice is coming and those who are blameless should be ready for it. It can already be seen, gathering on the horizon. On Tuesday, when Theresa May was sent back to Brussels with a “clear mandate” to achieve the impossible, various newspapers and others instantly described it as a “triumph”, and made clear that the ball is now in the EU’s court.

No such thing. They are stalling for time. It is a play by the hard Brexiteers to shift the blame on to the EU, by making impossible demands, which are then not met.

It will not be the bloc’s fault. The European Union, it does not need to be pointed out, did not vote for Brexit.

All of the worst tropes of the referendum campaign are alive and well in this next phase. Vote Leave’s strategy, to lie and scare the country out of the EU, knowing it would be too late when the lies were proven to be so, is replicated today. The no-deal Brexit campaign has simply replaced the Brexit campaign.

On Friday morning, Richard Tice, the businessman behind the Leave Means Leave campaign, posted a video of a supermarket shopping basket, full of fruit and vegetables from Africa and South America, as proof that we “import food easily from all over the world so ... Let’s go WTO.”

It’s been retweeted three thousand times. All the food shown, from Mexico, from Kenya, from Egypt and everywhere else, comes into the UK via trade arrangements negotiated by the EU on the UK’s behalf, and negotiated from the position of immense advantage as a bloc of 500m people. If the UK gets Tice’s longed-for no-deal Brexit, all those arrangements disintegrate too. They will have to be renegotiated, and on less favourable terms, because the UK is, and this is a fact, smaller and a less powerful negotiating bloc than the EU itself. Tice also doesn’t mention how this food enters the UK. A lettuce at Dover is subject to the same delay, wherever it has come from.

It is now a firmly established fact of the referendum that millions of people did indeed vote to be poorer. They chose political arguments, about sovereignty and democracy, over the economic ones. Nigel Farage openly admits that, and he is right to do so. But for now, those arguments exist in the abstract. When that choice comes home and is made real, in the supermarket shortages and rising prices that Brexit leaders still spread brazen misinformation about, then will come the real test of whether people will stick by that decision.

It will be too late then, to switch back to the economic arguments. The Brexit baby will have been born, again. The question will be whether those who are responsible will take responsibility for the choices they made. Already the overwhelming evidence suggests otherwise. Brexiteers, most of them proud Tories, do not believe in personal responsibility. They walked out on shame long ago.

The fight to ensure the blame stays where it belongs will be grotesquely undignified. But it will also be a fight for the truth over a biblical thunder of lies. It will be a noble cause.

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