Theresa May’s extraordinarily Downing Street statement, it which she threw out wild accusations against various ‘Europeans’ in many ways summed up this General Election.
It is the election about Brexit in which real, actual, material Brexit does not feature.
The simple truth is we have not left the EU and we will not do so until 2019. We are in a “phony war” period in which Brexit has been declared but has not happened. And the main political debate is avoiding what real, actual, Brexit will mean.
There is lots of sound and fury about the process of Brexit. Theresa May is clearly trying to set it up as a battle between plucky little Britain and her European enemies. Labour, meanwhile, wants a “Brexit without Brexit” in which we retain all the advantages – trade, social and environmental protections, etc – whilst leaving the EU.
The reality is, of course, that no Brexit deal is going to be as good, economically, as being in the world’s largest single market. The only questions are (a) how to limit the damage to our relationship with that EU single market and (b) if our new found “freedom” can come even close to replacing what we lose by being out of the EU?
The truth is we won’t have a clue about the answers to either of these questions until 2019 at the earliest and probably a lot longer than that.
Neither of the main Parties – Conservatives or Labour – are really putting forward clear positions on what the answers to these two issues should be. Instead we are given platitudes about “the best deal for Britain” without ever specifying what that might actually be?
And neither of the main Parties are being remotely honest about what the consequences might be.
Even if – and that is a huge if – the UK got something remotely close to a good trading relationship with the EU in the relatively near future we will still suffer economic losses due to both instability and an inevitably worse trading relationship than we now have with the EU27.
Whatever benefits from our supposed freedom to conclude “better” trade deals with the rest of the world are going be they will inevitably lag behind the negative consequences of leaving the EU. Even if in the long run these did prove a net benefit, which is obviously questionable, they won’t happen soon enough to off-set the short term impact of leaving the EU.
So in the lifetime of the next Parliament (2017-2022) the UK will suffer a (short or long-term) deterioration of its economic position with big consequences for domestic public finances and public services.
Yet the debate between the two main political Parties continues as if nothing much is going to change in the next 5 years for Britain’s economy and public finances.
May let the reality slip in her Downing St rant against the dastardly Europeans. She said:
She’s implying there is a “right” result to Brexit that will not put our economy at risk. Labour is likewise suggesting they could negotiate some sort of deal – even more vague than the Tories version, if that’s possible – that would be ‘right’ for Britain.
Neither Parties are willing to even contemplate what the reality is likely to be even after the ‘best’ possible Brexit. The result is an Election taking place in a fantasy world where the real, material, inevitable, effects of Brexit are largely ignored.