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Is Vince Cable right?

Posted by Frank Preiss, on 15 August 2017. Comments: 0

Viscount Ridley's comment piece in The Times on 14th August seems more parody than serious thinking. From the 'almost unremitting good news on the economic front' to the '75% employment' figure it badly mis-represents the condition of Britain just 14 months after the iniquitous referendum. He ignores the patent truth that all the real good news of past decades was achieved while we were, and still are, members of the EU. And then he ignores the fall in Sterling and GDP, rising inflation, a rising trade deficit, the increasing mismatch in employment across the economy, all clear and direct consequences of the referendum. His figures for inward investment, which we need to cover that trade deficit, reflect decisions taken long before the referendum. Let's wait another two years.

Like all Leavers, Ridley assumes our new partners will offer us not just friendly new deals, but relationships with the wider world better than those we already enjoy as influential partners in the EU. That after all is surely the only point of so much disruption. Leavers say only the EU prevents us making such deals, yet Germany seems to get by. Just read what President Trump says about nations like Britain and Germany, who currently run big trade surpluses with the US.

Both sides badly mishandled the poor public debate before the referendum. But there was a fundamental difference. We Remainers knew what we wanted: we already had it. Neither side knew what the disparate Leavers wanted. Ask any ten Leavers what new control of our borders or immigration levels Brexit will give us, or how the promised new trade agreements will improve our own lives as citizens. They give twenty different, often incompatible, answers. Virtually the only common ones are the threat of tarifs, and more complex transport and travel arrangements.

Ridley takes a snide swipe at the European Commission because it will insist on the UK paying its financial commitments for the divorce. It will surely be tougher than he suggests. Leave aside the irrelevant comparison with American independence, and Britain's commercial interests in the confederacy. The EU did not decide this divorce, we did. In doing so we are taking apart 40 years of a patiently constructed European community which has put aside the most confrontational nationalisms of the past and given a big hand-up to the poorer parts of Europe. Of course it's faulty and needs reform, but it's widely admired and copied in other troubled parts of the world, e.g., Africa and South America. To expect the EU to do us favours to mitigate the disastrous effects of our own political incompetence is sheer hogwash.

Remainers failed the country at the referendum by not arguing the positive case for the EU, and for not seriously believing Brexit could 'win'. The Leavers greatly exaggerated "Project Fear'; there were no big threats of immediate catastrophe. Since the vote the consequences have become steadily more obvious, and it is clear they will take time. It seems a big majority of both houses of parliament see this, and are Remainers. It is disgraceful that such an absurd referendum happened at all, but worse that party politics are still apparently leading so many otherwise good people to vote against their consciences.

However, it is not the Remainers who are setting out to subvert our country and way of life; it's the Leavers. The whole team of professional politicians and opinion formers could and should have known better, and must answer to the next generation.

Vince Cable is half right. It's not just the elderly but all the backward-looking Brexiteers who are in imminent danger of 'shafting' our young people. A referendum won with 37% of the eligible electorate on the basis of such disreputable arguments is not democratic by any previous understanding of referendums. We need a second referendum before it's too late, and we need the option to halt Brexit altogether.


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