11 September 2019
Brexit – The Answers
Escaping the confusion.
By John Watson
People say that there is good in everything if you look for it hard enough and I suppose that the upside of our current political shenanigans is that they are an excellent distraction from the cricket. Still, the spider having swallowed the fly, you still have the spider to deal with, so how can we divert our attention from the politics when we have had enough of them, as most of us surely have, without dwelling on something even nastier? That is what fiction is for and the better the fiction the more likely it is to succeed. So I grabbed a volume of Shakespeare from the bookshelves and opened it at random. Perhaps the great man would say something to amuse me. Better still, his wisdom might cast some light on the great issue of British politics and make order out of chaos.
When I looked down I saw that the volume had opened at act 3 of Macbeth where the eponymous hero justifies continuing his murderous course with the line:
“I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”
The relevance of that to the Brexit debate is obvious. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the original decision, we have gone a long way down the Brexit path and, however he might have voted in the original referendum, Macbeth would clearly be a leaver now. And a Scottish leaver at that. Indeed as a King who was ousted by “Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men” sent from England, he was presumably in favour of keeping Sassenach power south of the border and is thus a spiritual father of the SNP. Is this a sign that Sturgeon’s party will split over Brexit or has Scottish vigour declined from Macbeth’s high standards? Listen to them whingeing about on the television and one cannot help wondering if sadly this is the case.
But Shakespeare wrote Macbeth a long time ago and, valuable though the hero’s guidance clearly is, it might be as well to get it corroborated by amore recent source. Back to the bookcase, then. Eyes shut and pull out a volume. Ah, yes, Belloc, a political writer of the first water. Let us see, has the book fallen open at “The Servile State” or some other great tract of political philosophy? Er, not exactly. Rather it seems to be about someone called Jim who was eaten by a lion. Still, those who open books at random must live with the consequences so let’s pick a line:
“Always keep a hold of nurse – for fear of meeting something worse.” There is no doubt about the relevance of that to the Brexit debate. Belloc would clearly have favoured Remain.
The truth is that the literary world, like its political counterpart, is split on the issue because there is something to be said on both sides. Do we think that our contribution as a nation over the coming years will be greater if we are a leading country in the EU or if we are an independent country with the ability to set up our own trading relationships? You can argue it either way, as you can the second issue of whether the economic price paid for the benefit of independence is likely to be too high. The only people who are certainly wrong are those who think the issue is clear. You know the type:
“Yeah, yeah the thing with Leavers/Remainers in that they are all racists/unpatriotic/old/young/stupid/undemocratic/selfish/smelly… etc, etc. Now me, I’m not bigoted at all, I just look at the realities of the thing. Have another pint/glass of chardonnay/snort…”
There is no way that we are going to get a clear answer logically so the best we can hope for is an answer which is generally accepted and that means finding the right process. It is already becoming clear that a general election will not do it unless the parties reorientate themselves so that one side (presumably the Conservatives) becomes the party of Leave and the other side (presumably the other parties) becomes the party of Remain. That means completely chewing up old party loyalties to make the contest as much like a referendum as possible. Given that objective, why don’t we just have a further referendum offering remain, Mrs May’s deal and leave as the alternatives? At least we would get an answer with a reasonable amount of authority behind it.
Meanwhile, at the risk of diving into the complexity, there is one point on the Irish border which is worth noting. The Government having now lost its majority, the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party are not as important as they were. That opens up the possibility of a deal on the basis that Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union. At first sight that would appear to divide Northern Ireland off from the UK economy but actually that need not be wholly the case. Suppose that trusted Northern Irish employers were given the right to elect to be part of the main UK economy, with tariffs on acquisitions from and sales to the EU but trading tariff free with the rest of the UK and its other trading partners? Complicated? Certainly. But impossible? Probably not. It is certainly worth exploring and should something be done on these lines remember, you saw it first in the Shaw Sheet. Lord Shaw of Sheet? Yes, I think that would sound rather well.