British Exceptionalism Will Lead to Brexit Own Goals

Given that almost 27 million Brits — well, Englanders — watched their team’s losing World Cup semi-final against Croatia, there must be some lessons to be learned. Thanks to the gods of political coincidence, the main learning came swift and fast.

In the aftermath of their victory it emerged that Croatian captain Luka Modric had accused English journalists and pundits of showing a lack of respect to Croatia’s players and revealed that his teammates had used that criticism to motivate them to their 2-1 victory against England in their World Cup semi-final.

As one Brussels-based British EU insider put it, it is not just in football that this complacency, this exceptionalism, this disrespect for one’s opponents that lets Britain down and motivates the other team. “If Croatian footballers can read UK newspapers then, guess what, so can the EU’s Brexit negotiators.”

A few hours after England exited the World Cup, Theresa May gave her latest version and vision of how she sees the UK exiting the European Union in the form of the long-awaited White Paper.

The document appears to institutionalise the political doctrine now becoming known as cakeism — that as an exceptional country we can have our cake and eat it by demanding special access to EU advantages while carving out our own freedoms.

One economist said the only relevant consideration would be whether Brussels rejected it out of hand — in which case a no deal Brexit was highly likely — or took its time before doing so, in which case leaving the door open for some sort of negotiation over an acceptable soft Brexit.

So far, the second option looks more likely, which explains why the hard Brexit wing of the Tory party has come out shouting betrayal, with former Brexit minister Steve Baker offering to sign copies of the leaked alternative White Paper “over which I resigned”.

Given that a managed exit was always the second most sensible option — the wisest being remaining in the EU — it is dispiriting that it has taken two years and two weeks to get to this point.

This a White Paper that attempts to offer the best of both worlds to all sides of the Brexit debate

This puts the argument back to British exceptionalism. Many of the people at the vanguard of the Brexit movement, some still with us — Michael Gove, Liam Fox — and many no longer — Boris Johnson, David Davis, Priti Patel, Nigel Farage — felt that the UK was so important to Europe it was simply not possible that Brussels would do anything than roll over and have its tummy tickled.

Yet the one thing that is even more surprising than the implosion and fragmentation of the British political establishment is the cohesion and unity among the governments of the other 27 EU states over the need to prevent a hard northern Irish border and the sanctity of the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and people.

This united front has not prevented the Government from trying to push through its parcel of fudge with cherries. It wants a similar relationship to goods as exists now but wants to set its own rules on EU citizens and have some friendly rules on services. It wants an active voice in security and home affairs institutions but not be governed by the European Court of Justice. It will obey the state-aid regime other than on taxation. And so the list goes on.

This a White Paper that attempts to offer the best of both worlds to all sides of the Brexit debate and so will ultimately please neither the Remainers, nor the arch Leavers, nor the European Union, nor even the soft Brexiters who want a common rule book covering services as well as goods and foods.

The only warm response was from the big companies and business groups which may be a sign that the obviously coordinated moves by Airbus, BMW, Janguar Land Rover, and Honda to warn of the devastating impact on jobs unless the government achieved something close to a customs union on goods.

the groundswell of support for a People’s Vote will build up

This is how the next few months will proceed — hand-to-hand fighting between Remainers and Brexiters to gain the upper hand as the treaty text is argued over by London and Brussels.

But in the background, the groundswell of support for a People’s Vote will build up. In an unreported speech that happened to take place on the same evening as England were booted out of the World Cup, the philosopher AC Grayling said he was sure the Government’s plan to leave the European Union would be overturned by the end of the year.

He said he was more confident now that Brexit would not happen than he was in the hours after the result of the referendum in June 2016. The process could start as soon as next week when the long-delayed trade and customs bills returns to the Commons.

In his view, the only way to resolve the fact that there is a majority to remain in the EU among both Labour and Conservative MPs and in the House of Lords, is to give the people the power to decide on the final outcome.

Consider this the Brexit equivalent of going to penalties. As we know from the World Cup, Britain no longer has to fear that option.



More about the author

About the author

Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.

Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.

He is the author of Brilliant Economics and The Great Economists.

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