This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 19 2018
I used to write a monthly column on Europe for a Sri Lankan business magazine. Looking back on those articles now I can see that most of what I wrote was hostile to the way the European project was working out in practice. Nevertheless, had I been in the UK at the time of the referendum I would have voted for the UK to remain in the EU. One of my reasons for this would be that a great deal of valuable social policy would be lost to UK citizens if the nation withdrew from the EU.
One might respect an argument for leaving, but it soon became clear that there was no plan for the practicalities of exit. It was clear that there was a lot of complicated work to be done disentangling UK law from EU law with which it had been entwined for over 40 years. This is the kind of tedious work normally done by civil servants. Unfortunately, this is an extinct species because successive governments of both parties have for years been boasting about slashing public services.
Confederacy of Dunces
A number of people who were at the forefront of the campaign to persuade the British people to vote to leave were demonstrably shifty and of low moral standing. Eyebrows were raised when Theresa May appointed her crack team to implement the difficult task of getting the UK out of the EU. Secretary of State for Exiting was David Davis who had for decades demonstrated that he was a bumbling idiot. As John Crace wrote in The Guardian, Davis had never been the right man for this complex task. “Davis had been totally exhausted by the four hours of negotiations he had completed with Michel Barnier during his time in office”.
The job of foreign secretary was given to Boris Johnson who consistently avoids giving straight answers and his lies about EU regulations will cause British people to lose their jobs. Norman Baker, who worked with Johnson, said “the bumbling facade was just a clever construct to hide the moral vacuum inside.” In a BBC interview Eddie Mair reminded Boris he had agreed to supply an address of a third party to a friend who wanted to fix up a physical assault on that person. “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”
International Trade was given to Liam Fox who is well-known in Sri Lanka as a paid toady of the Rajapaksa regime. In the 2009 expenses scandal, he was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and, as a result, was forced to repay the most money. In 2010, he was appointed Defence Secretary. He resigned on 14 October 2011 over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join official trips overseas.
Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt wrote: “Brexit negotiations haven’t made any progress because the UK government has spent more time negotiating with itself rather than Brussels, which has simply had to wait for London to sort itself out.”
The New Team
David Davis resigned declaring that he could not support May’s plan to unite her divided cabinet, saying it involved too close a relationship with the EU. Johnson soon followed, writing that Britain was “headed for the status of colony — and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantage of that particular arrangement.”
Johnson was replaced by Jeremy Hunt who has overseen the worst collapse in patient standards of any health secretary in the history of the NHS. He is universally loathed by doctors and nurses and leaves a legacy of soaring waiting lists, huge staffing shortages, and patients left with treatments rationed and operations cancelled in record numbers. This will all get worse when the NHS can no longer recruit staff from the EU and privatisation gathers pace.
Davis was replaced by Dominic Raab, who, as housing minister, claimed that that immigration had “put house prices up by something like 20%” over the past 25 years. He was a member of a Facebook group called British Ultra Liberal Youth, which called for the return of workhouses, the sale of all council homes, and advocated the full privatisation of the NHS. Raab believes leaving the EU will allow the UK to scrap various worker protections. He published a pamphlet asserting that UK employment legislation represents a “straitjacket” for the economy and proposed allowing employers to fire at will. He contributed to a book called Britannia Unchained, in which the British were described as “among the worst idlers in the world”.
Oh, not to be in England now that May is there.