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Chris Johns: Every time they confront reality, Brexiteers lose

Is Dominic Cummings the Rick Astley of politics?

Every time they confront reality, Brexiteers lose. That’s why it’s important for them to remain in their parallel universe where facts, truth and consequences rarely make an appearance. There, it’s easy to dissemble, lie or just make stuff up: there is no challenge and nobody gets hurt. Casualties are denied, ignored or derided.

Farage, Johnson, Hannan and the rest can be found on YouTube saying the UK would never leave the single market. This, along with all of the other fibs, half-truths and lies, never came back to bite them.

When there are no consequences other than a smooth path to high office, a politician might think that all those strictures about truth and ethics were not meant for them. When extreme views bring extreme rewards even more extremism is inevitable. Unchecked behaviour does what it says on the tin.

Money for the NHS; the easiest deal in history; the UK has all the negotiating power; Turkey joining the EU; workers rights preserved; environmental protections strengthened; citizens rights respected; no border down the Irish Sea. I could go on. The depressing point is that no matter how many ways this expanding list is shown to be untrue, it doesn’t matter.



The success of lying means you don’t have to try too hard. As well as telling whoppers, you can make up all the little stuff as well. String words together in random fashion and pretend they have meaning.

Michael Gove this week was pressed by a Welsh politician on the economic impact of Brexit on Holyhead, one of the UK's busiest ports. He admitted that no such estimate is available because no such study has been done. If these economic impact studies exist for the economy as a whole they are not being released by the government.

Gove tried to explain all this by quoting John Kenneth Galbraith’s disparaging remarks about economic forecasting.

Gove was just making stuff up as he went along. Equating an impact study with forecasting was classic bait and switch. An apples to orange comparison. Quoting a long deceased, left-wing economist that few people today have heard of was weird.

Gove said that Galbraith was a Nobel Prize winner. This wasn’t the biggest lie ever told but it is completely untrue. Another example of making up any old rubbish to support what you just said, whatever that might have been. And then, after this stream of just-in-time consciousness, return to the fundamental lie: Brexit will be great for Holyhead.

Robert Shiller recently wrote a book about the importance of narratives in economics. He is a Nobel Prize winner. I think it could be the most important text of its kind since Keynes wrote his 1930s General Theory.

The Brexiteer narrative has been clear. They have all the best lines as well as lies. Shiller’s thesis points to the importance of shifts in narrative. So far, there have been none. However, I wonder whether a new story is, at last, brewing.

It comes back to that lie about the UK leaving the single market. Clearly, the UK is exiting – we’ve known that for some time. But the new narrative is that the UK’s own single market is breaking up. That’s that Irish Sea border. This just might be one of those rare clashes of Brexit fantasy with cold reality: a new narrative that is distinctly uncomfortable for the Brexiteers: the end of the UK’s single market.

This may or may not amount to a significant shift in narrative arc. But just because one hasn’t happened so far doesn’t mean that it never will. Shiller’s path-breaking work shows us how new narratives can emerge randomly and then spread like a nasty viral epidemic of. With massive economic – and social - impact.

Another possible shift in the storyline is the aura surrounding Dominic Cummings. Universally hailed as some kind of genius – Svengali, Robespierre and Rasputin are often breathlessly mentioned alongside his name – Cummings is a candidate for some revisionist history. His new narrative could be that he is more like a one-hit-wonder pop singer. The Rick Astley of politics. But Astley made a better comeback.


Cummings had a good Leave campaign but that was his only appearance in the charts. He won’t get streamed again. ‘Classic Dom’ is now used as description of any brilliant sounding strategy that falls flat on its face.

This may be old fashioned but I believe the numbers will eventually intrude on the narrative. Independent estimates of Brexit’s economic impact vary but are all large. The Centre for European Reform, for example, put the costs so far, before Brexit has even happened, at 2.9 per cent of GDP.

I don’t think they have included the £11 million (€9.5 million ) cancellation costs of the October 31st Brexit commemoration coin, but that’s just chump change against the £60 billion of waste counted so far. When Brexiteers used to claim they would save £350 million a week for the NHS they also said that amounted to a new hospital a week (another dodgy statistic). Using Daniel Hannan equally infamous NHS numbers, Brexit has now cost the equivalent of 100 new hospitals.

The ready availability of new narratives to Remainers and soft-Brexiteers merely exposes their lack of leadership and coordination. What a tragedy, what a political failure. They are in the last chance saloon.