Internal British bloodletting is the biggest worry of the Brexit blame game
Divisions in the UK run deeper and wider than any border arrangements
There will be time in the coming years to consider objectively the allocation of blame for the Brexit disaster. Candidates for the hall of shame abound. All around Europe there is a pretty good idea of who will lead the field. In London there is already talk about a public inquiry.
However, one aspect of the blame game cannot be left for calmer times. The Brexiteer self-exculpating narrative has already taken significant shape. The scattergun is loaded and Ireland is one of the targets within its sights.
There have been many warnings about Brexit shortages in the UK, ranging from new investments in the case of a soft Brexit to food and medicines if the UK crashes out without a deal. The most dangerously dwindling stockpile seems to be that of common sense, a commodity that used to be a major British export but to which it must now reluctantly turn to the EU for emergency supplies. One thing, however, that there will be no shortage of is blame. Blame will be flung around like bullshit in a Boris broadside.
Those who are guilty of casting a dark isolationist and xenophobic shadow over the UK’s future increasingly need to find someone else, anyone at all, to blame. For them, it is not just about politics, it is personal. As individuals, they will have to answer not just to public opinion in general but, when the party’s over, for the rest of their lives they will have to answer to their young compatriots. Behind the self-righteous search for scapegoats lies an understandable desperation.
Finding fall guys
The bad news is that the Brexiteers need fall guys for every eventuality because every form of Brexit will be bad for Britain. Even if the UK stays in the EU, the Brexiteers will need to blame someone for the wild goose chase they have led the British people on in search of a fictional promised land, which has already done immense damage to Britain’s reputation, standing and influence.
The good news is that there are growing numbers of British people who understand the reality well, who know where the finger of history should point. We should salute them as they work to bring the UK to its senses even as others work to bring it to its knees.
Four main scapegoats have been lined up by the Brexit firing squad, a small consolation being that the firing party seems to have opted for a circular formation. The same scapegoats will serve perfectly for every eventuality.
The first whipping boy in line is, of course, the European Union. The EU27 have behaved calmly, rationally and fairly throughout the negotiations. That behaviour has, in itself, irritated the Brexiteers, because the EU stubbornly refused to show any of the characteristics of the pantomime villain of their childish fantasy. The EU negotiated in good faith with Theresa May, respected her red lines and accepted significant compromises to accommodate her.
Boiled down, what Brexiteers cannot stomach is that the EU had a few red lines of its own: the preservation of its own nature and respect for the Belfast Agreement. These intelligent inevitable red lines showed up for what it was the lie that Britain could “have its cake and eat it”, which hoodwinked the 2016 referendum over the line.
The next patsy is Ireland. The backstop, which was a necessary insurance policy, became a totemic issue. However, even a child can see that the fundamental divisions in the UK, which need to be resolved at some point, are deeper and wider than any border arrangements. There is, of course, much more about Ireland that annoys hard-line Brexiteers – our influential position in the world, our self-confidence as a nation and our cheek in having won our sovereignty and knowing how to use it.
The third Brexit scapegoat is the British parliament. The deliberate pitching of the parliament against “the people” is preposterous given the People’s March, the petition in favour of revoking article 50 and every single opinion poll for well over a year. It is also incendiary, perhaps the most dangerous mistake in this whole sorry affair, and the one with the longest-lasting consequences.
The last target, if that term does not convey too much of a sense of precision for a bunch of crackpots waving around criticism like Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny with a sawn-off shotgun, is the British state itself. Not only parliament but the courts, the government, the civil service and truthful media coverage are now legitimate targets of the elitist Brexit revolution. This is truly playing with fire, especially when it is suggested that consulting the people would undermine their faith in democracy.
We Europeans can handle any blame directed at us. I would be more worried about the internal British bloodletting.
Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish ambassador to the EU, Britain and Italy