Brexit lies do not bring freedom: the truth alone is sovereign

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William Keegan

Even Leavers seem to be dimly recognising that the size and reach of the EU made Britain stronger than departing ever will

Jim Ratcliffe in a suit and tie, photographed from the side outdoors with a row of cranes behind hin
Sir Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos has moved his planned car factory from Wales to the Franco-German border, inside the EU, because of its ‘excellent access to target markets’. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Sir Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos has moved his planned car factory from Wales to the Franco-German border, inside the EU, because of its ‘excellent access to target markets’. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Sun 13 Dec 2020 02.00 EST

‘The surest recipe for killing a lie is to multiply the witnesses to truth.” This observation by the 18th-century statesman Charles James Fox is quoted by the veteran foreign correspondent – and sometime independent MP – Martin Bell in his memoir War and the Death of News.

Bell writes about the distortion of news – a practice made into an art form by Boris Johnson’s friend Donald Trump. The quotation is surely pertinent to the way that the lies about the wonders of Brexit are falling apart as the truth of what the Brexiters have wreaked unfolds in front of our eyes.

The ports face chaos; the customary smooth functioning of supply chains is threatened (see the problems Honda is having in its Swindon factory); Tesco and others warn of Brexit-induced price rises; and business investment stalls. Investment is the key to economic growth, but the manifest horrors of Brexit cast a dark shadow. The UK is branded by the OECD as one of the worst-performing economies among advanced nations.

Why, even one of the billionaire financiers of the Brexit campaign has apparently decided that it makes more economic sense to locate a new factory in the EU – that is, safely within the single market, the departure from which is the consequence of the malign influence of him, Johnson, Michael Gove and their acolytes. (I refer to one Sir Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos, whose previous expression of confidence in placing a new plant for vehicle manufacture in the UK has given way to a preference for the Franco-German border and its “excellent access to automotive talent and target markets”.)

Johnson’s plan to upstage the EU with a jolly-super trade deal with Trumpland has been dealt a killer blow by the US election result. President-elect Joe Biden has put him in his place over his stupid plan to break international law over the Brexit arrangements with Ireland. But last week these shameless Brexiter cabinet ministers were to be heard claiming it as a great breakthrough that their – and alas our – egregious prime minister had been forced to retreat from his plan to defy international agreements.

These are the very same members of the worst cabinet in living memory who have the effrontery to claim that the availability of the Pfizer vaccine in the UK is somehow a triumph of Brexit. This is a vaccine developed by Turkish immigrants to Germany, and manufactured in Belgium – which, as far as I know, is still a member of the EU so loathed by the Brexiters.

The lies are getting so outrageous that even a sometimes-timorous BBC felt it necessary, the day after a Today programme interview with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last week, to broadcast corrections to some of his answers.

The EU? Yes, the very EU that some of the leading Brexiters hoped Brexit would inspire others to leave, and possibly induce the breakup of the union itself. The tough approach of President Macron to the negotiations is clearly connected to his concerns about the electoral threat from the far-right Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National), who are anti-EU.

Instead, as our benighted “negotiators” have discovered, the absurdity of Brexit has, if anything, reinforced the determination of the 27 members of the EU to stick together.

The formation and evolution of the EU was, and remains, a great historic achievement. Sovereignty? Membership of the union gave this country a share in the accumulated sovereignty and bargaining power of the EU in a world dominated geopolitically by the US and China.

As the lies about the benefits of Brexit become exposed by the day, the Brexiters go on about the supposed wonders of our new-found national “sovereignty”. However, they are hard-pressed to point to the tangible benefits of a policy which, according to the government’s own calculations, is going to make the country one hell of a lot poorer.

Why, why, why is this nonsense allowed to proceed? What will future historians make of it? All right, there was a narrow vote in an ill-informed referendum more than four years ago. But polls show that, as the nation becomes more aware of the way it was conned, respondents who now believe Brexit was the wrong decision exceed those who don’t by 10 percentage points.

Now, at the time of writing, it is not yet clear whether the “deal or no deal” question has been resolved. Either way, I think former Labour leader Lord Kinnock is right to urge the present leader, Keir Starmer, to change his mind about supporting any so-called deal negotiated by this government. Brexit is a monumental mistake – to coin a phrase, an oven-ready disaster. It is this government’s disaster and, if I were Starmer, an unashamed Remainer, I should avoid dipping my fingers in the blood.