Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Will the British Public Really Blame the EU for a No Deal Brexit?

Jeremy Hunt, the newly appointed British Foreign Secretary, claimed yesterday on a visit to Berlin, that the British public will blame the European Union (EU) if Britain leaves the organisation without a post-leaving deal. He said, should this be the case his ‘real concern is that it would change British public attitudes to Europe for a generation.’ He perhaps means the older generation, but would this really be the case generally?

There is no doubt that the British government would try to shift the blame onto the EU, eagerly aided and abetted by the right wing media, of Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph. Members of the public who are fans of the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, will probably take this line too, but this not the vast majority of people.

What of the 16 million people who voted to Remain in the EU two years ago? What about the 27% of registered voters who didn’t bother to turn out to vote, and those who were not registered to vote? What of the British nationals living in the EU? What about British businesses who will lose money and their workers who are made redundant? What of those people who voted to leave, but now regret their decision?

These groups are much less likely to blame the EU, and more likely to blame the British government. Even amongst leave voters who still want Britain to leave, might some of these people blame the Tories for botching the process of leaving through incompetence? Especially, if the dire predictions of chaos on 30 March 2019,come to pass.

You have to remember that there was no clamour for a referendum on leaving the EU in the country, only in the Tory party. Yes, UKIP were picking up votes, at that stage mainly from the Tories, but they didn’t win any seats in Parliament, other than from a defector from the Tory party. Our membership of the EU has been a running sore in the Tory party for at least since the early 1990s and the arguments over the Treaty of Maastricht. John Major’s Tory party was riddled with division about Britain signing up.

This is why David Cameron had to offer a referendum when he became leader of the Tory party and prime minister. Cameron was of course in coalition with the pro EU Lib Dems at the time, and thought he would never have to follow through on the referendum promise, because the Lib Dems would block it. Surprisingly, he won an outright majority for the Tories in 2015, and had to hold to it.

The handling of Brexit has been a textbook exercise in rank incompetence, as the in-fighting in the Tory party continues, while the country is going to the dogs. The Tories don’t care about the country though, only their own fixation with the EU. If things do go terribly wrong, which is certainly more than a possibility at the moment, I think many people will know who is truly to blame. For the sake of unity in the Tory party, the nation is being torn apart in an almost casually reckless fashion.

But even if Hunt is right and I am wrong, how would this anti-EU sentiment materialise? Will the British stop holidaying in Spain, stop buying German cars and stop buying French wine and cognac? I somehow doubt it, although all of these things are likely to become more expensive. Some people though may turn to violence against EU nationals, even if they have become British citizens, but people like that should not be placated.

Hunt’s comments could be taken as an encouragement to act violently, which is another example of the government’s reckless approach. Hate crimes have already rocketed since the referendum which the government’s style in the handling of Brexit has surely played a part. I just hope we are rid of this government before it is too late to salvage the situation, which in practice probably means by the autumn.  

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