I have heard only three arguments which carry some weight in going ahead with Brexit. All from private conversations but there are echoes elsewhere.
The first was a senior criminal lawyer, who dealt in fraud cases such as motor accident claims. Deliberately causing crashes, by for example slamming on brakes without any notice, so that people would run into you. Personal injury and whiplash guaranteed to make a tidy profit. She said 90% of the organised fraud gangs behind this were Romanian or Bulgarian and those she came across were all crooks. She felt the EU had expanded too far and too fast. The opportunity to get rid of these people by voting leave was too good an opportunity to miss.
I could not dispute these figures. She is a good friend and a person I implicitly trust, so I’m sure it is true in the circles in which she moves. I counter-argued that the rapid expansion into the former Soviet Block was to a large extent driven by the UK under Blair’s premiership. Furthermore working in an academic environment the Romanians and Bulgarians I came across were smart, hardworking and delightful – we all live within our own bubbles! She agreed that one needed perhaps to look at the bigger picture. Her husband is an ardent remainer – possibly why we could disagree and remain good friends.
The second was a fervent Northern Irish Republican. I must stress these are a small minority of the Irish and indeed NI population. Diehard Republicans are often of the mentality “England’s Loss is Ireland’s gain” and he thought Brexit would would be a disaster for England and hasten a United Ireland. I must stress that I am not of that mentality.
Decades ago I remember a heated family discussion, in my Dublin home, when the first BHS in Ireland opened near the GPO (the spiritual home of the Irish Republic and centre of the 1916 rising) in the late 1960’s or early 1970s. I was horrified at the time (as a young teenager) that a British store could be allowed to open so close to the GPO. One of my uncles said “we all prosper by taking in each other’s washing” – I had to agree. Indeed the seed of my abhorrence of zero sum game thinking and the belief nations co-prosper, was possibly planted that day.
Whereas I profoundly disagreed with this NI Republican, I could not fault his logic. I would like a United Ireland, but one very carefully thought out over at least a decade. Evolution rather than revolution. Far better to see how Brexit plays out than trying to force a premature outcome. The though of Arlene and the DUP in Dublin, rather than London, does not excite!
The third was a left wing liberal. He detests English imperialism and exceptionalism. He likewise thought that Brexit would be a disaster, but a necessary step in England growing up and becoming a modern European democracy. Similar arguments have been used by Anthony Barnett in The Lure of Greatness and Garvan Walshe in a recent CakeWatch podcast. I argued that the pain and disruption too great and that the Leave campaign was not only guilty of “dishonesty on an industrial scale” (Prof Michael Dougan) but also electoral fraud to a unknown and pernicious level (Carole Cadwalladr and Peter Geoghegan). He said he accepted all of that and that it was totally idiotic to have a Brexit referendum in the first place. However the opportunity to vote Leave, which offered the potential of remove this poisonous cancer from our society was too good an opportunity to miss.
I counter-argued that there was a possibility that the UK was likely to descend into a state of neo-fascism and that the cancer could grow to consume the host. The EU which was already blamed for all the UK’s ills would be blamed for the inevitability of a disastrous Brexit. He thought I was overstating the risk. We agreed to disagree.
In summary, only the third argument is sufficiently strong to be taken seriously. Over the past few days we have had Mark Francois MP with a little Englander rant about the CEO of Airbus displaying exactly the same abhorrent aspect of the English character so detested by my hospital doctor friend.
On Saturday we had a supreme example of imperialist thinking when John Humphrys issued the staggering invitation to Helen McEntee (Ireland’s Brexit minister) to leave the EU and realign with the UK – a prospect so remote it would make the UK’s joining of the Euro a certainty by comparison.
And wouldn’t that leave the Irish Republic with something of a similar democratic deficit that is so detested by the Brexiters?