I’ve spent the better part of the last two years writing a book on Brexit. Tracking the story has been an interesting and often maddening experience. In recent years, the UK has lived through a torrent of politicians playing fast and loose with the truth. Yes, they have long, if not always, had challenges keeping their stories fully-aligned with the truth, but the stuff we’ve been witnessing seems to be something of a different sort from what we were long used
What do I mean by that? We should probably expect politicians to twist things a bit—okay, maybe more than a bit. But now it seems that an ever greater portion of politicians are comfortable leaving truth by the side of the road. This has coincided with what seems an increasing lack of concern for the people they supposedly serve. It seems that maybe having no qualms with shoveling BS has become a job requirement.
It seems that the lies constantly twist to suit the current circumstances. “I didn’t promise that. I promised this.” “We would have delivered that as promised, but our opposition/the weather/the dog ate my homework….” It’s an endless parade of lies. Many call them out for the lies, but they keep contorting their way out of the mess.
This is where Brexit makes things interesting. Whereas most political promises are open-ended, Brexit has a deadline, and it’s approaching fast. On March 29, 2019, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. The country’s leaders have been negotiating with EU negotiators since March 2017. Those negotiations were planned to be wrapped up in October of this year. That would give the EU and UK parliaments time to debate and ratify any negotiated deals. That outcome is looking highly unlikely.
A Bad Example
The lies told by Brexiteers appear to be running headlong towards reality. But they may still wriggle their way out by negotiating a highly unfavorable deal for the UK. If so, they’ll then keep twisting the truth as they attempt to pass the deal off as something else. Or they may buy time for further negotiations. But failing something like that, the UK will fall out of the EU in March and into WTO trading rules. (The governor of the Bank of England just announced that it might be as bad for the UK economy as the Great Recession.)
In response to that, a former British Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, offered up a solid example of the sort of twisted claims that I’m referring to herein. He posted the tweet below, in which he made light of the BoE governor’s warning by suggesting the lower home values would somehow help those who currently couldn’t afford them in a “sky is falling” economic scenario.
Hannan responded to the many jibes he took by stating, “I was arguing long before 2016 that house prices were artificially high and due for a correction. You can agree or disagree, obviously. What is odd, though, is how many people suddenly change their tune simply because the word ‘Brexit’ has been added.”
Hannan’s claim attempted to get people to lose sight of the big picture challenges inherent to a serious economic downturn. He also tried to twist the debate by making the problem one in which people were reacting to a single word, rather than the meaning of the full statement. Such efforts point to the need of greater media literacy and critical thinking throughout society. But that’s a subject for another day.
Time to Come Clean?
Given the circumstances, I thought we’d see Tory leaders begin to twist their words back towards the truth. (Btw, Hannan is not one of those leaders. He’s just a bit player who offered up a timely, convenient example. I’m referring to people like Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and their lot.) So far, I’ve been wrong on that prediction. Instead, they appear to be doubling-down.
It seems they’re gambling on the hope that they’ll somehow wriggle out of this. And they have far more information that I do, so it’s possible they know about a forthcoming get out of jail free card. Or maybe they’re looking to get one of their peers to fall on the grenade (probably thanks to a nudge). But I don’t see how they can dump the mess on an individual this late in the going, given the scale of the mess they’ve collectively made.
At this point, I don’t think they’ll be able to come up with a real deal in time to meet the deadline. I also expect that the Tories will pay dearly (and rightfully so) in the next election. I further see this leading to the sort of sea change that will stay with the British electorate for many years. Sadly, if that’s the outcome, Britons will pay a great price while those who made the mess will likely do just fine.
Assuming they don’t reach a deal, the interesting things to watch for as the deadline approaches are the ways in which these politicians deal with the approach of reality. Will they face a moment where truth catches up to them and they have to come clean? Or will they continue to spin yarns in trying to hold on to the false narrative they’ve created? If it’s the latter, I suspect reality will catch up sooner or later. Regardless, the longer they play that game, the worse it will affect the people they’re meant to be helping.
Also published on Medium.