A grim warning from Martin Wolf of the FT: what future for Britain and our politics?
Today’s (15 June 2016) Financial Times publishes a column by their top economics commentator, the internationally respected Martin Wolf, who conveys the grimmest and most cogent warning of the likely effects of Britain leaving the European Union that I have seen so far. It’s essential reading: a fully documented forecast that Brexit, which seems increasingly likely to win on 23 June, will have even more horrendous economic and political consequences than the Bank of England and other pundits have been forecasting. Wolf makes a rarely debated point about the political implications:
A crucial source of fragility, on which the Treasury naturally says nothing, is political. After the referendum, the UK would cease to have a government in any meaningful sense. The Conservative party, with a tiny majority, would be deeply divided between its pro and anti-European wings. The opposition Labour party is already deeply divided on this and many other issues.
“Out of this morass would have to come a competent government with a view of what it wants to achieve in complex negotiations with the rest of the EU and the world. It would then have to undertake these negotiations with partners that have many other concerns and would regard the UK with a poisonous blend of hostility and contempt. It would have to decide whether to keep or modify the laws created by more than four decades of EU membership and, if the latter, how to do so. It would have to manage the impact of Brexit on the coherence of the UK and its relations with Ireland. While doing all this, it would have to manage the economy, the fiscal position and the minutiae of political life. Anybody who believes the leaders of the Brexit campaign could manage all this is surely taking illegal drugs.
I strongly urge anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the FT online or in print to go out and buy a copy today, if only for the full text of the Wolf article. It seems to me too important a contribution to the debate to miss. The political section of the article quoted above conjures up the totally plausible picture of a government led by Boris Johnson as prime minister (he is by a long chalk the public’s first choice to succeed Cameron and it’s hard to see how he could be deprived of the succession if Cameron chooses or is forced to go) and the ideologically driven Gove as Chancellor, with John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith in key departments, and — if there’s a general election soon after the referendum, as seems increasingly likely — Farage with a newly elected contingent of UKIP MPs either supporting or in coalition with the Johnson government. To try to imagine such a government attempting to grapple with the fearsome agenda described by Martin Wolf is to bring tears to the eyes, and they are not tears of laughter. I’m not at all convinced that a Corbyn government would do any better, in the now looming possibility that either Cameron or B Johnson might call a general election in the aftermath of a Brexit win, and that Corbyn might just conceivably win it with the reluctant support of the SNP and any surviving LibDems, in the chaotic post-referendum mayhem.
However that pans out, and whatever the result of the referendum, it looks as if there is no future for the Conservative party or the Labour party as they have been constituted since the end of the second world war, the Tories irrevocably divided over Europe and austerity, and Labour’s leadership and membership in the south-east equally irrevocably divided from the grass-roots membership in the midlands and the north of England and Scotland which used to be the bed-rock of the party’s support. It seems unlikely that either party will be able to put Humpty, or Dumpty, together again. We face a fundamental re-alignment of British politics, in the most dangerous and confused situation for the country since WW2, with totally unpredictable consequences.
I’m very apprehensive indeed about the referendum result. I suppose this is the most scary prospect for our country since the end of the second world war. That’s how it looks to me, anyway.