Remaining: Round the Bend

From its founding, to advocate abolition of the UK’s corn laws, the weekly newspaper The Economist has been an advocate of free trade, free markets and deregulation – until now.

anti-brexitThe Economist (TE) is reliably anti-Brexit. The newspaper regularly supplements its reporting of the wonders of the EU with snide, disdainful comments against those who voted for Britain to leave the Project. Rarely do we read anything that might give them pause in their one-sided reportage. This week’s edition (13-19 April 2019) has examples of their failure to balance their support for the EU and of their sneering attitude to Brexit. Except where otherwise stated, the italicised quotations below are from two articles in the Europe section: ‘Brexit’s economic effects: Trading jitters’ and ‘Charlemagne: A Machiavellian moment’. We pick these out for comment because they are representative of Remainer views more widely.

The precise form of Brexit is still being wrangled over in Westminster.” This is true but fails to point out that the “precise form” is not within the remit of Westminster; neither the Government nor Parliament has the power (or the ability, it seems) to change the closed minds in the EU. The draft withdrawal agreement, accepted by the Government but not by Parliament, is set in stone: “This agreement is and will be the only one” [1] and “This is the best possible deal, it is the only possible deal.” [2] The antics of Remainers and Leavers in Westminster are largely irrelevant to any progress towards Brexit, let alone to a satisfactory exit for the UK.

Brexit contributes to the “pervasive uncertainty” which … clouds the euro zone’s economic horizon.” Again true (because of “contributes to”) but again misleading because the cloudy horizon for the eurozone is largely the responsibility (or irresponsibility) of the EU itself, with their determined folly of ever closer union. The EU blames their member states for failing to converge fast enough towards the various unions that would be needed to cope with the unrealistic demand for economic and monetary union across all EU members. Pervasive uncertainty is the very stuff of EMU, which no one seems able to justify in terms of economic theory or experience.

The IMF reckons that the long-term impact of Brexit on the EU27 as a whole would be modest, provided a deal is struck. … In the event of no deal, the losses would nearly double.” The IMF is not renowned for its forecasting ability in this context. In the run-up to the Referendum the IMF declared that Britain would suffer a major recessionary impact if we voted to leave the EU (see Remains of the Fray). Note “provided a deal is struck”; this is part of the sales pitch (but from the IMF or The Economist? We can’t tell from the article so perhaps both) for the withdrawal agreement. No one seems able to sell this ‘agreement’ on its supposed virtues, so we are reduced to reading that things will be worse if we don’t accept it, without evidence (see Economic Forecasts are Wrong).

Brexit messClarity on Britain’s plans would help the preparations.” Yes, if people took such plans seriously it might help them to prepare. However, such plans would be more likely to lead them into difficulty since no plan that Britain could put forward (assuming that it could come up with a plan) should be taken seriously unless it conforms exactly to that laid out by the stony-faces behind the withdrawal agreement. And, of course, the UK Government has ‘come up with’ that plan, or at least declared that they are willing to sign it, if only Parliament would pull itself together.

‘Charlemagne’ picks up the argument that ‘Europe’ (by which they mean the EU) “has a new sense of direction.” “…the EU is for the first time in ages closing in on something like a common purpose” or, to use its own propaganda, to be a Europe that protects: “The Commission presents a set of operational and practical measures to better defend EU citizens … and deliver a Europe that protects.” [3] (see Only Believe) After the result of the Referendum was announced, “Europe, its leaders suddenly seemed to realise, needed to defend itself. … Europe’s long-restrained instinct for self-preservation kicked in.”

The UK has experienced the hard side of the EU defending itself but we don’t see any connection between the defensive actions in the ‘negotiations’ that led to the withdrawal agreement and the claim that self-defence is linked in any way to better defending EU citizens. On the contrary, the needs and wishes of citizens have been utterly neglected.

Defend EuropeTE then argues that Europe (i.e. the EU) “…needed to defend itself. And in turbulent times that meant better protecting its citizens from the seeming loss of control that had driven Britain’s voters to reject the union.” The phrase “seeming loss of control” begs a few questions. First, doesn’t ‘seeming loss’ seem to imply that the loss of control is imagined rather than real? Second, whose ‘control’ is the author referring to? If the phrase refers to a ‘seeming loss of sovereignty’ then that won’t wash because no one denies that much sovereignty has been passed up by, or taken from, previously sovereign states, so the loss is real and not imagined. And if British Leavers are concerned about the loss of sovereignty then how could the EU protect them and other citizens from that loss of control, when that is the prime goal of the EU? (See Subsidiarity and Competence, and More is Less.) Their argument can easily be dismissed; it is no more than an attempt to make an imaginary link between the EU and its leaders defending themselves, which is real enough, and defending citizens, which is mere propaganda, though perhaps Remainers want to believe that both are real. But a bully doesn’t defend himself by defending those he bullies (see Reasons to be Cheerful)

By now the author has hit his or her stride: “In the coming European election campaign politicians will compete less on whether the EU is a good thing (Brexit has curbed others’ appetite to flounce out) and more on how it can be used to shield the little guy from change.” The underlying attitude is revealed by “flounce out” and “the little guy” (that’s us Leavers – and are we appeased by this sort of language?) We can be quite sure that would-be MEPs will try to persuade us that their fantasy is our reality (except for the many eurosceptics who will put themselves forward). Macron centresThe far left and the far right will promote their extremist agendas but “centrists like Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel will offer an array of milder economic and social protections.” If we agreed with Remainers (and TE) then we’d be sensible centrists; since we don’t, we’re extremists, by definition (or by propaganda). We wonder what “milder economic and social protections” could look like.

TE tries again: “Europe is emerging from the crisis years of the 2010s with a new mission to retrench, consolidate and most of all protect—both itself and its citizens.” If this is repeated often enough some people will believe this stuff. We see no evidence to support the claim that by defending itself the EU is protecting its citizens.

Finally TE offers us a shiver of reality, almost: “By protecting voters from things they don’t like, the EU may make itself more popular and therefore more stable. But there are two snags. The first is that some protections harm the openness that underpins Europe’s prosperity.” Whose prosperity are they talking about? Greeks, Italians? (See All our Yesterdays: Growth and prosperity)

Democracy crisisThe second problem is that the EU lacks the powers of co-ordination required to play the sort of muscular role that its leaders are promising. … European politics is becoming more fractious and fragmented. And a more diverse and larger union is proving harder to run.” But who, apart from themselves (and Remainers?) said that these self-selected, recycled politicians would be capable of running the thing? (See Grey Men in Suits)

We’ll leave TE with the last word: “Without confronting those structural barriers, Europe’s leaders will not be able to give voters anything like the protection they promise. And that risks another decade of polycrisis.” [4]


[1]       Michel Barnier (02/04/2019)

[2]      Theresa May (25/11/2018)

[3] (18/10/2017)

[4]       Shorties-19



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