Edward Heath was the man who took Britain into the European community; David Cameron was the man who, albeit reluctantly, took us out. Heath's successor Margaret Thatcher gave Europe the concept of the single market, and was as committed to it as much as our neighbours were. Now Cameron's successor Theresa May is taking us out of that same market, insisting that it is the only way Brexit will succeed.
What has happened to the Tories? They used to be the party of economic liberalism, the champions of the free-trade and low tariff market. Now, following our vote to leave the EU, they have become protectionist and inward-looking. They want to shut our economy off from the world and seem to care little about the consequences. This dramatic twist in the party’s long struggle over the European question has turned everything inside out.
Not that this reversal has come about cleanly, however. Far from it. The British government’s policy, and the individuals proposing it, are mired in contradictions. The ‘Global Britain’ May speaks of is already treating our European neighbours with hostility, while we may be forced whether we like it or not to be similarly stoic against our one-time ally, the United States, as it prepares to submit to the rule of the most unstable political leader in modern times.
The courting of that leader has been practised with nauseating obsequiousness in recent days by Michael Gove, his willingness to fawn so gushingly on a serial liar, racist and hypocrite somewhat throwing into doubt his reputation as the polite and respectable face of Toryism.
Leavers of course delighted that Trump has discussed the possibility of a trade deal with Britain before negotiations to leave have even begun, while simultaneously ignoring the possibility that Trump might do a volte face on this, as he has done with so many other promises. They will accept anything for the new Brexit Britain, and indeed they will need to, now that Theresa May has implausibly suggested we can leave the single market while simultaneously thriving as a nation - to have our cake and eat it, as she might say.
Tory revolution will come at a cost, however, and as usual it is the voters they have mislead, not themselves, which will pay the price. The Leave campaign did not tell its supporters their victory has the potential to turn Britain into the world’s largest offshore tax haven for vulture capitalists, where workers right are minimal and jobs are mediocre and scarce.
But that’s nonsense, Leavers reply, for the ‘newly sovereign’ Britain can now pass its own laws to protect workers’ right and stimulate the economy. If you cannot imagine a right-wing Conservative administration suddenly becoming the champion of the downtrodden and dispossessed, then you are not alone.
This is why it is imperative we have an opposition that is fit to replace the Tories if they put the economy into the blender. But the Labour leadership is run by a crew of closet Leavers, and they are every bit as confused and directionless as the decision-makers in the government.
It almost makes you wish to return to the days of Heath and Thatcher, when our leaders, for all their faults, had some idea of where our poor old country was going.
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