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The Brexit Death Spiral

J.J. Patrick photo
J.J. PatrickUnited Kingdom
The Brexit Death Spiral
We've reached the point where there is no good conclusion to Brexit and Britain faces a choice: take one for the team or be willing participants in the fall of Europe. And no, you are not going to like this.

Something changed last week and if you were listening you could hear the pop.

It wasn't the cheers for TIG or the endless screaming of the word "splitters," like nails on a blackboard.

It wasn't the whispering of a deal in the desert which didn't exist.

It wasn't even the mewling sound of another unicorn dying as fraught efforts were made to disentangle Honda and Brexit.

" I dare say this isn't what the residents of Eyam wanted for themselves many years ago, but we now have to consider quarantining ourselves for the long term good of our neighbours or take responsibility for something much worse. "

The pop was the appearance of Brexit's bleak truth, filling a space in the world it had only previously occupied on the other side of the wormhole, where Michael Gove isn't the only person talking sense.

And here we are, staring at something truly horrible and doing what the British do best: pretending it isn't there at all.

We've reached the point where there is no good conclusion to Brexit and Britain faces a choice: take one for the team or be willing participants in the fall of Europe. And no, you are not going to like this.

There's a delusion in Britain, that somehow the pro-EU camp is now winning. Even the latest You Gov polls seems to suggest a 9 point lead for this side should a referendum be held.

But it's not that simple.

The first thing people need to understand is that none of the defects in electoral regulation or the threats of disinformation and hostile campaigns (domestic and foreign) have been addressed. The DCMS report arrived with a whimper and nothing has been implemented that makes any of it better. Truth be told, the situation is worse now than it was in 2016.

And then there are the polls. Which were wrong last time, would be wrong this time, and would still cause the same surprise as 2016 because not only is the legal framework unchanged but the risk has worsened and, worse still, the understanding of the landscape has actually contracted - due to people putting themselves in communication silos where things are safer and more lovely to their ears.

The reality is simply that Leave own the conversation on Facebook, where activism translates from electronic to the street, and they are punching well above their audience on Twitter too.

For example, of 2.7 million monitored interactions across the country's most popular Facebook pages of all political flavours in the last week, the pro-Brexit lobby owned 76.45% of the conversation. And on Twitter, where Leave only really has a quarter of the total audience, it's still in charge of 39.38% of the interactions.

"It really shouldn't be so difficult for the pro-EU side of the argument to understand that being punched repeatedly in the face isn't boxing."

On both platforms, Leave groups dominate in terms of engagement too and that's without even looking at what they are paying for - organically, Leave EU's Facebook page generated the same reach as spending £311,000 over the last week would have.

To set that in some context, Leave EU had an engagement rate of 6.52% over the last week compared to say People's Vote with their paltry 0.38% engagement rate and equivalent organic value of £9,100.

Then there are those paid adverts to consider. Britain's Future spent £46,041 last week and saw an engagement return of 22.41%, which is solid despite it being a bad week for them.

It really shouldn't be so difficult for the pro-EU side of the argument to understand that being punched repeatedly in the face isn't boxing.

No matter what anyone throws at the Leave audience, nothing sticks. Not even Honda. The base is firm, much in the same way as Trump's is. And this is where the pop of suddenly filled space came from, because they aren't just ahead of the game on Social Media.

"Should our MPs vote to betray us and extend Article 50 we will be making a huge announcement. You will be the first to have the opportunity to get involved in what will be a genuine turning point in UK history."

As news tumbled out from Italy, that Lega Nord are Putin funded - something long known but an apparent surprise - the risks to the forthcoming EU elections became even more obvious. The far-right will use every trick they've used successfully so far, in full co-operation with Russia, to attack the integrity of the EU.

And our very own domestic threat is standing ready to join in, with Farage's Brexit Party well-positioned to take whatever seats it wants here or abroad - a threat the British dismiss at their peril as that particular party could easily wipe out both the Conservatives and Labour using the strength of the Leave base and face next to no organised opposition in doing so.

But what does this have to do with Brexit really and why is there a threat greater than we've seen so far while many are celebrating its demise?

Well, last week this email was sent out by the Leave Means Leave group: "Over the weekend you might have heard that the People’s Vote will be holding a rally in Westminster on the 23rd of March. A number of you were very keen to know what plans Leave Means Leave has for the run-up to Brexit day and I am writing to you today, in a confidential capacity, to state clearly that you can be assured Leave Means Leave has some big plans for the future. Should our MPs vote to betray us and extend Article 50 we will be making a huge announcement. You will be the first to have the opportunity to get involved in what will be a genuine turning point in UK history. I hope you understand the need for us to play our cards close to our chest. As ever we are working to achieve what the people voted for: a WTO Brexit which sets Britain free and we thank you for your immense support in achieving this."

And over the weekend the pro-Leave lobby came out in support of a lengthy extension of article 50, with even Louise Mensch pitching in.

While this was cheered by pro-EU campaigners - and will be seen as the ultimate win - it's bad. Very, very bad.

Those wishing to remain are confined to the outcomes of revocation (which is unlikely given May's promise to Conservative members who have mandated she carries out Brexit on time) and a second vote (which would likely be lost). The Brexiteers have their eyes on a much bolder prize. And it is well within reach.

"The Brexit groups are strategically positioned to win and win and win again."

The Brexit groups are strategically positioned to win and win and win again.

Firstly, if Brexit were revoked they could form a new party and instantly find themselves with the keys to Number 10 at any subsequent election, with the only real opposition coming from a coalition of TIG, the Lib Dems, and Greens which wouldn't be sufficient.

Due to the landscape, this Brexit party could easily take 80% of the Conservative vote and the majority of what's usefully left of Labour with it.

Secondly, given the divisions within the House of Commons, a planned distribution of votes by pro-Brexit MPs - who are very well organised against the backdrop of chaos - would be sufficient to prevent either the Kyle (People's Vote amendment) or Cooper/Letwin (anti no deal Bill) from passing. All they would have to do is estimate the number of Tory rebels leaning toward Cooper/Letwin and the Labour whip which is likely to fall towards Kyle, and take the numbers down for each.

This would facilitate a no deal exit.

Thirdly, they don't even need to try to defeat May's deal when it returns in March, again taking us to a no deal exit.

Fourthly, if by some miracle the deal did get across the line, they could easily take it down before the end of the transition period, leaving us with no deal, albeit late.

Fifth, the pro-Brexit groups and MPs continue to offend, blame, insult, and otherwise negatively lobby the EU27 nations individually (see Slovenia, for example) reducing the likelihood that a unanimous agreement can be reached to extend Article 50 even if requested by Britain. Leaving us with no deal and the perfect excuse to roll out the intransigence line.

All the while appetite for extension reduces more naturally over time in any case - the EU requires stability and that comes from a decision.

And on, and on, and on.

But this is where things get very nasty indeed and this is the bit nobody is going to like at all.

" Much as being punched in the face isn't boxing, setting fire to your neighbour's house out of spite isn't British. "

In these scenarios, there is no extension to Article 50 and the impact of no deal is largely contained to the UK while the EU remains intact as a co-operative of 27 unified nations.

And this is where we have to confront the necessity to take one for the team because the alternative is grimmer still.

Michel Barnier suggested a lengthy extension may well be a threat May could wield in order to bring Brexiteers into line and vote for her deal, but this has backfired and they have seized upon it as an opportunity.

If Britain did get an extension of 21 months, with full membership to continue until exit day, the Brexit Party would storm to seats in the EU Parliament at the spring elections and spend nearly two years working with the Putin-backed far-right to dismantle the project from the inside.

In the end, there would be nothing left to remain in.

This is the truth which popped into being.

Brexit is a disease and Britain is a contagion risk which could unpick the fabric of the whole of Europe and leave millions more people facing much worse than even no deal.

The bleak end to all this is that we are a plague village and we have to take the decision whether to quarantine ourselves or knowingly infect everyone else.

I dare say this isn't what the residents of Eyam wanted for themselves many years ago, but we too have to consider cutting ourselves off for the long-term good of our neighbours or take responsibility for something even worse.

Much as being punched in the face isn't boxing, setting fire to your neighbour's house out of spite isn't British.

This is the Brexit death spiral and we need to consider taking no deal on the chin to prevent it.

#Brexit, #No Deal, #Article 50 extension, #Contagion, #Quarantine, #Conservatives, #Labour, #Lib Dems, #May, #Leave EU, #ERG, #Brexiteers, #EU


Gez Winstanley

1 year ago

Absolutely agree with the way this article highlights the dark forces behind Brexit, the need not to be complacent about No Deal and the risks posed by the these dark forces to Europe, indeed humanity, as a whole. This has been a predictable “Bluekip” coup right from even before the 2016 referendum:

However, I would disagree on two points. Firstly, this article risks under-estimating the impact of a No Deal Brexit both on the UK and on the rest of Europe. Secondly, should there be an opportunity for a second referendum, this article is far too pessimistic about the prospect of Remain succeeding.

A No Deal Brexit will involve a full and ruthless application of the “Shock Doctrine” style neoliberal playbook to the UK. Though, of course, the “liberal” part of that neoliberal term is a misnomer: really “authoritarian capitalist” would seem to be more accurate. In terms of UK politics I would use this term to describe “Bluekip”; extending that out to their allies across the globe I would at least include the Trump supporting and climate change denying network in the US, and the oligarchs of Russia.

In terms of UK politics a No Deal Brexit allows this network to achieve everything they ever wanted for our nation. A bonfire of all our worker, consumer and environmental protections, trade deals that mean a race to the bottom and carve up what remains of our public services, tax breaks and the chance to make billions out of various “short” positions plus buy up our national assets at bargain basement prices in the subsequent fire sale.

At the same time, though, the consequences of a No Deal are impossible to conceal, even with all the spin and media bias that could be mustered. At the very moment of its victory, “Bluekip” finds itself facing a real prospect of its worst nightmare: electoral defeat and the inception of radical socialist government.

The obvious thing to do is simply to follow the “Shock Doctrine” playbook and abolish democracy, at least until such a time that the opposition can be completely smashed and a more “managed” style of democracy eventually re-established. We're talking Chile under Pinochet.

This is in no way far fetched: who in their right mind would allow a government to adopt martial law powers that deported British citizens of the Windrush, that was found guilty by the UN of gravely violating the human rights of disabled people and which is the only government in history to be found guilty of contempt of parliament?

So those are the consequences of “taking one for the team”. Perhaps still worthwhile if we save the rest of the EU from a similar fate, or humanity as a whole from the fallout of a re-divided Europe, given that our previous two world wars resulted from such a division, and a third isn't likely to be survivable. Except that, having actually “taken out” a leading western democracy will only embolden the authoritarian capitalists and the Hard Right across Europe and the globe. By contrast, the UK changing its mind on Brexit would be a very public repudiation of their schemes. Of course, they will howl, and stir up trouble, but there is absolutely no easy way out of this mess now.

It really isn't unfair to call these people “fascists”: they are authoritarian, prepared to use militant nationalism and believe not in progress for the many but in ruthlessly advancing the interests of the “strongest”. The “weak” equate to “surplus population”, to be exploited and then at best “allowed” to perish. The only way to deal with fascism is not to concede it a centimeter, certainly not an entire democracy.

Back to the question of a second referendum. It's impossible to judge the import of your social media statistics as I couldn't see a source or much context. Yes, Facebook may have “swung it” for Leave in the 2016 referendum, including possibly even just Leave's manipulation of Facebook, but the result was so narrow that any number of factors similarly “swung it for Leave”: meaning that, if any one those factors had been different, the result would have gone the other way. So the same could be said of Remainers staying at home and not bothering to vote, or of the vote not being extended to 16 and 17 year olds, and a whole host of other contingencies that added up to a perfect storm and surprise result. Actually, given the age profile of the Leave vote, it is likely that traditional media was of more import than social media to the outcome, from the Tory press to Radio 4's “Today” programme, with its relentless bashing of Remain during the crucial postal voting period. In terms of social media Facebook is also now mired in controversy and very much showing its age: it is “MySpace” in waiting.

The simple fact that a new referendum would be a vote on an actual Final Deal, with Leave not being able to promise all things to all people, would count heavily in favour of Remain. It is indeed possible to fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

We must remain defiant: to give two fingers to the oligarchs. I'm guessing that the “Brexiteers” response to the “Put It the People” 23rd March event, darkly hinted at in the article, is what is now being dubbed the “G*ball Run” (sorry, I don't like the G word!). If so, Adam Hill's response to Nigel Farage on last week's edition of the “Last Leg” was spot on: to donate money to an asylum seeker's charity for every mile Farage doesn't walk! We should ridicule our enemies, not spin them into an unstoppable force of the coming apocalypse.

Above all, we must not sink into becoming a “Gerasimov” doctrine style opposition that ends up being completely ineffective because it is actually covertly controlled by the very people that opposition is officially meant to oppose.

Instead, we should fight the Bluekip coup tooth and nail: starting with attending the “Put It To the People” event in London on 23rd March ( ).

Nikita Parks

1 year ago

I agree that Leave is dominating the online conversation and that dark money as exposed by Open Democracy is funding it. However I disagree profoundly that these is any equivalence with public sentiment. The majority are sick to death of Brexit yet know that it has barely started and simply need the opportunity to hit the "cancel" button. The Brexiteers know this and that's why they are rabid about preventing it. They are not even slightly confident in their position which is precisely why they are dominating the online conversation.

Moreover the phenomenon of Collective Narcissism that produced Brexit and Trump is expressed through rampant populism across the continent, there is no concept of "taking one for the team". There is no national solution to nationalism, only internationalism. We're in a global village and the opening paragraph of the foreword of the original 1954 edition of "the Nature of Prejudice" written by Gordon Allport, the father of personality psychology, still rings true: as a species we are failing to adapt socially to the pace of technological change. We were apart for millennia, now we've all been thrown together and Brexit, the massive erection of trade barriers as largely the product of prejudice and fear, doesn't actually address it.

J.J. Patrick

1 year ago

Sadly, the argument that social media and offline action are unrelated is a turkey. And your second point doesn’t make any sense in context.