A Brexit-less vision of the future

Can you imagine what we could be achieving as a country if all the energy that is going into Brexit were going into solving the real pressing problems of Britain?

We might have the resources to think of new ways to tackle land reform and the housing crisis.

We might have that badly-needed cross-party panel pouring all their drive and enthusiasm into securing the long-term future of the NHS.

The government might be able to work on eliminating modern slavery. It could overhaul the prison system so that we do not, as a society, allow people to live in utter squalor when they need support to reintegrate into society.

Our education system might be receiving added attention – making conditions better for teachers, so that talented people can go into and stay in teaching. Perhaps we might think of innovative ways to prepare our children for the future, teaching them skills that will enable them to take advantage of the ongoing digital transformation in our society. And we might be discussing ways to enable adults to learn these new skills too, creating a norm of life-long learning that would uplift everyone in Britain.

We could consult on an immigration system that made sense for everyone. Where we apply the rules we need (that were already available to us as EU members), but where common sense prevails. A system that does not boast about creating a ‘hostile environment’, but that is humane and fair. A system based on facts, not ideology, a system that would not break up families and send people away when they are making a positive contribution to Britain.

We could invest in solutions to provide emergency shelters for the homeless and people fleeing domestic abuse. As a society, we must be measured by how we treat those most vulnerable, and at the moment we are failing badly, held hostage by internal strife in the Tory party and a lame opposition.

We might think of new ways to ensure the most vulnerable people in our society can regain a sense of security. Let’s put our minds together and see whether universal basic income could work. Or another system. A way to ensure that people do not need to live day to day or week to week. Where they know they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table the next month and the next.

On the important global issues, we could work in tandem with our European allies in doing good in the world. We could lead and set the European agenda on trade, climate change and fighting poverty. We could continue to punch above our weight in our other global relationships, using our leading position in Europe to magnify our own levels of influence. Perhaps we could help to tackle the crises in places like Syria and Myanmar. We would work with our allies to ensure our citizens remain safe from threats.

All those EU nationals that have left us and are leaving us would stay here, creating jobs, paying taxes, looking after our patients, picking our fruit, making beautiful art, feeding us delicious food, mixing up cocktails, raising their families in our midst. New relationships, whether at work or at home, would be formed between Brits and EU citizens, enriching all our lives.

Instead — a government and civil service consumed by just one task. One task with only downsides. One task that will make us weaker, meaner and poorer. One task that actually risks the integrity of the United Kingdom. One task that will strip every British man, woman and child of hard-won rights. One task that only serves the ultra-rich and will deepen the existing inequality in our society. One task that will damage us in the short and long term.

In moments of intense despair at the current state of affairs, I let that alternative vision of the future spur me on. It is what fuels my ongoing need to act against Brexit – to talk openly to people, especially Leave voters, to write to my MP, to donate to campaigns when I can, to oppose racism and xenophobia, to resist the government’s attempts to divide us, to write this blog. I will continue to resist Brexit with every fibre of my being. I am unsure of success, but I continue because it matters, because nothing less than our country’s future is at stake. And I must believe that the innate goodness, creativity and openness of Britain will eventually prevail.

Brexit has already damaged us irrevocably

It has been eighteen months since the referendum. A fateful, rainy day that has changed the political, social and cultural fabric of this once great nation forever. I think it is important to reflect on what we have already lost and to see these things as harbingers of far worse things to come unless we put a firm stop to all this madness. More people need to say these things out loud, even if they are unpopular, even if it means you are labelled a traitor, simply because they are true.

The inexorable rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is deeply worrying and shameful. I’m sure there was always a significant undercurrent of xenophobia in the country, but Brexit and the resulting descent into politically sanctioned nationalism have given the green light to those people to express their views, not just on social media, but in person. The police statistics confirm this, and I would bet on the fact that official statistics greatly under-represent the real prevalence of this vile behaviour.

What does not help is that our government has also taken an overt anti-foreigner stance. It has repeatedly refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here. It has provided no concrete information on what it will entail to obtain “settled status” and what the process would look like. If it’s anything like existing processes in the Home Office, then that is enough reason to be fearful.

The Home Office makes repeated mistakes and displays a crass lack of judgment, so crass it can easily be interpreted as a conscious policy of driving out non-British nationals. Just look at the recently publicised case of Jennifer Wexler, an American married to a British national. She is an archaeologist who works for the British Museum and has lived here for 11 years. She has been told to leave as her frequent trips abroad for her archaeological work mean she is apparently not entitled to stay, even though those trips were on behalf of a British institution. She and her British husband have been told to go to the US. I can’t begin to understand this decision – how can this be justifiable on any count? And what of the British husband’s right to have his wife with him in his own home country?

I could go on for pages and pages with similar baffling cases where people’s lives are being torn apart by British bureaucracy. Given that EU nationals could become third country citizens in 2019, should they and all their British loved ones be concerned? I, for one, have lain awake during more than one night worrying about my ability to stay with my EU national partner and my British family members who are resident in the EU.

The economic damage inflicted by Brexit is already tangible, even though we haven’t left yet. We are all poorer due to the fall in the value of the pound. Our grocery bills have increased. Some jobs have already been lost. Inflation is growing.

And our credibility is shot. This farce of a government has embarrassed us on the international stage and ripped apart our reputation for making sensible and pragmatic decisions and for being a reliable and steady partner. Our government’s arrogant, childish and nationalistic rhetoric has needlessly and recklessly created enemies where there were long-standing friends. We used to occupy one of the most influential seats in a room filled with our allies, and now we are at their mercy, for we will accept whatever deal they offer us. We have lost so much influence on the global stage, at a time when we need to stand together to deal with threats of nuclear aggression, climate change and much more. Now all we have on the global stage is Boris.

As I have written before, this government has also undermined the fabric of our democracy by rewarding dishonesty in public office and by endorsing the use of dangerous language to describe people holding a different viewpoint: mutineers, traitors, enemies of the people. It is no overstatement to say that this is a move straight out of the fascist playbook.

We have to try to put a stop to all this. We have to keep fighting, so that we do not lose even more. But even if we manage to remain, even if we stay in the Single Market or some other fudge, this damage is done, at least for a generation, if not more.

The inevitable consequence of all this is that people will decide to leave. They are already leaving and they will continue to do so. Brexit and this government have driven out people who contribute so positively to our social and cultural fabric, and we are losing them for good. Even those people who stay here may never be able to look at this country in the same way.

And this does not just apply to EU nationals or other foreigners who had made a home here in the UK. In July 2017, I briefly visited my family living on the continent. When I returned to London, my home of a decade, I noticed that I felt something other than the usual joyful sense of homecoming, for I always loved London and I was proud to be a Londoner. I felt sad, I felt angry, I felt just a bit uncomfortable. I realised it’s because I, a British citizen who is also a committed citizen of Europe, do not feel at home here anymore either. And that realisation breaks my heart.

Brexit is a National Embarrassment

It’s official. We are now living in a real-world episode of The Thick of It, just with extra levels of absurdity. I keep hoping to see Armando Iannucci pop up from behind a big screen somewhere, like Christof in The Truman Show, saying, “Surprise! This was all a big experiment in seeing how far we could push this whole omnishambolic farce!”

Let’s quickly recap the last few days as a case in point:

The FT published a letter from David Davis to the Prime Minister complaining about the EU making preparations for a no-deal scenario. Apparently, he is annoyed that the EU is warning business that the UK may become a third country on 29 March 2019, unless agreement is reached. He says they are treating a member state unfairly (!), and that this is damaging UK interests and he will seek legal advice. The EU responds in the only way possible: “We in the European Commission are surprised that the United Kingdom is surprised that we are preparing for a scenario announced by the UK government itself.” This is what we have come to.

Brexiters turned up in Brussels with a hamper of UK goods to show Brussels how strong we are commercially. What’s in the hamper? PG Tips and Marmite, produced by an Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Gin made by a company that has warned of the consequences of the falling pound resulting from the decision to leave the EU. A book on Churchill, who saw the UK’s future as part of Europe. English cheese and sparkling wine. Yes, send more cheese and wine to continental Europe. Those are two things they don’t have much of. I’ve never heard of French cheese or wine, for example. I don’t think the Spaniards or the Italians make either of those products either. Apparently Barnier enjoyed the hamper, especially the goods that currently enjoy EU protected origin status.

Davis and Hammond travelled to Germany and wrote a badly crafted letter in the German press (I am a liberal metropolitan elite British citizen who can speak actual foreign languages, including German), more or less begging the Germans to ensure that financial services and passporting rights are included in any Brexit deal. They have still, still, STILL not understood that this will not happen unless we stay in the Single Market. They Still. Do. Not. Get. It. Besides, why on earth would the Germans help us out on this point when they stand to benefit handsomely from London-based banks relocating to Frankfurt? But more to the point, they still do not understand that the Germans will not undermine the Single Market or the European project, least of all for these half-witted arrogant fools that are currently in charge.

And now for the icing on the cake, which we are both having and eating, obviously. Farage wants a second referendum! To kill off EU membership for a generation! Last time I checked, he had already done that by co-opting the Tory Party into his right-wing, anti-foreigner, populist brand of politics. Could it be that Nige is a closet Remainer? The EU has provided him with lucrative employment over the years, and perhaps he quite likes living in Europe. What other reason could there be for this turn of events? Which really just makes him a bigger shameless hypocrite than I already thought he was.

Brexit has turned us into a laughing stock. Really, a hamper of PG Tips? Like that is going to suddenly make the EU say, oh, yes, of course we will give you a deep and special bespoke deal? It’s definitely worth slaying the Single Market and undermining the entire institution that is the European Union for some mediocre teabags!

And just to end, I want to ask, where is the opposition? Where did it go? I’ve been looking everywhere for it, but every time I think I spot it, its leader says the same things as the Tories, namely some falsehoods about it being impossible to be in the Single Market and the EU at the same time, which seems to imply that the nations of Switzerland and Norway are just fictional entities in my head. All of this staggering ineptitude and the hopeless reshuffle that wasn’t really a reshuffle are providing more open doors for a good kicking from the opposition. But no, it’s doing nothing, just arrogantly sitting there assuming people will vote for them next time around without doing anything to earn those votes.

I have to quote one of my favourite Remainers, James O’Brien, here: “I think we’re moving into a period of British political history that is almost beyond rational analysis.” Because it’s true. None of this makes sense. I am bewildered. No matter what party was in government before, I used to believe that it generally tried to govern in the interest of the country, that there was a rationale to its actions, even if I didn’t agree with all of them. But what’s happening now, it just makes no sense, it cannot be that Davis is this thick, can it? It cannot be that we are heading down this road when it is so clear how devastating it will be for all of us, can it?

In another world all of this would be hilarious. I suppose if I were watching this from the sidelines with a burgundy passport secured, I would laugh at all this nonsense. But this is serious. These people hold our economic futures and our national security in our hands. And even if one supported Brexit, surely no one can think that these people are going to make a success of it at this rate. We absolutely have to redouble our efforts to Exit from Brexit in 2018, this is the year that will make or finally break Brexit. Buckle up, my friends, it’s going to be quite the ride.

Great British Brexit Capitulation

I have recently returned from a blissful two weeks of Brexit-free holiday. The time off from the news cycle worked wonders for my overall levels of happiness, but at the same time left me entirely unprepared for what was to greet me upon my return to Britain, also known as The Post-Brexit Land of Milk and Honey and Unicorns and Fairies and Pots of Gold at the End of Rainbows.

The Brexit lies are now truly coming home to roost. The Brexiters have finally been confronted with the fact that we cannot leave the EU without a deal while maintaining a border-free Ireland. Let’s remind ourselves of Daniel Hannan’s tweet on the matter during the referendum campaign: “of all the scare stories propagated by EU supporters, the idea that the UK and Ireland would reimpose borders … is the silliest.” Hmmmm, yes, Daniel.

Meanwhile, it is also finally becoming clear to them that we cannot stay in the Single Market and not have freedom of movement. When the Prime Minister told parliament that the people voted to leave the Single Market, she was either lying or she is delusional. It wasn’t on the ballot paper. In fact, our friend Daniel was joined by the likes of Boris, Nigel and the official Vote Leave campaign in suggesting we would stay in the Single Market or have unfettered access to it. They conveniently left out the bit about this necessitating freedom of movement, because we all know that foreigners are the actual worst, especially when they come here to treat our patients and pick our fruit and pay our government taxes.

In any case, our Prime Minister managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — since the (completely and utterly predictable) Irish border issue scuppering the entire Brexit process would have been a big win from my perspective — when she agreed a deal with the EU to move things on to the next phase of talks, where we will talk about what the talks should include and what Britain actually wants to talk about, because we still do not know that. And when I say deal, I mean complete capitulation to every single thing the EU said it wanted. And whatever she did not cave on, she fudged so that it can come back and bite her at a later stage.

The Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal is a perfect example of what the government has now signed itself up for in dealing with a much more politically agile and experienced negotiating side. Namely, that we will do exactly as the EU asks, because, surprise, surprise (!) it turns out we actually need them more than they need us. Britain accepting the EU’s terms was completely inevitable, because we could never realistically countenance a no-deal scenario that would have grounded our planes and brought many other aspects of daily life to a screeching halt. So every day that has passed between March 29th and December 9th was a complete waste of precious time in which the negotiation took place within the Tory party, and not with our actual negotiating partners. Not only was it a waste of time, it squandered nearly all of the goodwill we might have had and damaged trust and credibility.

Speaking of breaking trust, it still baffles me that David Davis was still in office after two weeks away. Turns out he misled parliament and the British public about the impact assessments and by his own admission, he doesn’t need to be all that clever to negotiate a deal that will have the most profound implications for every man, woman and child living here and for all British citizens in the EU. Moreover, he thinks it’s perfectly alright to go around undermining the Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal just a mere day after his boss painstakingly agreed/fudged it. It’s a fantastic signal to send all our potential future trade partners (yes, I see them, they are patiently queueing up around the block to buy our Stilton) that we don’t really mean anything that we agree upon.

So where does all this leave us? Well, I suppose somewhere in the middle. I have a feeling a cliff-edge ‘no-deal’ is off the table, because the Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal effectively seems to stipulate that no-deal is by default the equivalent of staying in the Single Market or Customs Union, but without any say about the rules, because that is the only way to avoid a border in Ireland. But I also suspect it means that staying in the EU altogether is also less likely, also because of the receding cliff edge. In any case, it seems increasingly like we are moving towards an endpoint where we are effectively in the SM/CU, but without a voice, without any influence and taking rules. So, all this damage to our credibility, reputation, economy, culture — all for ending up in a worse place than we were. Each and every British citizen stripped of rights that many of us were born with, for nothing. Thanks Brexiters, nicely done.

But the worst is now to come. The government still does not know what Brexit means. It does not know what kind of trade deal it wants. The negotiations are being run by Davis, who has now lost all, and I mean all, credibility in Brussels. EU talent is leaving us. The government has no idea what the economic, social and cultural cost of Brexit will be. There are no systematic impact assessments. There is still no durable solution to the Irish border issue. There is still unacceptable uncertainty on the rights of EU citizens here and British citizens in the EU, regardless of the amount of meaningless spin Theresa May puts on it. The government simply has no clear path forward. And the use of words such as “mutiny”, “treachery” or “enemies of the people”, dishonesty and lies continue to weaken the fabric of British democracy and society, creating an environment where some members of the public feel empowered to issue death threats to MPs voting in accordance with their conscience.

So, as the political horror fest of 2017 recedes and we see the impending horrors of 2018, take a breather, spend the festive period in whatever way gives you joy, and gather strength for the fight ahead. It’s very far from over and it’s going to get even uglier, but we cannot afford to stop. Our country needs us.

It is time for intolerance of incompetence

Another day, another screw-up in government. Aside from the malice and selfishness which characterise many of our current crop of leaders, it is becoming increasingly clear how completely and utterly incompetent they are. We saw pretty stunning levels of incompetence during the election campaign this summer, when our Prime Minister could not muster up anything more creative or interesting than “strong and stable” for weeks on end. But what has been going on over the last few weeks has caused even cynical me to shake her head in disbelief.

The Home Office sends out hundreds of threatening letters to EU citizens in error. Nothing happens. A Tory whip sends out a sinister letter to vice chancellors of universities demanding information on Brexit-related teaching, providing the Daily Mail with yet another enemy of people, those pesky Remoaner Universities. This earns him a half-hearted rebuke, but nothing serious. Boris Johnson condemns a British national to a further five years in an Iranian prison by apparently not bothering to read his brief on the case, by fundamentally not understanding that when dealing with countries like Iran, every single word has to be carefully chosen and weighed up. Nothing happens. Priti Patel engages in arguably treasonous behaviour by embarking upon a series of unofficial meetings with high-level Israeli counterparts without telling Number 10 or the Foreign Office. She is allowed to resign from her cabinet post, but remains an MP.

I find it remarkable that when government ministers display unforgivable levels of incompetence, all that happens is that they resign from cabinet. Michael Fallon has been another case in point — though this was more about immoral behaviour than simply incompetence. Are we not to expect higher standards from our MPs as well? Why should I continue to be represented by someone who has shown themselves to be unfit for public office?

And then to the most absurd display of incompetence of recent weeks: David Davis and his sectoral impact assessments. He first tells us that there are 58 very detailed Brexit impact assessments prepared, which are so sensitive that releasing them to the public would damage our negotiating position in Brussels. Upon being compelled by parliament to release them, because his case for secrecy is about as flimsy as the rest of the Leave campaign’s argumentation, Davis tells us that “it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist.” Again, nothing really happens.

This is despite the fact that Davis is clearly misleading us because the assessments cannot exist and then suddenly not exist, unless they existed and were then forever shredded out of existence — which would make me seriously concerned about the contents. They must be so incendiary and undermining of the Brexit cause that they may no longer be allowed to continue to exist at all. It’s actually a perfect reflection of the way the government handles inconvenient truths these days: any facts that do not fit the Brexiter worldview are simply banished from existence, and if you speak of them then you are either a liar or a traitor to the country.

We are truly living in absurd times. In another pre-referendum world, any one of these displays of incompetence and disloyalty would have been met with a sacking or resignation, preferably from politics altogether. But Brexit has destabilised this government and the nation to such an extent that we must now tolerate this sheer incompetence, because losing half the cabinet in the space of a week really isn’t a good look.

And so Boris continues to embarrass us on the world stage and endanger British lives overseas, hardline Brexiters continue to put party over country, Davis continues to make a shambles of negotiations.

A responsible, competent government would have convened a cross-party panel of experts to establish a Brexit working group soon after the referendum. They would have worked out in detail what the likely impacts would be, what needed to be considered and resolved, and what we wanted from negotiations — if we decided to leave the EU at all. And then, only then, would the government have triggered Article 50.

Instead, the government continues to negotiate with itself instead of the EU, we are facing an EU ultimatum and a possible breakdown of talks, a leave date enshrined in law for no good reason and a growing threat of a no-deal exit with all the misery that will entail.

Davis’ assurances that we will have a “basic deal” on things such as aviation and radiation therapy show that he still does not understand that a deal with the EU is not just based on political will, which is in any case rapidly diminishing thanks to his incompetence and arrogance, it requires legal arrangements that need to be negotiated. The same goes for citizens’ rights and the Irish border, which are not simply mere technicalities that can be quickly resolved if everyone just tries a little harder.

It is time we stop tolerating this incompetence and demand a higher standard of skill and a stronger moral compass from our government and all of our MPs. Because this rot at the heart of Westminster will only make our nation poorer — in every sense of the word.

Recent DexEU response

Like many of you, I suspect, I was a lucky recipient of DexEU’s recent reply to a popular petition demanding a referendum on the final Brexit deal. I signed the petition mainly to register my protest at how the entire process is being handled, and less because I am adamant that there should be a second referendum — I would prefer our politicians to see sense before we ever reach this stage. I wanted to make the point that the way Brexit is being conducted is undermining our democracy and completely ignoring the wishes of those who wanted to remain, and even those who simply wanted a soft Brexit.

And the reply certainly lived up to my expectations of our current government — arrogant, blind, haughty, misinformed and with distinct authoritarian tendencies. What follows is a look at the text all signatories of the petition were sent — my favourite bits and my thoughts on this patronising and anger-inducing piece of garbage.

On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Really? Thanks for reminding me. I temporarily forgot about that.

The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.

Will you please just stop already with the “will of the people” nonsense?! Firstly, who are the people? Because last time I checked, an awful lot of the people voted to remain, and many others did not vote. Even more people were disenfranchised, especially overseas Britons, casting doubt on the validity of the entire exercise and certainly on the notion that this was the will of the “people.” And if you are referring to that slender majority of people who did vote, well even in that case, the “will of the people” is not an immutable, fixed thing. It changes over time. That’s the entire point of a democracy. Or, dear Tories, should we have a permanent Labour government with Tony Blair at the helm because that was the “will of the people” in 1997?

“… On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

You actually just said that a couple sentences ago, but thanks again for reminding me.

The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history.

This is meaningless twaddle. That is because it was a choice between two things. The vote to remain was the second-largest democratic mandate in UK political history. But as has been made clear, that mandate does not matter to this government, the 48% are irrelevant.

In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

Yet more twaddle. In our wonderfully archaic electoral system, we essentially have a choice between two parties. It so happens that they are both led by anti-Europeans, and many pro-Europeans will have felt forced to vote Labour to keep the Tories from winning in their constituencies. It in no way follows that 85% of people support Brexit, this line of reasoning from DexEU is an obvious logical fallacy.

There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.

Wait. A. Minute. Is the UK still a democracy? Erm, I think so. So I can bloody well attempt to do anything I like. I can attempt to remain in the EU. I can attempt to rejoin it through the back door — or the front door, for that matter — and I can attempt to lobby for a second referendum. How dare you tell me what I can and cannot attempt to do? As long as my actions are legal, you have no right to stop me attempting anything. And I promise, should you be so foolish as to take us out of the EU, especially without a deal, we will keep attempting to rejoin the EU over the long haul. And that is my right. You can label me “unpatriotic” as much as you like, but you will not take this right away from me.

The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.

Did the country vote to leave the EU? I had just forgotten that so thanks for reminding me.

Rather than second guess the British peoples decision to leave the European Union, the challenge now is to make a success of it – not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

As parliamentarians, it is your duty to second guess the referendum result. Blindly accepting it and pushing the decision through without any real debate and any proper planning, regardless of the devastating consequences, is a dereliction of this duty.

A balanced approach? You have got to be kidding. Serious talk of a no-deal Brexit is not a balanced approach. You have never taken the concerns of Remainers on board, you have relentlessly made us feel like second-class citizens and traitors of the country. You have referred to our neighbours, allies and partners as “the enemy.” Do not insult my intelligence by pretending you are taking a balanced approach.

Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50 As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the Government is determined to see through that instruction.

Did the people vote to leave the EU? You are right to remind me, because I am very stupid indeed and had forgotten this fact since the last time you mentioned it. The truly frightening thing about this particular section is that it says that no matter what happens, no matter how bad this Brexit thing gets, no matter how devastating the consequences for Britain, we will carry on with it because “the people voted to leave.” We simply no longer have the right to change our minds or ask for a change in direction. That sounds an awful lot like authoritarianism to me.

Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

Argh! I had again forgotten that the people had voted to leave the EU. Thanks again for reminding me DexEU! You are such a good friend for making sure I don’t forget this important thing. I mean, I am liable to forget the event that this entire omnishambolic mess is based on.

A country that is stronger? The World Bank has predicted that a no-deal Brexit will see UK trade in goods plummet by 50% and by a staggering 62% in services. In this world, how on earth will the UK be stronger? We are already weaker as a result of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

A country that is fairer? Being a member of the EU guaranteed our basic rights to things such as paid holiday and maternity leave. It ensured we upheld basic environmental standards. It did not stop the British government from adopting policies that would have helped to reduce inequalities: a failure of domestic politics has made our society unfair. And leaving the EU will only make this worse, as we inevitably end up having to dismantle our system of rights and standards to be able to compete economically.

A country that is more united? I can barely dignify this with a response. We are more divided than ever. Theresa May could have come to power promising to heal the divides caused by the referendum, but every day her government has been in office, their rhetoric has only increased these divides. Hate crimes have soared since the referendum, in the permissive environment that it created. And don’t get me started on the issue of the Irish border.

More outward-looking? Sorry while I step out for a moment to have a good laugh. In my lifetime, we have never been more inward-looking. Major global issues are being debated and resolved without our presence. We no longer speak for Europe on the UN Security Council, as that role has now fallen to France. We have no bandwidth to conduct creative foreign policy because every bit of resource is consumed by mitigating the fallout from Brexit. Foreign talent is leaving the island in droves. Jobs are being relocated to the continent. More outward-looking?!

Department for Exiting the European Union

DexEU, your words are nothing but empty promises and platitudes. Please stop lying to me. Stop patronising me. Stop telling me to shut up and put up. Because I won’t, because you are ruining my country and I won’t sit idly by and let it happen.

Brexit and the manipulation of language

In my last entry, I quoted liberally from Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language in support of my argument that imprecise language is contributing to a debasement of our political discourse and pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Orwell wrote in this essay that a lot of political speech and writing was “in defence of the indefensible.” As a result, political speech was littered with euphemisms, platitudes, metaphors and “sheer cloudy vagueness.” I believe this explains rather a lot of the political language that has emerged from the Brexit camp, most notably the tagline to “take back control.” We still do not know what we are taking control of. Instead, we know that things seem pretty out of control. We also know that there were never £350 million a week to take back, that Turkey is not even remotely close to joining the EU and that the process is not going to be “easy.”

We all know that politics is full of spin, but this campaign and its aftermath have opened up our political discourse not just to imprecision, but above all to dishonesty and outright lies. Language is distorted in a way to make these lies sound truthful. The inevitable pain of Brexit is masked in a rhetoric of glory, triumph and confidence. And if you dare expose these lies, this farce, then you are a Remoaner at best and unpatriotic at worst. The Brexiteers are already setting up the Remainers as the next scapegoat after the EU — it will eventually be our fault that Brexit is not turning out to be a roaring success.

Language is also manipulated to dehumanise anyone who disagrees with the set path or is merely seen to do so — look no further than the Daily Mail front page branding our top judges “enemies of the people.” And let us not forget how language has been used throughout human history to dehumanise “the other”, anyone who differs from the majority. This happens anytime a politician uses the word “swarm” to refer to a group of migrants, when leaders label anyone with a migrant background “foreign” without any consideration for the multitude of reasons and motivations for people to come here and the many positive contributions that migrants make to this country. It happens anytime the media refers to “us” and “them.” History shows us that the gap between dehumanising words and actions is precariously small, and anyone who believes in a liberal, free and tolerant nation needs to counter this language as soon as it emerges, lest we endorse it by our silence or inaction.

All of us have to play our part in reversing this trend of dishonesty and obfuscation and in bringing facts and clarity back into political discourse. Whether you voted Remain or Leave, hold the Brexiteers to account. Ask them constantly where the £350 million a week for NHS is. Ask them why they never told us about the tens of billions we will pay just to exit the Union. Ask them when Turkey is joining. Ask them why your holidays have become so much more expensive. Ask them why there are no longer enough nurses in the NHS, no workers to pick our fruit, no staff available for care homes. Ask them why your wages haven’t gone up. Hold them to account for their lies, so that it no longer pays politically to deceive the British people. Because this deception goes far beyond the issue of Brexit, it threatens to undermine the very fabric of our democracy.

Dishonesty and language in British politics

With Boris earning a deserved rebuke for restating his £350 million lie again, I have been thinking about the levels of dishonesty that marked the campaign and everything that has followed since. Because we are still being fed lies every single day by our government and by the Brexiteers, who still cling on to the notion that behind the Brexit wall lies a land of milk and honey. I have yet to hear anyone be truly honest about the trade-offs and sacrifices that will result from Brexit. And I have yet to hear just one single convincing argument about what will be better outside the EU. Trust me, I’ve looked. I’ve read pro-Leave articles, spoken to Leave voters and tried to pick apart government proposals on Brexit. Not. One. Argument. Most of the supposed benefits are based on fantasy, delusion or downright lies.

I do not need to repeat the most damaging lies here, including the fact that we already could control immigration as EU members, but we chose not to. Rather, I want to reflect briefly on what the growing levels of dishonesty and the distortion of the English language is doing to our political and civic discourse.

I am far from being the only one to think about this. In 1945, George Orwell published his essay on Politics and the English Language, in which he writes, “[the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He picked out two main flaws among his contemporary political writers, the “staleness of imagery” and the “lack of precision.” He argued that political orthodoxy “seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style” and that when listening to politicians “one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy.”

This surely strikes right at the heart of what is wrong with our current political discourse. It is the perfect characterisation of our Prime Minister, who carried out the most dismal election campaign by never veering from her “strong and stable” platitudes. And even now, all she is doing is “getting on with the job of government”, while we pursue a “red, white and blue Brexit” for a “global Britain.” What does any of this actually mean?!

Take the “Global Britain” strategy of the Foreign Office, headed by none other than Mr £350 Million A Week Johnson. When quizzed about how our future relationship with the EU might look, he answered that the UK would be “a flying buttress, supportive of the EU project, but outside the main body of the church.” Boris may not be lifeless or stale, but he certainly lacks precision. Our foreign policy priorities must adjust to the new reality of Brexit, but the “Global Britain” strategy retains many of the same old pillars: global stability, peace and order, free trade and projecting our values. However, in the context of an ever-shrinking Foreign Office budget, how can the UK successfully deliver on all of these foreign policy aims without any EU support?

Or does “Global Britain” mean forming closer ties with illiberal regimes, promoting trade with certain countries at the expense of human rights? We have seen the PM travel to Turkey and Saudi Arabia and hold hands with Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Fox has travelled extensively in the Gulf and countries such as the Philippines, where he appeared with President Duterte, who has overseen the most egregious violations of human rights in his country. Has the impending loss of our trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world through the EU forced us to cozy up to regimes that are in many ways not aligned with our interests? Will we need to accept inferior trade deals with these countries just so that the government can claim — dishonestly — that Brexit has been a success?

Well over a year after the referendum result, none of these questions have even begun to be answered, at least not in the public domain. And I’m only asking questions about one single area of government. We have a similar lack of clarity and precision across all the vast policy areas which will be impacted by Brexit, from nuclear energy to the environment to labour rights.

No matter which way you voted in the referendum, this lack of clarity from our government is dangerous. It suggests, at best, that they do not know what they are doing and, at worst, that they do know what they are doing but do not want the public to know. It is therefore up to each and every citizen to demand answers from our politicians, and to force them to provide the clarity and precision that a policy course of this monumental consequence demands.

I am actually the patriot

Yes, I already know what is coming next, what will inevitably follow from the last post. The Brexiteers will accuse me of being unpatriotic. That I don’t believe in Britain. Well, frankly, I think the Brexiteers are unpatriotic. It is precisely because I am patriotic, because I served this country for most of my career and have seen what good it can do in concert with its European allies that Brexit has left me so heartbroken. Brexit has already diminished this country and weakened its economy. It has become more insular, small-minded, mean, closed, poor and xenophobic.

What happened to the Britain of five years ago, when we welcomed the world to our Olympics, when we showed off our sense of humour and joy and fun, when the world came together in our capital city and we were at its heart? Brexit has shut the door to all this. We have become a laughing stock with Boris at the helm of our diplomatic efforts and with a damaged Prime Minister supposedly at the helm of the rest of government. My sense from my international travels and reading local press is that the rest of the world pities us and cannot understand what we are doing. To boot, France is now the main European power at the United Nations, and the rest of the Eurozone is leaving our economy in the dust.

Ah, but at least we have our freedom and our sovereignty back! No more Brussels bureaucrats telling us what to do! But, hang on, what do we even mean by sovereignty? Does being sovereign mean that you can never strike agreements or join alliances? Because any agreement or alliance will require a certain sacrifice in autonomy in exchange for greater rewards — that is how any club works. You pool your resources for the common good, and in exchange, you abide by certain rules that you all agree upon. That is what the EU is. There aren’t any dictators sitting in a golden palace in Brussels telling us what to do. We sit in conference rooms and office buildings and talk, negotiate, discuss, compromise, agree.

The UK always had a very influential role in setting these agreed rules, because we were a strong European power and people respected our expertise and opinions. And in exchange, we were free to trade, to move, to exchange resources with our closest friends and allies. We shared our intelligence to keep each other safe, we cooperated in higher education and research to find cures for diseases and stretch the boundaries of science. We British had the freedom to learn about new cultures, to fall in love and settle and raise families across Europe, to take that job promotion in Paris, Barcelona or Rome. We were already free and sovereign in the EU! The collective failure of the Brexiteers to see this is just one of the many tragedies of Brexit and one of the many tragedies that is being inflicted upon the UK.

So, yes, it is precisely because I am a patriot that I oppose Brexit with every fibre of my being. I want to see a return to the open, tolerant and joyous country we were in the summer of 2012. When international connections were an asset, and not something to be ashamed of. Where I was free to move and love and travel across the most beautiful continent on earth, Europe.

No matter what happens at a political level, no matter if my government turns my passport blue and rubs out the words “European Union”, in my heart I will always be British and European. Because being both is not incompatible, it does not mean I have “split allegiances”, as Boris would accuse me of. I simply refuse to be a part of this Brexit tragedy and I will never sign up to the values that the Brexiteers espouse — my patriotic liberal metropolitan elite self won’t allow it.

I want my country back

I want my country back. And I also want to take back control. I’m not asking for complete control, just an iota would be nice at this point. Because right now, I feel like an alien in my own country and like I have no voice at all. Yes, I am a Remainer, a Remoaner, a certified member of the liberal metropolitan elite. I speak four languages, have lived in five countries and have been fortunate enough to travel to many more, and on top of it all, I live in Islington, that north London liberal stronghold. So despite my burgundy British passport, I am officially a citizen of nowhere, at least according to our current Prime Minister.

In another universe, the one that existed prior to 23 June 2016, being liberal and metropolitan and understanding other cultures and countries was actually seen as an asset. I felt that I could build links with other people, that I could advance British interests in other parts of the globe and that I could bring the best of what other places had to offer back home. Win-win, right?

Brexit is an attack on everything I stand for and my entire way of life. I can only begin to imagine how unwelcome EU citizens here must feel, but I can assure you, there are plenty of British citizens like me who feel similarly unwelcome and despairing, even if we do not face the threat of having to leave the UK.

It is difficult to accurately convey what Brexit feels like. How it has ripped me apart, torn up my identity, made me less proud to be British, made me feel sorry for my European friends and sad for my fellow British citizens, many of whom will end up bearing the brunt of our nation’s inevitable decline towards second-rate status. I do not understand how to even begin choosing between my Britishness and my Europeanness — the two are just elements of what makes up my varied identity, elements that have melded together to form who I am. Brexit is forcing me to choose, but I cannot, it’s completely impossible. It feels like being asked to split the blue and yellow colours out from a green bucket of paint: you know there is blue and yellow in there, but they are forever fused.

As a result, since the morning of 24 June 2016, I have been in a state of some confusion, constantly torn in different directions and trying to make sense of the steady stream of incomprehensible madness coming out of Westminster and much of the press. Sometimes I feel like I must be living in a parallel universe. For how can our politicians, who are supposed to know better, be taking us down this path of destruction and be condemning us to a future of struggle and irrelevance?

Everything feels out of control. Whether you voted Remain or Leave, surely we can all agree that the government has no plan. No plan at all. And seen from here, Brexit has already inflicted irreparable damage to our country’s reputation, the fabric of our society and the pillars of our democracy. We need to come together to stop any further damage and to reunite this deeply divided nation. We need to fight to get our country back.