Whisper It...Maybe Tony Blair's Right About Brexit
The Debrief: They keep telling us 'Brexit means Brexit' but now we're starting to understand what Brexit really means...and it isn't good
This is the third instalment of a weekly Debrief on WTF is going on at the moment...
Guess who’s back, back again? Tony’s back, tell a friend. Tony Blair, the man who was elected to Number 10 in 1997 when many of us now approaching our 30s were just about old enough to understand what was going on, just might be one of the most divisive former Prime Ministers of all time and, perhaps, for very good reason (namely the complete travesty and tragedy that was Iraq). Whatever Blair does now, wherever he goes, controversy follows.
Earlier this year, the UK’s collective decision to Brexit (yes, that’s a verb now) brought Blair back into public life because he felt he simply had to throw his hat into the ring and ‘get his hands dirty’ in the fight against Brexit. There were groans and eye rolls everywhere, many Labour supporters began to what is colloquially termed ‘lose their shit’ because Blair refused to endorse Jeremy Corbyn.
So, when Blair spoke out against Brexit over the weekend the collective groan from the nation was audible. Nigel Farage was, unsurprisingly, particularly riled. While Blair is far from perfect I have to admit that when I turned on the TV over the weekend and saw him talking what can only be described as sense about Brexit I was relieved.
‘The country’ he wrote, ‘is suffering from the state of its politics. This time last year we were the fastest growing economy in the G7. We are now the slowest. The international community is negative on us. The savings rate is at its lowest in 50 years. Incomes are stagnating. The international reputation of Britain is rapidly losing altitude.’ This, sadly, is the current reality of Brexit. Only today has a report, conducted by academics at Sussex, Cardiff and City, found that the government is ‘sleepwalking’ into what they describe as a world of ‘insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive’ food supplies as a result of Brexit.
‘Given the importance of UK food supply, the silence from the government on the labour question is astonishing,’ the authors of the report say. They also state their concern about what Brexit could mean for food standards, particularly in the context of a trade deal with America which could potentially see the import of ‘hormone-injected beef and chicken washed in chlorine.’
Beyond very real and pressing concerns about the future of our food supply, living standards are, as Blair writes, clearly suffering. Last week the Resolution Foundation released a report which found that average income growth fell to just 0.7% in the year running up to the election last month. They also found that young people (surprise!) have been the worst hit by a slowdown in living standards, with average incomes for people between the ages of 25 and 34 now no higher than they were in 2002/03.
I am under no illusions when it comes to Blair’s flaws but I have become increasingly troubled by the Orwellian Newspeak that surrounds Brexit. We hear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, we’re told that ‘the will of the people must be respected’ and we’re lead to believe that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ by the politicians who are, supposedly, in charge of the whole thing. These empty phrases were mocked in the immediate aftermath last year’s referendum, the likes of Nick Clegg pointed out that the will of 48% of people who voted to remain was not being respected and it was pointed out that the idea that leaving the EU with no deal was nothing other than pure lunacy.
As the shock of the referendum result wore off, politicians continued to repeat these dull droney messages over and over and they’ve become ominously normal. What’s worse is that the number of voices prepared to call politicians out on their empty phrases has steadily diminished. So, when Blair appears, starts talking sense and straight up calling a spade a spade it’s refreshing. Perhaps a litmus test for whether or not we’re in trouble should be ‘are you glad to see Tony Blair again?’. If the answer is yes, buy gold. Ok, that’s hyperbole but you get the point. Nicholas Soames, MP and grandson of Winston Churchill, has also voiced his concerns, telling the New Statesman ‘I’m not optimistic for my country…I don’t see how we’re ever going to project our influence and our standing and our power outside the EU…Britain’s voice is going to diminish, I’m afraid.’
In his novel, 1984, George Orwell defined the purpose of the language of Newspeak as being ‘not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible’. I don’t know about you, but, to me, this pretty much describes the refrain ‘Brexit means Brexit’. It doesn’t really mean anything because beyond leaving the EU we still don’t really know exactly what Brexit means. Until Brexit actually happens, it means whatever politicians want it to mean. So, if you say this over and over again enough times it simultaneously loses and takes on meaning, shutting down opposing arguments from those who dare to question the logic or lack thereof.
Perhaps Brexit does mean Brexit. But, increasingly, we’re starting to realise what Brexit actually means, at least for our immediate future: food insecurity, economic uncertainty, wage stagnation and stale living standards. We need politicians to tell it like it is.
You might also be interested in:
Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating