I HAVE always thought that the chances of successful Article 50 negotiations were less than 50-50: a good General Election victory for Theresa May will help strengthen her hand but that outcome is by no means certain; by December we should know how Brexit is playing out. Call this the realism of a Leaver. Now to explore the outright woefulness of the Remainers.
It’s a mug’s game to attribute psychological malaise to political adversaries: first, the professionals themselves get it laughably wrong; second, most of us aren’t professionals; and third, it embraces the worst of ad hominem. Even so, over the next half-year or so, expect Remainers to roll out all sorts of ostensibly political analyses, making most sense as illuminating their mood-swings. So to what has come to be the customary lens to plot Remainer attitudes, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “seven stages of grief”: (1) shock, (2) denial, (3) anger, (4) bargaining, (5) guilt, (6) depression and (7) acceptance. Me, I’d say that Ms Kübler-Ross has earned her keep in illuminating the emotional odyssey of Remainers - friends, political figures, the media. In particular, three of her stages, denial, anger and depression, cast light on the daffier things they say.
Denial After the referendum we heard several - how best to characterise them? eruptions of dismay. These included:
1. Parliament will reverse the referendum result.
2. An economic collapse will cause the voters to experience “buyer’s remorse”.
3. The UK can't assemble the skills to negotiate.
4. Boris will disgrace himself.
5. May's government will split.
All of this turns out wrong with just one or two residual echoes: Lords Heseltine and Mandelson lead a crew to promote buyers’ remorse - tub-thumping stuff but not likely to come to much over the Article 50 period; Johnson’s diplomatic ups and downs still attract critical hyperbole. Overall, however, it’s proven so much baloney as to make its proponents look dopey.
Anger Here we should distinguish between anger as a personal style - hot words, cancelled invitations- and anger as a Kübler-Ross stage, where I see a couple of instances.
6. The vote opens the door to a descent into racism. We do not have records for the current year, but the trend was already on the up: there were 62,518 hate crime offences recorded in 2015/16 in England and Wales compared to 52,465 the previous year. Anecdotally however, despite hyperbolic reports since the referendum, Britons continue to rub along, with (for example) contained public and private responses to the recent Westminster killings.
7. Those objecting to immigration levels are bound to be disappointed as it is economically essential or for other reasons unstoppable. Here it is too soon to be certain about the outcome, but the principle is clear: whatever the numbers, they will be a consequence of UK decisions.
Depression Five dismal themes predominate- sometimes with palpable Schadenfreude - with the first four now so hard to believe as once again to make their advocates look daft.
8. The EU holds all the negotiating cards.
9. No one will want to negotiate FTAs with us.
10. The WTO won't cooperate with us.
11. If there is no transition there will be chaos.
Brussels has too many problems of its own to act the bully. Indeed, the Treasury sees Tusk’s guidelines as surprisingly positive, with a roadmap to withdrawal and transition agreements and a bridge to a full FTA. Meanwhile, many countries have declared their wish to deal with us promptly and the advent of Trump has made the WTO even keener to push things along. Those making arguments to the contrary show up as misery merchants once again. Now to the final tragic theme.
12. There will be chaos anyway. This is worth attention but the worry is never clear: queues at Dover, empty supermarket shelves, lost public revenues, or busted private balance sheets. We understand that DExEU and HMRC are on it, engaging with their counterparts over the channel. Admittedly, HMRC is not helped by simultaneously introducing new clearance systems. Even so, a combo of additional resources for systems and education plus temporary regulatory forbearance should do the trick.
Leavers should grant Remainers every right to fight their corner - strut their stuff on the Today programme, corral High Tables, haunt the Lobbies. By the same token, their outlook fairly attracts scrutiny, to test if still tethered to one of Kübler-Ross’s seven stages, if still so deranged by grief as to qualify for a pinch of salt.
Remainers are right to spot that May’s shopping list is challenging: for Brexit to mean Brexit, she needs minimal EU survivals, no chaos and maybe a trophy deal. Her Majesty's Government (which is likely to look different after a post election reshuffle) must balance Tusk’s opening helpfulness with his expectations of ECJ jurisdiction, freedom of movement and financial contributions beyond the 2020 elections. This is a big ask. But if Remainers insist that these demolish Brexit, we can take comfort from their record: so far they’ve been wrong on everything else.