Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. – Winston Churchill after El-Alamein, 1942
SO HOW is it for you? The Tory press is in raptures and plainly barring some spectacular disaster, the UK-EU trade deal – all 1,246 pages of it – will be passed into law by Parliament next week. Predictably, almost all the commentary so far has concentrated on the technocratic aspects. However, partly because most TCW readers have no doubt read copious amounts of such copy, and partly because there are much bigger issues around Brexit to consider, this blog will limit observations on such matters. Firstly, by noting that it would be churlish not to recognise the significant achievements of the British negotiating team given the hand that was dealt them. Secondly, that the betrayal of fishing is still sickening both on economic and environmental grounds: a phased return of a minimum of 35 per cent of EU-held quotas and far stricter controls of fishing methods in British waters should have been an absolute minimum to avoid No Deal.
Now, let us turn to the wider implications for our society. Firstly, it is an absolute scandal that so little time is being given to the legislature to analyse the deal in its entirety, and that will no doubt come back to bite us in the future when glaring differences in interpretation of the texts emerge. Given Parliament’s previously appalling behaviour over Brexit, there is a certain rough justice about this snub from the executive, but it also shows that for all the hoo-ha about finally taking back control, our system of government fundamentally remains a shamocratic one in desperate need of reform.
Furthermore, from the social conservative viewpoint the psychological and cultural implications of Brexit remain far more important than this or that trade deal. Both before and after the referendum, the question of Leave or Remain was a proxy war for much larger questions of identity, globalism, and cultural malaise that were largely tangential to EU membership. The decision to leave was, in the words of Brexit heroine Gisela Stuart, an ‘unfrozen moment’: the British people had taken an enormous psychological leap of faith, and properly exploited it could have been used to fix all sorts of social ills.
Instead, we have gone dramatically backwards: Covid has left us a risk-averse, controlled and cowed society, mentally in very bad shape to make the best of the new freedoms that Brexit was supposed to give us. Apart from the obvious need to throw off the yoke of the authoritarian Covid-state, we will need to become comfortable living with risk again, and in that regard successfully coming out of a No Deal Brexit would arguably have been psychologically better for us than the managed technocratic Brexit being delivered.
Moreover, the deal itself may have a psychological cost greater than the legal strictures contained within it. Granted, we may be out of the clutches of the ECJ, but the EU has previously proved very adept at interpreting the high-flown nebulous language it deliberately includes in such agreements as iron laws to leverage to its own advantage. Desperate for Brexit to fail, one can see, for example, how it could use the deal’s lofty aspirations concerning climate change to attempt to stymie virtually any British divergence on standards. Consequently, if our leaders are forced into the cognitive trap of viewing any potential course of action through the prism whether ‘Europe’ will object, then mentally we will have escaped the EU prison only to find ourselves permanently on parole. Boris Johnson states that he would be prepared to rip up the agreement if the EU pursue such a course, but I doubt after his failure to defend the fishermen they will believe him.
Finally, we come to the biggest issue facing not just Britain but all Western societies today: cultural malaise. It has myriad causes and symptoms, not least amongst them the rise of identity politics and the aggressive cultural Marxist attack on our institutions. Although our subsummation into the EU was significant in weakening our sense of self and thus made such attacks easier, leaving the EU is not in itself enough to defeat them. Instead, Brexit must be used as a springboard for a new and assertive cultural narrative. In this regard Britain is exceptionally fortunate, having on hand an island story as a great maritime trading nation that can be made to appeal to both tradition and modernity. Whether consciously or not, ultras on both sides of the culture war seemed to sense this: for socially conservative Brexiteers, the issue of fishing became totemic as a symbol of a maritime, trading rebirth; one suspects it was fear of a culturally conservative revival that led the hard Left to use ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a way of smearing British history and cut any such revival off at the knees.
In all the sound and fury surrounding the UK-EU trade deal during the past few days, it is understandable that such cultural conversations have been largely absent. However, it would be the ultimate irony of Brexit if they were to remain so for very long; if the economic gains from the liberal, trading side of this great endeavour eclipsed its much more profound socially conservative and cultural aspects. Such a Brexit would merely delay, rather than reverse, national decline. For social conservatives, the fight goes on.