Celebrating your enemys hubris may be fun, but its also a distraction from building strong post-EU alliances
The moment of clarity self-loathing swinging pendulum-style into self-forgiveness came while I was reading ComputerWeekly.com. This is not my regular browsing material. I am not sufficiently interested in computers to need even a quarterly bulletin. Id got there via Twitter, directed by someone probably just like me metropolitan remoaner, also not interested in computers for the headline: Almost three-quarters of tech workers thinking of leaving the UK after Brexit.
Obvious negative consequences of Brexit the weakling pound, the brain drain, the needless, gargantuan cost, the clumsy, gaffer-taped shanty town set to replace the EUs architecture, the almighty ball ache of going on holiday with a pompous navy passport fill me with grim delight. I track them like a new hobby: national-catastrophe-bird-watching.
It is partly I-told-you-so. It is partly relief that, however much lazy, airy, neo-imperialist insouciance abounds, real-life actions still have real-life, observable consequences. It is partly outrage at the injustice, that a campaign built on falsehood narrowly persuaded the nation to sign a blank piece of paper, upon which its leaders now write whatever nonsense pleases them. Gina Miller said at the weekend: Im not anti-Brexit, Im anti-lies. Im anti-both; indeed, I think the two are indivisible. While it would have been possible to build a case for leave without lying, thats not what happened, and it would be needlessly generous to separate the outcome from the actions.
And its partly that dissent never felt more vital than when Theresa May commanded that it cease. It is partly just funny: each fresh disaster a satirical, faintly surreal release from the determined humourlessness of the march to Brexit. The Germans would have an intoxicating compound noun for these impulses, but our nation has overwhelmingly spoken. We dont need any more of their words, or at least, not as much as they need ours.
This has to stop. It may be the Brexiters who shot us in the foot, but were all the same body politic and well all feel the same pain. We cannot rejoice in their chaos and failure at the same time as building constructive, post-EU, pan-European alliances, any more than a person can whistle and cry at the same time; they use different muscle groups, the one gates off the other.
When Jean-Claude Juncker and May have a falling-out, to ignore his part in the sorry affair while disapproving of our prime ministers conduct is wrong. Thats not because its unpatriotic I applaud the triumph of sense over nationalism but because it is idle. He doesnt embody important values any more than she does: any tact, any compromise, any maturity, any urgent care for the people whose lives this posturing will affect.
Juncker may be the enemy of an enemy, but he is also her mirror: self-importance is the main quality he brings to bear on an issue in which the self couldnt be less important. Never mind the optics of allying with a technocrat against your national interest: worrying about appearances feels rather noughties, these days, like fretting about a manifesto in post-manifesto politics. It is a discursive backwater to revel in Mays unpreparedness, her puffed-up anti-diplomacy. It holds us all in an adversarial limbo, where we can only be overtaken by events and never get ahead of them.
At some point, businesses on the continent and those in the UK, people whose supply chains have always complemented one anothers, people who depend on one another, are going to start clamouring for more adult leadership than We drink all your prosecco. So ner. Sooner or later and demonstrably sooner, as in right now cross-border law enforcement is going to need a cooperative system that will not just approximate but better what weve had until now.
The cyber-attack on NHS computer systems is a fine stick to beat the Conservatives with persistent underfunding scotched any hope of the modernisation that could have prevented it. Yet given that we are just one of more than 100 countries affected, the only meaningful lesson here is the urgency of building new structures to pool international expertise.
While we wring our hands about the surge of far-right politics here and in the US, were failing to learn from Europes resilience to it not just the electoral defeat of extremists in Austria, France and the Netherlands, but the creative new left of Spains Podemos and Denmarks The Alternative. Its as if our domestic strife is so intoxicating to us, its arguments so compelling, that we cannot look beyond it to make the connections were going to need if were ever going to carve out some post-EU internationalism.
Perhaps that sounds defeatist, allowing Brexit to be a foregone conclusion without any clear sense of how destructive it will be. But even if you make it your crusade for parliament or better yet, the people to get the final say over the deal when its finally thrashed out, you need to have built the networks, had the conversations, refined the ideas and scoped out the possibilities for what you want instead of whatever desultory document is put before us.
In a surprise move, three days before the French election, the Greek firebrand Yanis Varoufakis came out in support of the centrist Emmanuel Macron. It was a shock because Macron stands for much that Varoufakis expressly abhors labour market deregulation, reduction of wealth taxes. And their bond came from an unexpected twist of eurozone history Macron, billed as a staunch supporter of the troika and its wisdom, was the only politician to lobby in Greeces favour against the imposition of austerity measures. He was overruled by the then French president Franois Hollande, who, as a noted socialist, should have been on Greeces side, but ultimately preferred the safety of being on Angela Merkels.
The lesson here is not that we all have to knuckle down and accept a new centrism, as defined by whatever photogenic hotshot the universe delivers. Rather, its that sometimes to think critically and creatively about a problem, whether its Greek debt or Britains place in the world, you need to forget which side youre on. You need to turn away from entrenched differences and concentrate on common causes. You need to stop looking inwards to your opponents, and start looking outwards for allies.