The secret history of modern Britain is made in obscure corners between men and women taken seriously by no one but themselves. A good time to begin it would be in the winter of 2013/14 when the Institute of Economic Affairs, a rightist outfit that won’t reveal where its money comes from, offered a €100,000 prize to whoever could devise a means of leaving the European Union.
The reason why politicians are now stumbling towards disaster like prisoners marching to the scaffold ought to have been clear from that moment. Obviously, Britain can leave the EU, but only if it is willing to pay an extortionate price. Yet first the institute’s judges, led by Nigel Lawson and Gisela Stuart, then the Leave campaigns of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Dominic Cummings and, finally, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, who even now cannot speak plainly, have refused to acknowledge the harsh truth.
As if to anticipate their failings, the winning entry came from a minor functionary in the British embassy in Manila by the name of Iain Mansfield. He brushed away the difficulties of leaving the EU and offered us our first helping of unicorn cake. Britain, he declared, could enjoy the free movement of capital and goods in the single market, he announced, but stop the free movement of labour.
His triumph marked an ominous moment. Until 2013, even rightwing politicians accepted that they could not have the best of all possible worlds. [Continue reading…]