Euan McColm: Brexit more chilling than anything from ‘Project Fear’

Dominic Raab listens as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, pours cold water on the customs plan in the UK government's white paper. Photograph:  Olivier Matthys/AP
Dominic Raab listens as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, pours cold water on the customs plan in the UK government's white paper. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/AP
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The picture painted by the cabinet’s Brexit cheerleader is more chilling than anything Project Fear could dream up, writes Euan McColm.

‘Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”


The opening line of JG Ballard’s novel High Rise, a vision of a dystopian world in which once sane and rational people descend into animalistic behaviour, could have been written for our times, could it not?

More than 40 years after Ballard published what the Financial Times described as “a commentary on the hideous possibilities of advanced technology and the rat-like nature of trapped human beings”, his words have a deeply depressing resonance.

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No, we are not yet reduced to the stage where the family pet might become dinner, but the reassurance – if we can call it that – from the recently appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, that the government will ensure there is “adequate food” in the event of a no-deal Brexit, should chill us to the bone.

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The United Kingdom, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, is already horribly diminished by Brexit even before the mission is completed.

The anger of people, exploited by right-wing ideologues and racists, threatens to turn us into a nation on its knees.

Leading Brexiteers – the wide boys and hucksters who so skilfully exploited public fears over immigration to help the Leave campaign to a narrow victory in the 2016 referendum – are fond of describing any warning about the downside of Brexit as part of “Project Fear”. Of course, the sky won’t fall in, they say, in fact the post-Brexit future will be nothing but sunshine and charabanc trips to the seaside.

Yet Raab is one of them. He is another snake oil salesman who argued passionately that Brexit would be great for the British economy. We’d be freed up to trade “more energetically” with Latin America and Asia. Brexit would, he reckoned, be good for job creation and cut prices in stores.

And there he was, last week, having won the pitiful little victory so cherished by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and any number of political thugs whose destructive ideology will harm the poorest while leaving their cosseted, privileged lives untouched, having to reassure us that there would be “adequate food”.

Consider those two words. The picture they paint is not of a bright, reinvigorated UK but of a nation barely getting by.

Raab, who as a statesman would make an excellent Tory villain in a bad Edinburgh Festival Fringe play, is not part of “Project Fear”, he is a Brexit zealot caught in the headlights, forced to confront the reality created by his political victory. He should have burned with shame as he made his pathetic promise that, well, he’d make sure that if the worst came to the worst we wouldn’t all starve.

Equally dystopian was Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision – now put on hold – to waive the usual demand that the death sentence would not be applied in trials overseas when the UK assists in the prosecution.

The individuals at the centre of this particular case – alleged Isis murderers Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – may, indeed, be the most despicable of men. The crimes of which they are accused – the torture and murder of innocents – may turn our stomachs and make our blood boil. But the United Kingdom abolished the death penalty because it was barbaric and that decision cannot suddenly be qualified. There can be no caveat that says we are against the death penalty with the following exceptions…

Javid’s decision that the UK should turn a blind eye in the case of the suspects, who if they are found guilty should rot in prison for the rest of their wretched lives, was a matey little wink to the far right.

That he was forced to change his mind not by examination of the moral virtue of his decision but by the threat of legal action by relatives of the men currently held by the United States tells us that the Home Office is run by a populist who simply does not take seriously enough the responsibilities with which he is charged.

Few would weep over the execution of men whose inhumanity led them to commit the sort of atrocities of which Kotey and Elsheikh are accused, but that simply does not justify Javid’s course of action. A home secretary must, surely, rise about the very basest instincts which may dwell inside is. A home secretary – any senior political figure, for that matter – must rise above the mob or else we can only go backwards.

The United Kingdom is sliding towards a future that resembles the darkest days of our recent past; one where progress and co-operation are unfashionable and cruel xenophobia is all the bloody rage.

And while the worst of the Tory right drags the country into a world of “adequate food” and acceptable executions, the Labour Party does nothing.

Activists campaign to have Nigel Farage removed from his radio show on LBC (here’s a hint – that’s not going 
to work) instead of trying to put the brakes on a Brexit that is going to harm the very people the party purports to protect.

Oh, say members of Jeremy Corbyn’s coterie, the people have spoken and their decision must be respected. This may be so but there is nothing so far as I can see to prevent the opposition making the point that victory for the Leave campaign was secured by intellectually fraudulent means.

The message on the side of the bus said we could spend £350 million a week on the NHS if we voted Leave not that there would be “adequate food”.

Won’t someone try to pull the UK out of this spiral, this twisting descent which will, as each painful new reality hits us, only play further into the hands of the extremists who have brought us to this sorry pass?

As I sit here, reflecting on the unusual events that have taken place over the last few days, I yearn for adequate politicians.