Kenny MacAskill: Brexit’s intellectuals show they’re as inept as Boris

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“Have cake and eat it” blustered the bold Brexiteers almost two years ago. Captured on a scribbled note by the prying eyes of a long camera lens, it spelt out the complacency surrounding those newly empowered by their referendum victory.

Not for them any magnanimity or recognition that negotiations with the EU, let alone other nations would be far from easy. A deal would be “the easiest in history”, according to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, while his then counterpart at the Brexit Department, David Davis, apparently did not think he required notes at his first meeting with the EU delegation. The eloquent and multilingual Monsieur Barnier wouldn’t be a match for our bold boys who’d soon show him what for, or so they confidently assumed.

Boris Johnson seems a bit down in the dumps as he watches England play India at cricket (Picture: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson seems a bit down in the dumps as he watches England play India at cricket (Picture: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images

But, look what’s happened? Not only can’t they keep someone else’s cake, but it’s evident that they don’t even possess a recipe to make a cake of their own.

That has been displayed in it all its crassness as Boris Johnson and the other Brexiteers have failed to put forward any coherent plan as an alternative to the Chequers deal they so vehemently, if belatedly, decried.

With Johnson even describing the Chequers plan as a “suicide vest” strapped around the UK, you’d have thought an alternative strategy would have been outlined. Instead, it was simply described as being “worse than the status quo” and no credible counter proposals have been outlined.

Yet, according to him and his partners in crime, membership of the EU means the UK is a vassal state where millions that could be spent on the health service are poured into the coffers of Brussels bureaucrats. That, after all, was what we were told during the referendum and we have been berated with similar arguments ever since. So, what could possibly be worse than remaining in the EU? Apparently, to them it now appears that the Chequers plan actually trumps it.

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This is despite Chequers being lauded by other arch Brexiteers, including Dominic Raab, who was given David Davis’ Cabinet post to deliver it, and Theresa May apparently seeking to deliver the supposed “people’s will”, even putting her premiership on the line over it.

So, the same complacency and arrogance that they’ve displayed throughout continues. To be fair, there has been slightly less buffoonery and jocularity from Johnson. Perhaps, it’s a sign that growing public revulsion at his open chicanery is making him slightly more subdued, though he remains utterly shameless in his pursuit of power.

His colleagues have also been less bullish with references to D-Day or the glory days of the Empire replaced by a stiff-upper-lip fortitude of Brits of old, whether through the Blitz or other times of hardship. Now it’s more a case of “It’ll be all right on the night” than the “Great British Bake Off”.

For the truth of the matter is that the Brexiteers have no more clue now how they intend to deliver their Free Trade Utopia than they did at the outset. It was then and remains now highly theoretical, ignoring the practicalities of international trade rules and the realpolitik of international relations.

Earlier this week Johnson and his political ilk deferred to their gurus masquerading as “Economists for Free Trade”. However, the supposedly intellectual wing of the Brexit Movement was as inept and devoid of strategy as the political one.

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Far from producing a heavyweight tomb that would put most folk to sleep but shine a light for a national strategy, they turned out to be as full of the same vacuous rhetoric as their colleagues, coming up with a question-and-answer document full of banalities. For example, “wouldn’t WTO rules inevitably lead to tariff and other trade barriers ... and a reduction in trade?” was answered with “not in the long term”. “Won’t prices go up?” was countered with “no, in the long term they’ll go down”. Hardly enlightening, never mind reassuring, for those worried if their jobs will still be here and how long they might have to suffer until stability returns, let alone the glory days restored.

Their report was equally bereft of ideas about specific challenges for farming, finance and trade. People working in those sectors will hardly be content that “in the short-term speed bumps may be encountered”.

The “bumps” might be larger than this suggests given comments by the boss of Jaguar Land Rover, who has warned tens of thousands of jobs in the automotive industry, which employs 40,000 people, could be lost if May fails to reach a deal with the EU.

Chequers is deeply flawed and delusional – given the attitude already taken by the EU – but a no-deal Brexit would be even worse, truly calamitous. Those who have already lied to us about the negotiations continue to do so about the outcome of their failures.

Suggestions that resorting to a WTO position is almost akin to resorting to the status quo that exists globally are truly fantastical. No other country operates that way, let alone one with a developed economy that is dependent not just on trade in goods but in services.

Compounding that we’re not even members of the WTO as it’s the EU who currently are. Given Liam Fox’s inability to strike separate trade deals even that might be called into question! What an unmitigated disaster; even Chequers appears more coherent.

The model idolised by those free market theoreticians is akin to that which was unleashed in Chile in the 1980s. Suggestions that some South American miracle was created there are utterly fictitious. A land that was already highly educated and rich in natural resources saw privatisation let rip and inequality was suddenly rocket-fuelled. Social and economic harm was done and the “fruitloop” American gurus behind it were swiftly sent packing.

That one of the leading Brexiteer theoreticians was a big supporter of the poll tax says it all. The UK hasn’t suffered a military coup, simply a soft political one engineered by a small oligarchy of the super-rich who funded those who have lied and cheated us to the edge of disaster. As with Chile, the social and economic well-being of the nation is now threatened.

“Let them eat cake” said Marie Antoinette to the sans-culottes seeking bread. We should be so lucky, Brexiteers can’t even offer that.