As well as enough money to build a new hospital every week post-Brexit, the Leave campaign promised to relieve the NHS of the pressure it is put under by 'health tourism' and the arrival in Britain of hundreds of thousands of public-service-hungry migrants each year. It now seems the NHS is as unlikely to benefit from restrictions on EU immigration to Britain as it is to receive an extra £350 million a week. The amount that would be saved by not treating EU migrants would make no dent in the NHS’s financial problems, while a lack of EU workers would mean fewer staff on overworked NHS wards.
Reactions to the Chilcot Report suggest that the only remaining argument for the Iraq War is that criticism rests on hindsight. Tony Blair explained that he invaded the country 'in good faith', as if that somehow excuses the catastrophe that followed. General Sir Mike Jackson shrugged off responsibility for British soldiers blown up in inadequately armoured vehicles by observing that their fate was unforeseeable: ‘we'll never know,’ he said, if any died unnecessarily. Listening to the deflections of blame, I was reminded of a scholar whose work Tony Blair has long admired. Philip Bobbitt warned in 2004 that the war's critics were making a basic philosophical error. He called it ‘Parmenides' Fallacy’: the mistaken attempt to assess a situation 'by measuring it against the past, as opposed to comparing it to other possible present states of affairs’. The argument sounded clever when I first read it, but not for long.
In the run up to the EU referendum, the Leave campaign promised that a funding bonanza for the NHS would be one of the many benefits of leaving the EU. Official Leave campaign posters notoriously pledged that £350 million a week would be used to fund the NHS instead of being sent to Brussels. Now it seems that Brexit will deliver the opposite of what was promised: instead of gaining £350 million a week, the NHS will be making a loss of £365 million a week by 2030, according to a new Health Foundation report. And that’s the optimistic outlook, based on an assumption that the UK will be allowed to join the European Economic Area. If it’s excluded from the EEA, the NHS in 2030 may be running a deficit of £540 million a week.
Two days after the Brexit vote, a woman in Barnsley, with a tear in her eye, told Channel 4 News that her ‘parents and grandparents fought for England to be free and it was about time we came back to be free.’ The referendum allowed for the inflation of a rhetoric that the people of the United Kingdom have no right to employ. The insufferable Nigel Farage suggested that 23 June should be celebrated as the UK’s ‘independence day’. When was the last time the British were colonised? At which point in the history of colonialism were the British the enslaved rather than the slavers? Unhomely post-referendum England has made me think of home, the place I haven’t lived since I was 18 years old.
I'd love to be closer to Sarah Vine. Not just because she's married to Michael Gove, though I'm as interested as everyone else in his very uncertain career prospects. The degree of support she's given his twin campaigns to undermine the European Union and Boris Johnson has made me almost pruriently curious about her own power. And her weekly column for the Daily Mail, though revealing in its way, doesn't illuminate enough. It’s padded out with domestic anecdotes, to be sure, but they come with too many platitudes and skincare tips for my taste. But a significant social opportunity has just opened up – because last week, Sarah (I feel I can now call her that) reached out on Facebook.
The Polish Social and Cultural Association on King Street in Hammersmith was daubed with racist graffiti at the weekend. I went to school just up the road, and take the attack on the Polish club more personally than I can explain.
The blind man is still playing his tin whistle during rush hour at Green Park station and all the streets look the same, but the inner mental map I have of the world, the one that places me in a network of structures and institutions, has gone. The chain of associations I grew up with – me, London, England, United Kingdom, Europe – has buckled. Simple language loses meaning: What does ‘out’ actually mean? Or ‘in’? Or ‘the UK’?
There are a lot of people who at some point supported Jeremy Corbyn, but are now saying ‘with a heavy heart’ – always with a heavy heart – that he has to go. I would like to ask them to think one more time about this: to ask themselves why they supported him in the first place, and what has changed.
The legal problems arising from the EU referendum need to be distinguished from the political ones. One thing is clear: the referendum itself had no more legal effect – either within the United Kingdom or on the UK’s legal relations with the European Union – than a straw poll of your friends (or mine). The UK is still a member of the EU and has not, legally, indicated its desire to leave the Union. The political consequences are quite another matter, and may well lead to exit from the EU.
It took about as long for Roy Hodgson’s whole world to fall apart as it did for David Cameron’s. The evening began full of false promise and hubristic talk of the tougher challenges ahead. The early Rooney penalty seemed to confirm that there was nothing to worry about, just like those fake exit polls showing Remain comfortably ahead. The betting markets tightened. Then, in rapid succession, came the double blow: it was 12 minutes from Sigurdsson’s equaliser to Sigthorsson’s second; 16 minutes from the result in Newcastle showing the two sides neck and neck to the result from Sunderland showing Leave alarmingly ahead.
To supplement my freelance writing income, I started working as a waitress in the staff restaurant of the News Building in London Bridge a few months after it was renamed by Rupert Murdoch (it used to be known as the Baby Shard) and inaugurated by Boris Johnson. If I managed to ignore the curry-stained newspapers with their anti-immigration front pages while clearing the lunch, I could finish a shift with my dignity largely intact. We had a half-hour break, more than the twenty minutes required by law. Most people were nice – including, I suppose, the writers of anti-immigration copy. Nearly everyone employed in the restaurant was foreign, and most of us were European (there was one Londoner on what must have been the most boring gap year in history). My manager was Italian. The hospitality industry is the largest employer of EU-born workers in Britain; 94 per cent of them would fail to meet the visa requirements for non-EU nationals.
Boris Johnson uses today's Telegraph to trail what will doubtless become a leadership bid, and his agenda for post-referendum Britain contains some remarkable claims. Not in the form of proposals, but by its lack of them. If Johnson has his way, Brexit is going to involve inactivity on an industrial scale. He envisions a 'balanced and humane points-based' immigration system, but that’s for the extremely indeterminate future – and everyone can meanwhile look forward to 'intense and intensifying' co-operation with Europe, and opportunities to live, travel, work and study on the continent just as they please. British businesses will enjoy uninterrupted 'access to the single market'. The only apparent change, which will happen 'in no great rush', will be the UK's 'extrication' from the European Union's 'extraordinary and opaque system of legislation: the vast and growing corpus of law enacted by a European Court of Justice from which there can be no appeal’. The programme sounds so laid back that it's tempting to wonder why we committed national hara-kiri in the first place. But Johnson’s proposals obscure a lunge for power as disingenuous as it is opportunistic.
In the address she delivered to the College of Europe in Bruges in September 1988, Margaret Thatcher introduced her notion of the European super-state and why Britain should see it as a threat. 'We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain,' she said, 'only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one's own country; for these have been the source of Europe's vitality through the centuries.’
There hasn’t been much rejoicing on the winning side of the EU referendum. How many of them must have spent the weekend thinking: ‘Fuck, what have we done?’ As the pound plummets, Cameron falls on his sword, a clown is set to take over, Corbyn (the only one who put a rational case for the EU, if only the press had bothered reporting it) is stabbed by the Brutuses in his own party, the UK breaks up, region turns against region and generation against generation. I’m embarrassed meeting young people now; I ought to get a badge: ‘I may be an old fart, but I voted Remain.’
The only thing we can say for certain in the immediate aftermath of the referendum is that David Cameron will be remembered as one of the worst prime ministers we’ve ever had: at once ignorant of his own people and reckless with their lives. And yet I don’t entirely blame the Tories for the disaster they’ve set in train, even though the avoidable misery and cultural polarisation we are now seeing only tends to happen under Tory governments. Labour’s last period in office was the biggest missed opportunity since Thatcher’s decision to spend North Sea oil revenue on tax cuts and subsidising council house sales. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour sowed the seeds of the cynicism and anger that have propelled today’s result.
Why did he do it? Why take such a needlessly cavalier risk with the country’s future and his own? Maybe he thought his luck would hold. Well, it didn’t. It’s hard to see a path back to the European summit from here. Yes, facing Iceland rather than Portugal turns out to be a slice of good fortune. But then it’s likely to be France in the quarters, and if it comes to that Germany or Spain in the semis. The final seems a very long way off. And all because Hodgson took a gamble against Slovakia, in the mistaken belief that he was in control of his own destiny. I never had Hodgson down as a Cameron-style chancer.
In January I outlined a nine-stage process by which David Cameron's premiership could end within the year. The referendum's timing excepted, that has turned out much as predicted. Cameron's translation from PM to dogmeat is complete. The referendum campaign has been a Conservative leadership primary, and the blond populist has come out top dog.
Three weeks after the Berlin Wall opened up on 9 November 1989, I made my way from London to Prague, anxious to catch a revolutionary wave that seemed about to ebb. Within days, I had decided to stay. I was 25. A publishing company, tentatively imagining that a few adventurous Westerners might one day explore Europe's post-Communist wastelands, offered me a pittance to write a guidebook. It was a deal too good to refuse, and three years of pen-chewing ensued. But writing was never the priority. The city was a party.
Aristotle identifies three types of 'proof' in public argument: logos, pathos and ethos, or reason, emotion and character. You wonder what'd he'd have made of the referendum campaign. From the get-go it's been a bad-argument Olympiad, marked by fallacious claims, scaremongering and self-parody.
The verities of British politics – its stability, temperance and perceived permanence – are rapidly dissolving. Up to 70 per cent of those who voted Tory last May could be about to vote against the express wishes of the government, in the process forcing David Cameron to resign. If Britain remains in the European Union it will be largely thanks to Labour voters. Yet as many as 45 per cent of them could vote to leave tomorrow, and Brexit high command has been actively seeking their votes for months. Iain Duncan-Smith, who has said nothing about pay over the last six years, recently blamed stagnant wages on immigration. The most prominent Brexit arguments increasingly aren’t about competition or red tape, but protecting the NHS, improving access to council housing and increasing wages – even though leaving the EU wouldn’t help with any of those issues. Talk of ‘Red Ukip’ – a combination of social conservatism and anti-elite populism – came to nothing at the last general election, but it is now the default politics of the leave campaign.
In a letter to his constituents published in the Spectator during the 1975 referendum campaign on the UK's membership of the Common Market, Tony Benn outlined five 'basic democratic rights' that were 'fundamentally altered by Britain’s membership of the European Community'. The fifth of them was the right of citizens to dismiss our political masters. As the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, put it last year, 'there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.' Nowhere is this more obvious than in Juncker's Commission, the body that governs EU affairs without needing a parliamentary majority. Effective power devolves on the commission and Brussels's smoothly oiled lobby-go-round.
Brexiteers like to frame Europe’s relationship to the UK as one of empire to colonial subject, as if the campaign to leave the EU were equivalent to some sort of glorious war of decolonisation. Of all the referendum debate’s many absurd arguments, this – presenting Boris Johnson as the reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi – may be the most absurd: especially coming from a country that used to have a real empire and really ought to know the difference. But maybe that’s the point.
In 2011, Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference that the Human Rights Act needed to be restricted. One of the examples she gave of its alleged excesses was an ‘illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat’. Except she was making it up, or at least grossly exaggerating one small part of a case into its entire rationale. In March 2013, she created another stir by suggesting that the next Tory election manifesto should include a promise to dump the European Court of Human Rights. This forced old school Conservatives such as Kenneth Clarke to defend the Strasbourg body – which was just what she wanted, as it would make them more unpopular with Europhobic Tory voters, while boosting her own Eurosceptic credentials. May’s speech on Brexit earlier this week needed some xenophobic noise to camouflage her pro-EU stance in the referendum campaign; human rights were once again her target.
Sweden’s relationship with the EU is almost as problematic as Britain’s. It only joined in 1995 – 25 years after the UK – and on the basis of a pretty narrow popular vote. At the same time, Norway voted to stay out. Like the UK, Sweden has spurned the euro. The bigger political parties are all pro-Europe. Sweden used to have a party like Ukip, known as Junilistan (‘June List’), which won 15 per cent of the vote in the 2004 European elections, but has withered away since. A recent opinion poll put its support at 0.3 per cent. There’s also a Folkrörelse (‘People’s Movement’) opposed to EU membership on mainly socialist grounds. The Vänsterpartiet (‘Left Party’, ex-communist) is anti-Europe. The right-wing Sverigedemokraten’s policy is to renegotiate the terms of Sweden’s membership, rather than to leave. The Greens are swithering.
'I sometimes argue with my friend Heathcote Williams about his use of pornography as a means of attacking his political enemies,' Francis Wyndham wrote in the first issue of the LRB (25 October 1979): It seems to me an irrelevant weapon in any context, and in the hands of a man with Heathcote’s anarchistic, optimistic, nearly utopian convictions it becomes puzzlingly inconsistent. His polemical essays have been appearing, often unsigned, in the underground press over the past decade … They abound in fantastic, and often very funny, descriptions of the people he disapproves of (such as Mrs Thatcher, Enoch Powell, Ian Paisley, the Royal Family and Jesus Christ) engaged in eccentric forms of sexual intercourse. Williams's unsigned pamphlets still appear, forty years on, though there's less eccentric sex in them than there used to be. His latest is Boris Johnson: The Blond Beast of Brexit – A Study in Depravity.
In The View From Nowhere, Thomas Nagel describes his encounter with a large spider in a Princeton University urinal, from whose gutter it can't escape. Through the summer, the spider survives, even thrives, despite being urinated on 'more than a hundred times a day'. Finally Nagel takes pity and helps it climb out of the trough with a paper towel. Next day he finds the spider, exactly where he had left it, dead. The golden shower turns out to have been its lifeblood.
A couple of weeks in, the EU referendum campaign has already spawned material to rival the US presidentials’ fabliaux spun round General Pershing, and Donald Trump’s mythic dong. A top pick in the EU campaign so far is the Guardian’s profile of the illustrator Axel Scheffler, warning that The Gruffalo, by the British author Julia Donaldson and the German Scheffler, might not have existed had Britain Brexited. It's a clear ploy to shunt the votes of three-year-olds, if not their parents, towards Remain. ‘The Gruffalo is a British-German creative collaboration,’ Scheffler said, gesturing darkly towards the non-gruffalic nightmare that the EU has spared us.
Most newspapers and magazines these days (including, yes, the LRB) send out barrages of emails in their campaigns to lure readers into subscribing. Sometimes it's hard to tell, though, what exactly they want readers for, or what exactly it is they think they are offering them: 'news' hardly seems the word for a lot of it. Nothing wrong with taking a line, of course, but there's a difference between taking a line and crossing one. No prizes for guessing which paper sent out the following bundle of headlines. Rotherham child abuse gang leader wanted IVFPupils who go private get ahead by two yearsCity lawyer in court over ‘sex outside station’Peerages for Cameron supporters in EU referendum campaign‘Meddling’ Britain feels wrath of IranRefugees can be cleared from Jungle, French court decides
So it's 23 June for the EU referendum. This afternoon Cameron bigged up his foreseeably footling deal with Merkel and the Eurocrats, insisting that he'd secured the UK's special-snowflake status on ever-closer union, the Euro, in-work migrant benefits, the handbrake on EU laws. Dave had done his best to 'battle for Britain' – but the view from his own party seems to be that his best is still crap. In Britain's previous in/out poll, in 1975, the leavers fielded Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Peter Shore and Michael Foot, with Enoch Powell for political balance. This time the leavers' A-team is Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith and Nigel Lawson, balanced by George Galloway.
A slightly belated prediction for 2016: it’s as likely as not that by the year’s end David Cameron will no longer be prime minister. Well, less a prediction that a statement of probability. It rests on a series of further predictions: