Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Monday 26 November 2018

Brexit Blues: How dreams can become nightmares if you try to make them real

While I was writing I couldn’t get this out of my head. 

Some time ago this bunch of people had a crazy dream. They hated the union with the states all around them, and dreamt they could leave that union while still doing all the business they did before. They called themselves the Brexiteers, like the buccaneers of old. They were very good at telling stories from the past. Not much good at anything else.

To try and make their dream real the Brexiters told all the folks about it. But their dream got even better in the retelling. The hospitals would have more money, and keeping foreigners out would mean everything got better. People were told that the reason they felt powerless was because of the union and leaving would give them back control. They could be sovereign once again, independent once again. Those promises of the Brexiters became the Leave voters dream.

Some of the people can be wrong part of the time, or something like that.

The only trouble was that when the Brexiters tried to leave they found out that much of the business went away, and part of their land was in danger of falling back into war. They also discovered that any compromise that kept some business and held the peace was worse than staying where they were. They still had to obey the union’s rules without any say in what those rules were. As a result, some Brexiters quite rightly say that a compromise is worse than staying in.

In these circumstances it would seem crazy for people who were not Brexiters, and who hadn’t had their dream, and would have been quite happy where they were before the Brexiters had their dream and before all the people had been told about it, to now insist that we should go ahead with a compromise that even the Brexiters hated. Like a mother whose child wants to stay up late to watch something on TV, and after a row their mother insists on a compromise where the go to bed just as the programme starts. Nobody is happy, and it makes no sense.

But, but, but there was a referendum.

A funny thing happened after that. The leaders of the government decided they were going to make some of the people’s dream come true. We can make it real, they said. Some even pretended they had the same old dream. But when it came to the crunch of leaving they could only manage a deal that meant less money for hospitals, and less foreigners meant everyone was worse off. And far from gaining independence, they still had to follow the union’s rules but now with no say in what they were.

Even stranger was that leaders of the opposition were afraid to tell Leavers it was only a dream. We can make your dream come true, they said, by doing a better deal, but it would still be a bad deal: just more business for less independence. As time went on the people said are you crazy: you see what happened last time they started. It looked like few politicians had the courage to tell people it was just a dream, and that trying to make your dreams real can sometimes create real world nightmares.

The nightmare even had its own evil queen, who had made the deal that made everyone worse off. Before becoming queen she had a single task to perform which she had completely failed to fulfill but nevertheless had inflicted great harm trying, and now she was queen nothing would stop her from finally achieving that task, whatever the cost and whether people wanted it or not.

It was as if the politicians had said to the Leavers we will share your dream if you share ours. I said that.

Those who hadn’t had the Leavers dream or the Brexiters dream and who were not politicians looked on in horror as this real world nightmare unfolded before their eyes. Young people who had their own dreams of living abroad for a while had them denied. A once strong economy became weak as corporations started to leave. Some people from the union who had made this place their home were told to go home by people in the street, and others with families in the UK were told they couldn’t stay by the authorities. The rest of the world didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at what was happening here.

Well time passed and finally the day came when politicians had to decide whether to leave. The queen had a plan which many didn’t like. But they could not decide what to do instead. And the queen, being evil and all, had ensured that if they didn’t agree with her plan and couldn’t agree an alternative then there would be chaos. It is my plan or disaster she said. There was only one way out of this nightmare. Can enough of the politicians get it right just this once? The signs are that once again most will fail.


  1. Two years ago the British people voted 'Leave'; on a simply worded, easy to ascertain comprehension of taking back control. After several days of tinkering on tribulation created by the Tory Party, I’ve arrived to the conclusion Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit; but really means Tory Toxicity. And so I am taking back control of my sovereignty and others if they like and eloquently asking for a French passport – difficult times equate to different measures; as it appears Brexit has become more than a Referendum result; alas a conscious of its own accord.

  2. Unhappy ending
    The queen succeeded in her one task no more queue jumping migrants. She and her people hated them, bewitched by the tabloid fairy they were willing to pay any price (so they thought) to have less of them.
    They never believed they would be affected only the despised liberal elite who they believed hated them and Britain. The chaos came to the land, as people died in hospital and factories shut, a cold winter came to a hungry people.
    A new fairy appeared, its the capitalist fault, we. Need new fiscal rules complex new economic policies and we can have a new utopia. The old tabloid fairy reappeared having disappeared in the winter, if we had less foreigners there would be more food for everyone. This sounded sensible simple and appealing, was it not foreigners who got us into this mess. We could teach them a lesson said the fairy, Britain first. The more foreigners that were got rid of the more poor the people got, so the more foreigners had to be got rid of. Once they had gone the fairy said it’s rhe traitors, get rid of them and we live in plenty. This seemed a good idea, after all these people had preferred to try to save foreigners over British.


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