There can be few people who have not at some stage in their lives felt that they had been “taken for a ride” or conned. Yet that, I think, will be the dawning realisation of a fair proportion of the 37% of the electorate who – without, in most cases, having the faintest idea of the implications – voted on 23 June 2016 to leave the European Union.
Now, usually, if one is conned, it is over some relatively minor matter in the great scheme of things, and one learns one’s lesson. But when a significant part of a country is taken for a ride, it cannot be dismissed as a trivial matter from which it can easily recover.
Such, I believe, is the condition of the UK at the moment. I read all this stuff about “Teflon Johnson” – a prime minister upon whom the sun never sets and to whom no accusation sticks, however justified. And I know that the Brexiters are having a “cloth of gold” day, loving the fact that the understandable obsession with the Plague is obscuring the damage being caused by Brexit – damage which is not obscure to the thousands of small and medium-sized businesses whose very future is at stake, many of which are having to set up operations within – guess what – the EU’s single market.
Neither will it be at all obscure, when the Covid restrictions are eventually eased, to a whole generation of young people who have grown up enjoying the freedom to travel, take Erasmus scholarships and work anywhere in the EU.
At times of national crisis, it pays to listen to the great playwrights. Writing in the New Statesman, David Hare makes the point that the real culprits in the Brexit fiasco are not the “red wall” victims of an austerity-induced discontent wrongly attributed to our membership of the EU. No: they are comfortably off members of an influential elite. Hare writes: “The people who were desperate to pull Britain away from its geographical moorings were as likely to be found in Knightsbridge as in Hartlepool. The leader of the