This post is from 2016: written a few weeks after that referendum. See how it strikes you today, in September 2020.

Divorce is Painful, Destructive, Angry & Absurd – and full of Attribution Errors

I wonder how many of those ‘guiding’ us in these negotiations have actually experienced divorce? Or forgotten 1989’s moral fable, ‘War of the Roses’?

According to our PM, banning migration and kicking out anyone we identify as ‘foreign’ will release loads of jobs for excluded British people around Brexit land, who will rush from their homes to take up opportunities of work. They won’t mind the zero-hours contracts, low wages, the boring or repetitious nature of the work. They won’t mind moving across country, their commute, unsocial hours, or dealing with unappreciative bosses & distraught customers. No, they’ll feel great to be included again! “This is what I dreamed of when I voted Leave,” they’ll say. All is well!

For the social psychologists among you, the Leave vote may be a classic example of ‘attribution error’. This is a tendency to place undue emphasis on an external agent, including assumptions about its characteristics & motivations, to explain a feeling or state of mind who’s origins may have little or nothing to do with that external agent.

In this case the agent is the EU, [or Brussels or foreigners, or all of these]. But the source of dissatisfaction, the de-industrialisation & abandonment of heartland Britain is not caused by the EU. In fact the EU has done what it can in the form of Regional Development Funds to correct and compensate for the degrading of once great regional communities and their traditional industries. Here you can see 19 projects that the EU has funded in Wales:

what has the EU ever done for us?

And here, something similar from the North Eastern zone of our Northern Powerhouse: EU funding to the North East

All over Britain people are distressed by crumbling cities, anodyne high streets, the struggle to get by, to find prosperity, meaning or pride in work. Surely it can’t be our own fault?

Who is to blame?

Our politicians, eager to avoid taking responsibility for failing their communities, point the finger at outsiders, specifically the EU, thus re-directing anger that should be directed at them to this external agent.  Because the EU does not exist as a simple phenomenon and it’s hard to hate an abstract idea, that anger quickly shifts onto people from EU countries.

It was the Tories – not the EU – who boasted that their austerity policy would put Britain right – and you may have voted for it! Recent research suggests austerity has not benefitted the UK.

Did austerity work?

There lingers among many in Britain a nostalgia for Middle England:

Middle England

Brexiteers’ recipe for our time is emerging: the notion that if we kick out the outsiders, then our natural state of grace will resume. A kind of exorcism – a primitive idea of redemption. A bit like the Paradise offered to suicide bombers.

Unfortunately, it is our own suicide that we are engineering. It just seems that outsiders, once eliminated, will take the problems with them. We have projected the rivalry & inequality between us onto outsiders, who now seem responsible for our ills.

The real reason for hard Brexit is vote grabbing by the Tories, attempting to sweep up disaffected Labour voters in the regions, together with the UKIP sympathisers who aren’t yet re-aligned. It remains to be seen whether this will mean more votes for the Conservatives. [Their majority of 80 in the 2019 general election suggests that it has worked.]

Those outside the grip of these wishes

can see more clearly. Alone we will be less connected, less interdependent, less reciprocal, less supported by neighbourly donations. Do you believe for a moment that the Tories are going to replace the Regional Development Funds?

What you have is suddenly going to be worth a lot less. Anything we buy in dollars or Euros – and that includes oil, energy, machines like cars and white goods, foods from abroad, will be costing 10% more by Christmas 2021 as the stocks are replenished at new post Brexit exchange rates. Your cheap holiday abroad in Spain or France will cost you 10-15% more – and you may be treated with similar indifference to that we have afforded their nationals in our country.

[If we fail to strike an agreement which looks increasingly likely in September 2020, WTO tariffs of between 10 and 15% are certain to accrue to goods – including food – from the EU.]

WTO Tariff data

There will be less resources to go round. The economy will shrink, the cost of Brexit will be enormous, the disruption to programmes will be huge, and the new laws will be 99% the old laws. [At the time of writing we could not anticipate that Brexit would be accompanied by the CV-19 pandemic.]

The press, almost wholly pro Brexit, will attempt to distort and diminish these effects, by blaming others and whipping up hatred, by now directed at local councils, health authorities, teachers, transport workers, and whenever feasible, the EU. The Unions will come in for their share of blame, and most will forget that EU workers and BAME communities form a large proportion of our front-line workers.

As things get worse the government may attempt to convince us all is well by ‘investment in infrastructure’ which they have been resisting for years. Infrastructure is expensive and politically dangerous [what do the places you are not investing in feel about it?] and the EU has an evolved a sophisticated process for spreading the necessary investment across its member states (called the Regional Development Programme from which the UK does well). We have no such practice or national programme here, so the money will follow egos and be used to cover dissolution with vanity projects.

why can’t we build more houses?

As we have learned, it is neither efficient nor value for money to invest in privatised industries for infrastructure projects. See the PFI contracts storm here for more:

PFI hospitals disasters

[I’ve chosen the Telegraph to illustrate this dilemma for a view from the right. Sources like the New Statesman and the Guardian are more critical still of PFI.]

Add to this a few vanity projects like HS2, now estimated at more than £106 billion to cut nine minutes from the journey time to Birmingham

Cost of HS2 explodes

Meanwhile, rising to the surface is a growing tide of resentments, fuelled by the permission given by politicians to see outsiders as the source of our woes. Just as the Nazis zeroed in on Jews and Slavs, we are now planning to list and shame the foreigners we can root out in our community. My wonderful European friends are already making plans to leave and take their energy, talents and wider perspectives with them. We will all be poorer.

Inward migration from the EU plummets

And I remain broken-hearted as I watch my country plunge towards a new darkness, heralding it as a new dawn!


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