Brexit is a project by the elites, for the elites

  • Of the many Brexit cons, few are greater than the idea that this is a fight for the people

  • Chuka Umunna MP

In the past few days, Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteer supporters have steadfastly refused to accept any responsibility for the unfolding chaos they have visited upon Britain, blaming everyone else but themselves. In his Mail on Sunday piece yesterday, without any sense of irony, the former foreign secretary asked: “Why are they bullying us? How can they get away with it? It is one of the mysteries of the current Brexit negotiations that the UK is so utterly feeble.”

Some in his party argue he and the 80-odd rabid Brexit champions in his party are trying to “bully” Theresa May into accepting the hardest of Brexits – something that cannot command a majority in the House of Commons.

It’s unclear how the EU can have bullied the UK since the negotiations started last June, when they had no idea what the UK government’s position was and are still unsure what the line is. The reason the Chequers summit was convened early in the summer was because this “utterly feeble” excuse for a government (in Johnson’s own words) could not agree with itself what its Brexit position should be, never mind agree anything with the EU.

Even then, the Chequers proposals prompted ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and Johnson to resign. Now former Brexit minister Steve Baker is today saying the issue will split the Tory party – in other words, there is still no common position. Perhaps that’s because, behind all the bluster, every single one of them knows how much of a disaster Britain is hurtling towards.

In June 2016, Johnson said in his Telegraph column after the Brexit vote that “we can survive and thrive as never before” and that “at home and abroad, the negative consequences are being wildly overdone, and the upside is being ignored”. That was his patter before he took to comparing Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers, and before he indulged in making grotesque comparisons between suicide bombs and the actions of his prime minister.

Johnson’s chat is straight out of the playbook of Nigel Farage. We know that where Farage goes, Johnson follows. So, a few days before Johnson’s piece had appeared in 2016, Farage had said of Brexit on the Andrew Marr Show that “the worst case scenario economically is better than where we are today and gives us the chance to start thinking globally, and, by the way, bringing prices down for consumers”.

And what has happened to these predictions of Britain’s Brexit elite since the 2016 vote, bearing in mind we have not even left yet?

According to the Bank of England, the average family is now £900 a year worse off. As the governor Mark Carney said: “If you look at where the economy is today, relative to that forecast, it’s more than 1 per cent below where it was despite very large stimulus provided by the Bank of England, a fiscal easing by the government and global and European economies.” No wonder Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the hard-right European Research Group group of Tory MPs, is campaigning for Carney’s removal.

This may be peanuts to the Brexit elite leading the charge off the cliff-edge. But it is a huge amount of money to the “just about managing” families May said would always come ahead of the “privileged few”. And the Brexit this privileged few are pushing for will make those families even poorer.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain, nobody said it would be like this and no one voted for the chaos and incompetence on the British side of the negotiating table.

It gets worse, particularly if you belong to one of Britain’s ethnic minority communities. Yes, they have experienced the same economic fallout and see the damage felt by our public services. But our different diverse communities have felt something that we thought we would not have to live through again, certainly not in the same way as the first generation who arrived here decades ago like my father: the normalisation of the hatred that this Brexit debate has unleashed.

In Britain, the level of hate crime committed rose by 49 per cent in the weeks following the referendum. This is now backed by a substantial body of academic research showing that the referendum materially increased hate crime in this country during and after it occurred. The UN’s committee on the elimination of racial discrimination concluded that “British politicians helped fuel a steep rise in racist hate crimes during and after the EU referendum campaign”.

In the evidence they gave to the cross party Home Affairs Committee, anti-hate pressure group Hope Not Hate identified Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the campaigns of which they were a part for carrying a heavy responsibility for creating the environment in which this happened. In his exchange with me during the committee’s public evidence sessions on this in 2017, Nick Lowles, Hope Note Hate’s director, said: “I think that across the board there was a deliberate attempt to raise issues around such things as the Turkish passport. There were Boris Johnson’s comments on Obama. Those things all contributed to an atmosphere where fact and reality in a way did not matter. It was all about emotion. It was all about trying to polarise the public identity.” I could not put it better myself.

As a result, a small unpleasant minority felt licenced to engage in and vocalise hate due to the disgraceful nature of the Leave campaigns. Stoking hatred and division will be part of their appalling legacy: our BAME communities have already paid the price and are still doing so.

Instead of taking responsibility for it, what have the Brexit elite been doing while the disaster unfolds? Rees-Mogg’s City investment firm has shifted money to Ireland amid concerns about being cut off from European investors. Lord Lawson is seeking residency in France. Farage has built up a lucrative second career as a broadcaster off the back of Brexit. And Johnson sacked off trying to deliver what he argued for, resigned as foreign secretary and has gone back to his previously £275,000 a year column-writing. He is more concerned with himself and the Tory party leadership than the country.

So, of the many Brexit cons, few are greater than the idea that this is a fight for the people against the elite. It is now beyond doubt: Brexit is a project of the elite, for the elite – and we need to ensure everyone knows this before it’s too late.