‘Brexit Bust-Up’, would be a better title. For someone like me, who remains convinced that being a part of the EU is clearly best for the UK, this book is a painful read. Don’t get me wrong, it is very well written, is a very balanced account and the personal views of the author (Tim Shipman – @ShippersUnbound), Remain/Leave, don’t shine through. But, oh my, what a monumental car crash……no-one comes out of this well – the ends appear to justify the means, with Leave winning the referendum arguably because they were more focussed on winning (rather than needing to keep the collateral damage to the Conservative Party to a minimum) and therefore willing to do whatever it took to win: exploiting people’s baser instincts, included. Raw recent history.
Of course, in something as complicated as membership of the EU, it wasn’t, and isn’t, as simple as that. General euroscepticism has been building progressively for the last 20 years at least, and in the minds of many the benefits of belonging to the EU have become strongly associated with being a member of the liberal metropolitan elite. As the inequality gap has grown, especially since the crash of 2008, the anti-elite hostility has grown too. The aforementioned elite, across the West, seemed unable to respond to this in a convincing manner, and many political elites have paid the electoral price. This, in my opinion, prepared the ground for the Brexit vote.
One of the strengths of the book is that it gives the backgrounds of the key players, the networks and provenance. Most of the key proponents of Leave appear to have been anti-EU for a long time, objecting in principle to the transfer of sovereignty that being a member of the EU entails. I regard this as being a legitimate point of view, but I consider the political and economic benefits of EU membership to far outweigh the loss of sovereignty. Unfortunately, the battle over Brexit wasn’t fought on the field of sovereignty and reasoning; if it had been the outcome would have been more intellectually satisfying. It was fought on the field of emotions, which is very much less concerned with truth and reasoning, and more open to abuse.
The book doesn’t consider the democratic legitimacy of the referendum outcome, instead focussing on what happened and what the key players thought. My own view is that the referendum was part of the UK’s political system of governing, and that it isn’t anti-democratic to challenge the course of action we should now follow, nor to seek, within the confines of the law, to prevent Brexit. The consequences of Brexit are very far reaching, and definitely non-trivial; considerable further thought and proposals for alternative courses of action are entirely appropriate. Of course, only if the field of truth and reasoning is being considered, rather than the field of emotion.
This is a page-turner well written book; I highly recommend it.