“No Deal would be a nail in the coffin of Western democracy and celebrated by Russia and China,” writes Andrew Neil, one of our most incisive and tenacious interviewers.
He can take expert demagogues apart with the ease of a master butcher, and more power to him. Mr Neil brings to the task his natural aggression, a clear sense of purpose, an ability to think on his feet and a knack at finding fault in faulty arguments.
However, the written genre also requires some deeper-lying qualities, such as analytical ability, some sound philosophical premise and a thresher’s skill at separating the wheat from the chaff. Alas, Mr Neil’s article on No Deal Brexit suggests a certain deficit in these qualities.
Speaking of the 21st century, Mr Neil laments that “its first two decades have been marked by the rise of authoritarianism.” This he pinpoints both geographically (“from Beijing to Moscow through Ankara, Riyadh and other major capitals of the world”) and by name: Donald Trump, among others.
Anyone who equates Trump, for all his objectionable personality, with Xi, Putin and Erdoğan brings into question his qualifications for enlarging on such subjects. In general, drawing analogies and parallels is a perilous business. Numerous traps await along the way, and in this case one of them snapped shut on Mr Neil’s ankle.
His opening statement is only half right: Russia and China would indeed celebrate a No Deal Brexit, as they rejoice at any hint of discord in the West. In fact, sowing such discord is their mission in life, one to which they dedicate all the vast resources of their intelligence services.
Yet it’s an elementary logical fallacy to think that everything Putin and Xi like is ipso facto wrong, or that everything they dislike is ipso facto right. Our policies should stand on their own two feet, without relying on evil dictators’ likes and dislikes to prop them up.
The first part of Mr Neil’s statement, that a No Deal exit would put paid to Western democracy, is, kindly speaking, debatable. And his support statements for that view are at best too facile and at worst too wrong.
Britain and the EU, he writes, “have so many common interests: joint defences against authoritarian aggression, security and intelligence co-operation against the ever-present terrorist threat, support for free trade among nations to spur prosperity across the globe, a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
The first two aspects of commonality mentioned here require serious qualifications. The fourth one, about the carbon emissions, is a reference to the West’s suicidal surrender to the illiterate, subversive Greta doctrine on global warming, which Mr Neil clearly regards as praiseworthy. And the third one, about our shared commitment to free trade, is frankly risible.
Mr Neil is simply repeating the EU propaganda on this issue. Like most propaganda, it’s mendacious. The EU is a protectionist bloc, which is as opposite to free trade as is possible to get. It imposes punitive tariffs on all exports from outside the EU, an area where Britain is about to find herself – so much for free trade.
As to the EU’s commitment to democracy, which Mr Neil also extols, it’s no doubt true – if his definition of democracy is different from one traditionally accepted in Britain.
A functioning democracy presupposes the sovereignty of an elected body accountable to those who have elected it. Yet the European Commission which runs the EU is neither elected nor accountable. It defers to the European Parliament in word, while riding roughshod over it in deed.
And the EU’s relations with its peripheral members, which is to say all of them apart from Germany, France, the Benelux and – stretching reality a bit – Spain and Italy, doesn’t fit any reasonable understanding of democracy.
Far be it from me to equate democracy with political virtue under all circumstances, but this is an equation that’s apparently chiselled in the stone of Mr Neil’s mind. I’m afraid it doesn’t quite add up in most cases, and certainly not in this one.
“If two entities that share so much that is good in the world, and are largely united in hostility to what is bad, cannot agree their post-Brexit arrangements in harmony and with mutual respect, then be in no doubt – authoritarians everywhere will be celebrating,” continues Mr Neil.
The two entities differ on the kernel of the argument, which concrete consideration ought to trump Mr Neil’s generalities. The EU is maniacally dedicated to creating a single European state run by Germany, with France bringing up the rear. Britain, on the other hand, wants to have no part of it.
This divergence naturally creates a diametrically opposite approach to the Brexit negotiations. Britain indeed wants a mutually beneficial post-Brexit arrangement, whereas the EU is prepared to sacrifice every mutual benefit to make sure Britain doesn’t prosper outside the suffocating confines of the EU.
If a No Deal Brexit presents a threat to the largely mythical world democracy, it’s significantly smaller than Britain’s surrender to EU tyranny would be. Asserting our right to be governed by our own sovereign parliament is a blow for, not against, democracy.
Mr Neil agrees, but only begrudgingly: “Yes, Brexit should mean greater British sovereignty. But sovereignty is not cost-free. It can have consequences. If exercising our right to diverge results in an adverse EU response then that is something we will have to weigh in the balance at the time.”
But we have already weighed it, Mr Neil, when we voted for Brexit in 2016. Only the naïve thought that Britain’s reclaiming her sovereignty wouldn’t result in an adverse response on the part of the EU.
The British people weighed such consequences in the balance and decided that national independence was worth the risk. It’s the same choice as one the earlier British people made in 1940, during Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe.
The rest of Mr Neil’s article describes in vivid detail the economic hardships Britain and the EU will suffer if they don’t part amicably. That’s fair enough – for reasons I’ve mentioned, the EU has a vested interest in visiting such hardships on Britain even at the expense of its own.
It’s also true that British politicians haven’t been exactly forthcoming on what they are planning to do after Brexit. But first things first: let’s shake the dust of that contrivance off our feet – with a deal ideally, without one if we must. But it’s a gross fallacy to argue, as Mr Neil does, that the future of democracy hangs in the balance.