Who knew that there was something worse than Brexit? Not me, writes Sandra Khadhouri. I really thought Brexit was the most catastrophic thing to happen to the UK, short of war – but now I see there is worse, at least in terms of immediate impact.
This health crisis has upended our systems and lifestyles and is causing anxiety and suffering we had never imagined. But it has also undermined some of the beliefs that drove us towards Brexit. After the trauma of this crisis has abated, we may see some attitudinal changes and realisations that could alter this country’s path.
Here’s my Top 10.
The UK is not invincible
Brexit was predicated on the idea that UK is robust and resilient and can weather all crises. How many times did people dismiss our warnings of Brexit-related job losses and serious damage to relationships and cooperation? Now British citizens have seen that the wheels CAN come off the bus in a very short time (even for a different reason) and that our systems and whole way of life are more vulnerable than some of us thought.
EU cooperation can help
The ventilator procurement debacle, in which UK rejected EU’s offer of cheaper equipment, showed very concretely where EU initiatives make sense. As time goes on, there will be more examples - from vaccine development, to disease monitoring, to coordinated travel support and measures. Most recently, the UK has quietly collaborated with the EU to arrange flights from certain overseas countries to repatriate their citizens. While responsibility for health protection lies with member states, the UK could benefit from EU action – but this must be communicated well to the British public to ensure alternative narratives do not prevail. UK citizens could realise that a collective approach is vital in saving lives, and a post-crisis regional Marshall Plan instrumental to recovery.
Remember those experts that Gove had enough of? Well, it seems the government has more time for them now, even standing alongside them at press conferences (though not too close!). This new-found respect for the expertise of health professionals and scientists, puts paid to the idea that politicians always know best.
No more wars required
As Fintan O’Toole articulated well in his book, Heroic Failure, Brexit is a nationalist endeavour to show Britain can win a war, since this ruling elite were deprived of that glory in WW2. Maybe these Brexiters won’t need Brexit after this – the idea of exacting triumph and one-upmanship over the EU may become obsolete, irrelevant and a hollow victory.
Business damage leads to job losses
We’ve heard UK business say they could weather one crisis, but not two. It will be extremely difficult for the Government to go from "F*** Business" in the last three years, to "Supporting Business every step of the way" through Corona, and then revert to "F*** Business" once negotiations resume in full! The inconsistency will be too great. Business will soon need to speak up and call for an extension to the transition and defend their interests on European trade and standards. And the public must support them or risk further job losses in future.
Compassion in society is essential
We have seen a welcome resurgence of altruism and community feeling after the bitter three years of Brexit argument and polarisation. People are showing more kindness to everyone, and acknowledging we must care for strangers who are suffering, no matter who. This rediscovered sense of compassion will surely help us, after this crisis is contained, to engender empathy and sympathy for European and overseas citizens living in our communities.
Respect low skilled and foreign workers – they may save your life
We’ve now seen some Brexiters admit that cleaners, shop workers, junior transport, security and health staff are actually part of our essential workforce. This will undermine the distinction between skilled and unskilled in the Conservatives’ immigration policy and may alter their perception of UK needs. And what about European and overseas workers in the health sector under threat of deportation? They have received a one-year extension to their visas. But then what? The incoherence of valuing them as indispensable now, but disposable later, may be too much for most people to accept.
Humility in Conservative leadership
Could this government be learning valuable lessons in humility? There have already been some admissions of mistakes and floundering for the right policy. Even the loyal Daily Telegraph has been losing patience. Will Conservative politicians now find that bluster is not a replacement for delivery in a crisis and forward planning? Will they understand they can learn from other countries, instead of pretending they always know best? How much time was lost in the last three years as the government focused on a damaging Brexit, instead of preparing for crises such as this?
Protect our environment and alter our lifestyle
On an individual level, we are already being changed and discovering new insights into life itself. People are realising nothing can be taken for granted and we must put more energy into protecting our environment and health. Perhaps we are also questioning our consumerism, wastefulness, incessant travel and manic lifestyles. A complete re-think will be needed about how we live and organise ourselves, together with other countries.
Brexit is wrong
This last may be wishful thinking. It is clear Brexit advocates are already drawing opposite conclusions, exposing fractures in EU solidarity and promoting the value of fortress Britain. We need to be ready, and capitalise on attitudinal changes that make the case for a more responsible UK world view - one that abandons the nationalist experiment and commits to building better European and global rules, standards and cooperation – for all our sakes.
L4E Committee Member
Strategic Communications Consultant
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe. This blog was written prior to the Prime Minister being admitted to hospital and thence to the ICU. We wish him a speedy recovery.