Disillusionment is setting in at The Telegraph. All the bright hopes resting on Brexit are slowly dying. Some of its staunchest advocates are finding it hard to disguise their disappointment.
Allister Heath, editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Fraser Nelson, occupying Boris Johnson’s old job as editor of The Spectator, both had articles in the daily edition of The Telegraph this week bemoaning the fact that Brexit isn’t going quite as well as they’d hoped.
The two editors are having serious doubts about the project they championed in 2016. It is as if they are slowly coming to suspect that they might have been wrong, although neither is quite prepared to say so just yet.
Allister Heath says Johnson has been captured by a ‘blob’
Heath, editor of the Sunday edition, portrays Brexit’s current crisis as a boy’s own world where Johnson is a sort of Clark Kent character engaged in an existential battle with a mysterious group he calls ‘the blob’, which secretly rules Britain: The Blob is taking back control and destroying Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Heath’s article identifies an amorphous “elite class” who are somehow secretly colluding to block the benefits of Brexit being delivered by plucky ‘Boris’. He praises Johnson for getting us out of the EU but fears his courage has deserted him and he has been captured by the blob. The fact that the prime minister is archetypally elite class isn’t mentioned.
Instead of the promised Shangri-La of lower prices, reduced tax burden and higher productivity, Heath complains that “taxes are shooting up; the economy is stagnating, with no plan to eliminate any of the unnecessary regulations weighing it down; the cost of living is surging; a devastating energy crisis is nigh” and “most damningly of all, the Government appears to have no plan to tackle any of this”.
He sees no connection between Brexit and an economy headed for trouble.
Fraser Nelson questions Daniel Hannan’s ‘Brexity optimism’
Nelson asks: Was I right to support Brexit? If this is ‘Global Britain’, I’m starting to wonder. Frankly, the answer has to be no.
Nelson openly, and perhaps some might say belatedly, questions Lord Hannan’s infectious “Brexity optimism” and asks “Where are these sunlit uplands? What happened to us staying close to Europe? The latest figures show our service exports to the EU falling twice as fast as those to the rest of the world, although the pandemic skews everything”.
Even Liz Truss’ trade deals come in for it. “If you’re a Brexiteer you can even suspend disbelief by not looking too closely at the nature of those deals. But if you do, you see the flaw: most of them are rolled-over EU agreements”, Nelson notes.
The new trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, says Nelson, “was denouncing protectionism as a giant evil just a few days ago. But inside the Government, Tory protectionists are ready to swoop – warning about growth hormones injected into Australian cows or (one of Michael Gove’s favourites) the chlorine wash used on American chickens. Such arguments take place behind closed doors and, to a depressing extent, the protectionists win”.
It is no surprise that Heath and Nelson, like Johnson and Gove, are journalists of one sort or another, gifted at writing but not much else. They have no first-hand experience of the many and varied topics they write about. Brexit is perhaps the best example.
They all fed off each other
Before the referendum they fed off each other. A think tank (full of researchers skilled at presenting numbers in whatever way you want) produces a figure of £600m a week to be saved by scrapping EU regulations. Johnson picks it up and uses it in a Telegraph column and on the campaign trail.
Heath assumes it’s right, that Johnson must have verified it. He takes it as read. Nelson spots it and he also then assumes that Britain is drowning under useless regulations invented in a protectionist Brussels and forced on UK businesses, ready to be cast aside the minute we left the EU.
It would not bear the slightest scrutiny, but none of them bothered to spend five minutes checking if the notional savings from unnecessary EU rules were true or not. This is how Brexit succeeded.
The regulatory bonfire isn’t coming
The hoped-for bonfire of EU regulations will never be lit and we will never escape the huge gravitational force of EU rules.
But now, as a third country, the EU cannot be blamed. Someone else must carry the can. It cannot be Johnson, or Brexit, or even the Tory government. They are all untouchable for Heath and Nelson. So, a new enemy must be invented. It’s the blob, the elite class, the protectionists, the Remainers, the civil service. Anyone and anything except the real culprits.
When that fails to convince, it will be industry and the people to blame. Soon, the finger of blame will be pointed at me and you. Watch out.