Barry Turner: Brexit Britain heading into the age of doubt

This story is over

The great English philosopher Francis Bacon stated “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

Today the British government will trigger Art 50 and embark on a course with the precision and security of a sleepwalker fully content in the certainties of Mr Micawber and a deep belief in providence.

If we are to believe the bullish confidence of the most fervent of the Brexiteers we will be embarking on a path to freedom and prosperity not seen since the good old days of Empire. Freed from the dead hand of EU bureaucracy our business will thrive and the deals from all over the world will just keep on coming. Our borders will be as secure as when we stood up to Bonaparte and Hitler our exports will flow to all corners of the world unhindered and we will still be able to enjoy French cheese and wine and drive our German motors cars, hopefully not at the same time, to our heart’s content.

For a couple of days after the handing over of the letter severing over 40 years of membership of an organisation that has seen all of Europe thrive and prosper our press will be in overdrive. Our TVs will be full of the usual faces and our ears of the usual soundbites, then all will go mysteriously silent. Our future from that point will be decided by the very same bureaucrats so many believed we had escaped on the 23rd June last year.

That silence will be the last opportunity to indulge in the certainties expressed by the leave campaign and the triumphalism of the victorious Brexiteers. The triggering of Article 50 is indeed a political watershed and its significance will dawn in many ways in the months that follow. That awakening will be expressed in doubts not certainties. The bold declarations of Brexit as independence will wither and fade as the stark reality comes into focus.

We will not be escaping any dead hand of bureaucracy it will still be there and in spades. A whole new bureaucracy will emerge as Britain sails of on its own. Import export will be just as hidebound out of the EU as in it.

The Brexiteers’ hopeless optimism of a free market where everyone trades unhindered by laws, customs, tariffs, boycotts, strikes, protectionism and double-dealing does not exist. It never did.

The Brexiteers have repeatedly told us that we are now free to strike deals with the whole world. It is remarkable that in spite of this brave new world, we have not seen countries queuing at our doors. The reality is it will be us queuing at theirs, where they will be waiting with their bureaucrats with armfuls of red tape.

There is one thing that is certain, there will be little in the way of ‘free’ trade either in the sense of not having to pay the attendant cost of trade or of the freedom to trade as we please. That world has been gone for at least a century. We will be paying tariffs and we will be filling out forms in quantities to bring cheer to the hearts of a million ‘jobsworths’.

The period from the calling of the referendum to the triggering of article 50 will go down as the age of certainties. From now we are in the age of doubts. No one is certain how long that will last or just how uncomfortable it will be.