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Free at last. That’s OK, then.

Posted on January 31, 2020


Tomorrow will, indeed, be another day. But for today, we awake to two dominant themes. First, I note that the social media profiles of many people who I like and admire are bedecked with European Union stars, expressing their dismay at what will happen when the clock strikes 11 tonight. Conversely, the airwaves and cyberspace are full of those who are gleefully preparing buffets and playlists to celebrate our impending freedom. I’m sure there are millions of people who are thankful that it’s just Friday, but that’s not the narrative at present.

For the partygoers, whether in Parliament Square or a community centre in Ipswich (that’s not random – I heard the organiser on the radio) the prevailing notion is that we’ve gained our freedom. Before I go about investigating this idea – and for the avoidance of confusion – I’ll make my own position clear. I am not an ardent Remainer. Like many people I know, I eventually voted to do so, but not after a good deal of prevarication. I’ve written about it elsewhere, but in short, the smothering neoliberalism of the EU, along with its viciousness toward those who don’t play along (Greece, Spain, Italy), balanced against the racism of Farage and Rees-Mogg plonked me, and millions of others, firmly between Satan and the ocean.

So what, exactly, will this freedom look like? What will ‘we’ – because we’re all in this together, of course – be free to do on Saturday that we couldn’t do on Friday? Or, and it’s important that we’re fair about this, on January 1st 2021 – because everyone acknowledges that the next eleven months need to be dedicated to the sort of purposeful, energetic negotiations to which we have become so accustomed.

The early signs don’t look good, even allowing for the fact that we’ve not quite reached the witching hour. One of the perceived benefits of Brexit and its endorsement by December’s general election is for so many in the Tory party and – let’s not be shy here – so many who deserted Labour, the holy grail of immigration control. We are to have an Australian points-based system. Now, quite why we want to emulate the approach of a country whose approach to desperate migrants is almost medieval and whose leader lounged on a foreign beach while his country burned, is something of a mystery. But, we’re to have a good look at everyone who wants to come here to apply for benefits and get their nan’s hip done on the NHS and make sure who we really want.

The trouble for Johnson and his chums is that people who run businesses – that’d be people who get up in the morning and do proper work for the money they need – don’t think it’s a good idea and have been saying so for a long time. Neither can they, nor those who run our public services, support the notion that only those who earn £30,000 or more can be taken in. And this week, very quietly, so’s no one could see, while we all fretted about getting some Brits back from apocalyptically germ-ridden China, Downing Street announced that the £30,000 cap would go and be replaced by a more ‘nuanced’ approach.

And if that doesn’t exactly smack of taking back control, our new independent and fearless nation took the peculiar decision to allow Huawei a huge slice of the contract to supply high-speed network equipment that post-Brexit Britain will need to compete on the world stage. I’m sure Michael Gove would be pleased to hear me say the first part of this; I’m no expert, but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a tad nervous about this – but, then again, who to trust in this most important of fields? Waiting in the wings to pick up the slack are South Korea and Japan, so apart from offending the odious Trump – normally a very good thing – we’re sure to upset someone else along the way. But, hey – we don’t need anyone else to work with on keeping us secure here. Just look at the crack teams of skilled negotiators who have bought us here.

I love a good party and never begrudge anyone having a good time, but it’s hard not to be concerned about what tomorrow looks like for the revellers. For those who genuinely believe – and hope – that this moment in history will be the point at which their lives will improve, how will the world look when a party built on exploitation, austerity, the driving down of wages and the diminution of workers’ rights, shows its true colours and fail to work for them? And when that happens – and it’s definitely a ‘when’ not an ‘if’, just have a squint at your history books – what do those of us who didn’t join them on the dance floor tonight say?

What we don’t do is wave a European flag in their faces: the EU is no workers’ champion. And neither is smugly revelling in ‘we told you so’ acceptable: that’s the sort of nasty, entitled superiority that helped to entrench the view of so many leavers weary of being lectured to by their ‘betters’.

We take stock and we campaign and we get active. Are workers in France winning on pension demands waiting for a change of government? Do we really think we’ll reduce carbon emissions by entrusting this to a bunch of profiteering politicians? Do we stand idly by while day-centres and community services are slashed? We find any one of a thousand ways of contributing and taking other people with us, because if we’ve learnt one thing in the past few years, unless we act in this collective way, there’s another Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan or Putin waiting to supply all the easy answers we need.

Enjoy the night, party people. Let’s hope the hangover isn’t a long one.

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