The myth of Brexageddon
Brexit Britain has defied the relentless doom-mongering of the Remainer elites.
‘Brexit has been a disaster’, or variations on that theme, is a much-repeated mantra of our recalcitrant Rejoiner class, who continue to insist that Britain’s decision to leave the EU was a terrible mistake. The theme reappears every week or so on X / Twitter. Only last September, Stephen Fry reminded us that: ‘It was a catastrophe, and everybody knows it deep in their bones.’ Now, more than four years after the UK officially left the EU is that axiom actually true?
Right from the start of the referendum campaign, the EU-philes were issuing tales of foreboding should the UK take the leap outside the fold. Various governmental and city institutions, newspapers, commentators and learned TV-comedy panellists made dark prognostications. There would be a wholesale flight from the City of London. Trade would stall. There would be food and drug shortages. The pound would plummet. Scotland would secede from the Union. Britain would be engulfed in a wave of xenophobia. The country would implode. Needless to say, none of this came to pass.
A month before the referendum on 23 June 2016, the then UK chancellor George Osborne made a speech saying that a vote to leave the EU would have an ‘immediate’ and ‘profound’ economic shock, and ‘would spark a year-long recession’. He forecast a 3.6 per cent shrinkage in the UK economy. As it transpired, in the final quarter of 2016, the UK’s GDP increased by 0.7 per cent. It continued to grow until the coronavirus pandemic arrived in 2020.
The most sensationalist forecast came from the then prime minister, David Cameron, who intimated that a Leave vote might plunge Europe once more into war. Speaking of countries on the continent that had been ‘at each other’s throats for decades’ before the creation of the EU, he said that such a peace would be imperilled. ‘Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption’, he said.
War has indeed returned to Europe since – with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ironically, the EU has shown itself impotent to intervene purposefully in the conflict, while the UK has been at the forefront in providing tangible assistance to the Ukrainians.
And what of the wider picture since 2016? Since the Brexit vote, UK GDP has increased by eight per cent, ahead of Italy’s figure of 6.5 per cent and Germany’s figure of 5.8 per cent. Indeed, it is Germany, traditionally the EU’s strongest economy, that is the real source of concern on the continent today. This week, we learned that the German economy shrank in the final quarter of last year, prompting warnings of a recession around the corner.
Sure, there is still much to be done. We still need to extricate ourselves from more EU regulations. And there is still room for smoothing the movement of trade and people between ourselves and the bloc. But the repeated cliché that ‘Brexit has been a disaster’ is palpably untrue. The Remoaners were totally wrong.
Is modern art misunderstood?
American sculptor Carl Andre, who died last week aged 88, was best known in the UK as the artist responsible for the Tate’s infamous ‘pile of bricks’ exhibit of 1976. Officially entitled Equivalent VIII, the instalment, consisting of 120 bricks arranged in two layers in a rectangle, came to be seen as embodying all that was vacuous and fraudulent about modern art.
Although the Tate had held and exhibited Equivalent VIII since 1972, it only came to public attention after The Sunday Times published a feature in February 1976 about how much money the gallery was lavishing on conceptual art. The next day, the Daily Mirror led with a photo of the bricks and the headline, ‘What a load of rubbish’.
A furore ensued, with newspapers, politicians and commentators vying to express ever-heightened outrage. ‘I call it a pile of bricks and that’s what it is,’ wrote Bernard Levin in The Times. ‘Bricks are not works of art. Bricks are bricks’, wrote Keith Waterhouse in the Daily Mirror.
There was a good case to be made against the Tate at the time for ‘wasting taxpayers’ cash’ (a common complaint). Arguably, Equivalent VIII was indeed devoid of any aesthetic appeal, or any obvious trace of artistic originality. It may well have signified an art movement that had descended into nihilism and charlatanism.
Or perhaps the whole affair had just been a terrible misunderstanding. When Equivalent VIII was first displayed in a New York gallery in 1966, it was part of a series of eight sculptures, all called ‘Equivalents’, all consisting of 120 bricks, two bricks deep, but differing only in length and width. And so, by exhibiting only one ‘Equivalent’, the Tate had placed Andre’s work completely out of context.
A generous explanation would be that the American sculptor was exploring the relationship between matter and form. Maybe not just a ‘pile of bricks’ after all.
The sad death of surrealism
Last month was the 30th anniversary of the first transmission of that genius piece of nonsense satire, The Day Today. The brainchild of Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris – a fortuitous meeting of complementary minds indeed – it gave us fake-news stories about IRA ‘bomb dogs’ and wild horses running amok on the London Underground.
In its absurdist content it belonged to a British tradition going back to Edward Lear, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python. But perhaps The Day Today represented the apex of British comic surrealism. Or even its last gasp. Because popular comic surrealism has since vanished.
Perhaps it disappeared because The Day Today was a very special, one-off collaboration in the first place. Only the unique combination of Iannucci’s eye for political satire and Morris’s taste for the weird and grotesque could have given us sketches about a Sinn Féin politician forced to inhale helium to subtract from the credibility of his statements, or the presentation of a war as crass entertainment with its own pop soundtrack.
Morris has since gone on to concentrate on satire, such as Nathan Barley and Four Lions. Meanwhile, Iannucci has kept it political, notably with The Thick of It, but also by appearing as a serious and not very charming commentator on shows like Have I Got News for You and Newsnight.
Rather than lamenting that nothing as good has come since, perhaps we ought to just be grateful that we had The Day Today in the first place.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
Picture by: Getty.
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