In 2017 we saw an increase in realism about Brexit. Rather than getting the government to pull a switch and ‘Hey Presto’ we are out of the EU, and EU citizens in the UK are made to leave, reasonable people now understand that Brexit is complicated and expensive, and it will take some time to get past a transitionary period to something that could realistically be called Brexit.
The frequency in which people rant things like “We should just leave NOW. They need us more than we need THEM” has certainly reduced in the pubs I go in. I also see less of it on Twitter now than I did in the first half of 2017 and in 2016.
As there does seem to be a greater awareness of how big a task Brexit is, with even Theresa May saying delaying the date we leave is a possibility, the voices of those who push for an extreme Brexit - where we abandon hope of a deal and instead dump chaos on business by jumping headlong out and onto World Trade Organization Rules - will seem more peculiar.
Some of those voices will be the usual suspects – far-right xenophobes who thought Brexit would purge the UK of our EU friends and colleagues. I suspect that, as we get further into the complexity of trade talks, the narratives of the far-right will be akin to flies that can brushed away easily. Irritating but quite insignificant.
Other voices though might have greater impact, due to their ability to create political tensions and use the media to amplify their voices. These are the people who we need to consider the motives of, as they could have vested interests in an extreme Brexit. In fact, there might be those who are willing to push for decisions that lead to unemployment and greater poverty, to make or save themselves and those close to them a lot of money.
There are always people who can add to their fortunes by exploiting market chaos and political uncertainty. If any of those people have the ability to add to market and political instability, perhaps because they are politicians or owners of media, then we must be particularly wary of the narratives they push. If they can make huge gains from political and economic problems they help create, then we can reasonably ask if they are on the side of society or actually callous antisocial predators.
As well as the chaos of a cliff-edge Brexit, which some would be able to exploit for financial gain, there is another important factor to consider when we hear the desperate and shrill narratives of those pushing for hard Brexit. In summer 2017, stronger legislation to tackle money laundering and tax avoidance came into force. As the UK, and other members states, has only two years to transpose EU directives into UK law, it just so happens that this deadline would be a couple of months after the official Brexit date in 2019.
If, as seems reasonable and likely, the UK will be bound by EU law during the ‘transitionary period’, this could hit a small elite of Brits who have mastered the art of hoarding money and squirrelling it away. However, if those pushing for a hard Brexit have their way, then the tax-avoiding money hoarders could save a fortune. Who knows, perhaps some newspaper proprietors would also be beneficiaries of such a law NOT being enacted here. We simply don’t know – due to the lack of transparency which the new law would tackle.
So, after the Christmas Baileys, chocolates and port has ran out, and we plunge headlong into 2018, keep an ear out for those who push for a hard Brexit, whether in their comments to press or in the editorial stance of newspapers - and consider what they have to gain.