How the EU-decorated Professor Hindsight could look back on Brexit in the year 2100

How the EU-decorated Professor Hindsight could look back on Brexit in the year 2100

The full significance of the UK’s Brexit crisis of 2019 was not always understood at the time, but is now set out by that noted historian A. J. P. Hindsight in his new book British Politics 1945-2045 (European University Press, 2100).

Partly Professor Hindsight focuses on high politics, that sophisticated art but by 2019 one attempted chiefly by individuals of only modest ability. He shows how their clumsy framing of Brexit In Name Only and failure to sell it as Brexit led to their stumbling into a general election; this produced another hung parliament with Labour the largest party. The price of SNP support for Labour, a second Scottish independence referendum which the SNP this time won, sawed off the branch on which the Labour ministry sat.

Their only hope of redescribing this defeat as a victory and of entrenching social democratic values in the UK was to revoke Article 50 and to promote the evolution of the EU into a federal state. A Labour Party damaged in the eyes of its traditional voters by its Remainer elite now had little prospect of winning national majorities in general elections, but it settled instead for the break-up of the UK into separate regions, in many of which familiar tribal loyalties still offered the possibility of lasting power. Better still, radical regionalism allowed the Labour Party to dismantle the ancient symbols of national identity at the centre, the historic institutions and ceremonial, the sites of loyalty and allegiance that had survived largely intact since 1945.

So unresisted was this strengthening of local oligarchies in the name of democracy that the EU’s abolition of the national governments of its member states in 2039 went largely unnoticed. This is an unhappy story, then, with a happy ending.

But the Conservative Party was the worse damaged, partly by its internal conflicts, partly by the rise of the Brexit Party that was the result. Hindsight shows the strange similarity of the Conservatives’ trajectory and that of the Church of England. Indeed, they were not unrelated. Both, in their day, were great and grand enterprises. They were undone less by enemies without than by friends within, later celebrated by those enemies as useful idiots.

Theresa May’s conduct of the negotiations does not emerge well from these pages: Hindsight argues that she never really intended to leave rather than that she was politically incompetent. But the subservience of most of her backbenchers, analysed here as the payroll vote, is equally highlighted. So too is the general mediocrity of the UK’s MEPs; indeed the names of only two of them appear in Hindsight’s index. Although talented and dedicated, these two alone could not reverse the progressive dynamism of Brussels. Neither the Conservative Party nor the Church of England disappeared after 2019, but like the Liberals after 1922 they both declined into an ineffectual rump, celebrating the memory of ancestors like Rowan Williams and David Lloyd George. Such figures as Sir Bill Cash, Sir Bernard Jenkin and Sir John Redwood figure in this book in similar roles.

Professor Hindsight devotes equal weight to the points of principle that were reinterpreted and redefined in the chaos of rending party political conflict.

Hindsight reveals that the controversy over the future of Europe had by 2019 been sidelined into a debate about whether the UK would be economically slightly better or worse off outside the EU. Forecasts of the UK’s GDP fifteen years hence, expressed to one decimal place, provided careers for economists but were never capable of resolution. These forecasts reflected the political assumptions built into rival economic models rather than the rapid evolution of the real economy in a changing world. But without attainable answers, attention was almost wholly distracted from the larger issue that few discussed: the long-planned evolution of the European Economic Community into the European Union, and, in 2039, into the United States of Europe.

This occlusion was a major achievement of the Remainers, since by 2019 the EU had already acquired most of the attributes of statehood. It had a head of state, a legislature, and an executive. Its body of law, interpreted by its own supreme court, took precedence over the law of its member states. It had a single currency and a central bank. It had taken significant steps to integrate its members’ armed forces. Seven of its members already supported the European Gendarmerie Force, able to operate anywhere without the permission of national governments.

It had a flag, a shared citizenship, a passport and an idealistic national anthem. Mass migration across the EU was already undermining local loyalties, as was rightly intended. The only major component the EU still lacked was a common fiscal policy, but already its ability to dictate to member states the limits on their national budgets and their state aid policies had prepared the ground for this last step. It followed in 2025 after the Italian banking crash of 2021-2, as European elites recovered from the Brexit scare and took steps to ensure that no such thing as the loss of the UK’s financial reserves could happen again.

Professor Hindsight is especially insightful in his account of how the UK’s failed attempt at secession was redescribed in retrospect as a backward step, and how informal pressures were brought to bear to marginalise protesters. Rightly, Leavers had already been largely edged out of the UK university world before 2019, but further progress was made after Corbyn’s victory in the general election of that year to tone down unacceptable opinion in the broadcast media and the press. Dissident philosophers and other academics were excluded from public life on fake charges unrelated to the main ground on which they were targeted; Brexit was less and less mentioned. Soon Euro-enthusiasm was the new norm, and it evoked few protests.

Could the UK have taken a different course, and flourished outside the United States of Europe? Hindsight convincingly shows us that it could not. Progress and modernity point in only one direction. This is an admirable volume. Professor Hindsight fully deserves the Order of Monnet, bestowed on him by the Commission of a grateful United States of Europe.