The Talking Politics podcast can be very good but I think we will look back on episode #122 as one of the worst. A token, plucky remainer on to explain that a no deal might be tricky, surrounded by almost disdainful academics.
First, I’d be interested in empirical evidence for Helen Thompson’s assertion that:
…in the terms of Leave voters, as opposed to a number of the conservative politicians in the Leave campaign, there’s zero evidence that imperial nostalgia is part of what’s going on here. I think that’s actually more the other way round, in the sense of the argument that Britain must have outsized influence in the world is actually more common on the Remain side of the arguments, actually than it is on the Leave side, as I said, exempting a few conservative politicians from that.
I got the definite impression that a significant number of Leave voters (the sort from the home counties, not the northern ex-industrial towns) were voting for an (imagined) 1950s where the UK (but probably England) wasn’t held back by the EU. Where we were free to form alliances with other countries and make CANZUK real. And implicit in those fantasies was the UK leading the grateful Canada, Australia, New Zealand. In short, I think Thomson’s exactly wrong about imperial nostalgia not being part of Leave.
Second, I was surprised by Thompson’s view on Northern Ireland:
And the European Union has taken a very strident stand on the question of the Irish border and the response it wants via the backstop to the Irish border. If Theresa May cannot deliver something that can get through the House of Commons, I think it ultimately will be because the EU has taken that stand. And I’m not making a judgment about it one way or another, but that is not something that was in the negotiating. We go back to the way things looked in March 2017, when it was a different government in Dublin. This is not necessarily a path that could have been anticipated. Now some people would say, ‘Well that’s naive because you could see that the European Union would use the Irish question as a way of trying to either to humiliate Britain or to try to keep it in the European Union by default.’
My emphasis. It was known well before the referendum that Northern Ireland would be an important complication in exactly how Brexit would er actually work. The EU always was going to take a stand. I’m not sure I understand how anyone can say “This is not necessarily a path that could have been anticipated”.
Runciman jokes about what many listeners must be thinking – what is the point of political academics given how awful their predictive ability is? Northern Ireland was always going to be central to the negotiations. I’ve listened to the podcast since well before the referendum and it hasn’t ever really engaged with this issue. Not merely is their predictive power poor but on this occasion they missed a key topic. Saying it is just “because the EU has taken that stand” doesn’t excuse it.
I will be listening next week, obvs.