I studied the European Union for a semester in Denmark during my undergraduate years, so I have a positive view of the European project. What the Single Market has achieved is remarkable and never previously achieved by any group of countries before. The “democratic deficit” has been a long-simmering problem for the EU for decades, and I am sympathetic to the desire to reform EU governance. However, the U.K. already had a sweetheart deal with the EU (and was offered a better deal this past winter), so the vote last week I found disappointing. It seems to be an enormous economic waste and self-inflicted wound for England. Adding to the chaos, the most vocal proponents for Brexit are acting like the dog that catches the car and then doesn’t know what to do. This is the best description of how the U.K. arrived at this moment:
The thing people often forget about Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried wolf is that in the end, there really was a wolf. Indeed, the story wouldn’t have its moral if the wolf didn’t show up and ravage the shepherd boy’s flock. Lying has consequences that last far longer than individual acts of deception: it ruins the liar’s ability to convince people when it really matters.
The source of the mistrust between the establishment and the country isn’t difficult to fathom. Next week the Chilcot inquiry will publish its findings into the Iraq war. After Iraq, we faced an economic crisis that few experts saw coming until it was too late. Then followed austerity; now the experts said this was precisely the wrong response to the crisis, but it happened anyway.
When leaders choose the facts that suit them, ignore the facts that don’t and, in the absence of suitable facts, simply make things up, people don’t stop believing in facts – they stop believing in leaders. They do so not because they are over-emotional, under-educated, bigoted or hard-headed, but because trust has been eroded to such a point that the message has been so tainted by the messenger as to render it worthless.
This was the wolf we were warned about. It is now mauling our political culture and savaging our economic wellbeing. We were warned of it by leaders in whom we had no confidence. So we all chose the facts we liked, and we all suffered. The wolf does not discriminate. As Aesop reminds us at the end of the fable: “Nobody believes a liar, even when he’s telling the truth.”