Cover Image: The Great British Reboot

The Great British Reboot

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Member Reviews

I was hoping for something more tightly argued when I saw this title on offer on netgalley. How are things shaping up for the Brexit side? What is the outlook for a post-Brexit Britain? Unfortunately, the book suffers from two major flaws: one, many of its arguments for a post-Brexit prosperity are premised on wishy-washy ideas about British resourcefulness and enterprise, and two, some of the advantages of post-Brexit Britain have more to do with the inevitable (and probably painful) shake-up of the economy than with leaving the EU per se.

Let me explain. Brummer's disaffection with the EU goes back 10 years ago when the EU (under the leadership of Germany) imposed harsh asterity measures and budgetary control on Greece, making him wonder whether the UK would be better off outside the bloc. Indeed, many of us thought along similar lines at the time. However, he then goes on to draw some rather spurious conclusions. Consider this, for example:

It was the breakdown of the banking system in 2008 and the subsequent decade of constrained public spending and austerity measures that contributed to the increased homelessness and use of food banks decried in the national conversation, not the decision to leave the EU. Social deprivation in the world's fifth-largest economy is intolerable.

Really? Who was responsible for bringing in those austerity measures that led to suicides by disabled people suddenly seeing their benefits slashed and their livelihoods threatened because of the "bedroom tax"? Was it the EU or was it the Tories who argued that money does not "grow on trees" and if people cannot heat their homes they could perhaps try wearing an extra jumper? Who does he take us for? Children, with no memories of what actually happened? Or idiots who are going to dump it all on scapegoats?

Brummer believes that the UK's "new status outside the EU provides an enormous opportunity for the country to refocus on what we are good at", which, in a nutshell is its great research universities, its financial services, its high tech, aerospace, creative industries "and much more". Let's take these one by one. The great research universities. Is it any coincidence that universities largely dread Brexit because of the difficulties to funding and collaboration that brexit will bring? Has anyone forgotten May's decision to lump international students with immigrants whose numbers need to come down? Creative industries: is it any chance that musicians and actors are finding it increasingly difficult to travel and that they may be required to produce visas? I cannot say whether financial services are going to benefit or not; maybe they are as Britain is very keen to attract international money that would be taxed elsewhere. But if that is the status Britain aspires to, namely that of a tax haven, I worry this will be prosperity for a select few.

The second problem of the book has to do with the reasons why Brummer believes Britain is likely to prosper if it leaves the EU. This is not to do with EU itelf but with the fact that leaving the bloc will galvanise the nation into action. "The EU was an excuse for the UK to avoid making fundamental changes in its trading relationships, leaving it to simply muddle through without any clear plan of its own". So, the argument is that because the UK has gone into a lull by joining the EU, let's leave the EU so that hopefully we shake ourselves up a bit! What an argument! it's like someone who has a 9-to-5 job which they dread, and are dreaming of maybe one day becoming a photographer; Brummer would tell them, dump your day job and start your photography business right here right now. yes, its' risky but think how much it will galvanise you! True, somepeople do it and thrive. But some go bust and some lose their homes. What Brummer does not say is that there is an alternative, which is to devise a clear plan for the future without leaving the day job until one is ready to do so.

There's more muddled thinking in the book. Globalisation, or more precisely the sale of British companies to foreign interests, is concerning to Brummer. We lost sight of the national interest by selling assets to the highest bidder, he thinks. Well, that may be so, but it was not the EU that ratified those sales.

I'd like to clarify that my motive in criticising Brummer's book is not a firm belief in the superiority of the EU alternative. I genuinely want to see what the advantages might be in the UK leaving. Unfortunately, I don't find any of the options on offer here remotely convincing. This is not to say that there is a catastrophe facing the country on the other side. Whether the contry will suffer or thrive in the long term depends on many factors some of which are entirely unpredicable (Trump's recent loss in the Presidential elections is one). That said, I think that the architects of post-Brexit Britain need to have a clearer idea of what lies ahead as we're literaly now days before the great British exodus...

My thanks to netgallet and Yale University Press for an advance copy.
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