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As the national mood shifts,a reminder that the £350m for the NHS was just one of many Brexit lies past present future

Posted on 14 July 2017 | 9:07am

I am well aware I live in LME land – indeed perhaps the NW3 postcode could hardly be more Liberal Metropolitan Elite if it tried. I am also aware that I wear my anti-Brexit views loudly, so most of the people I bump into round here, in so far as they have a view about what my views might be, will be roughly aware of what I think.

But today’s stroll to pick up a repeat prescription – the state of the country is not doing much for my depression these days – was a further indication to me that the Brexit debate is on the move. I particularly enjoyed the woman outside All Hallows Church who interrupted the call on her mobile phone to tell me ‘David Cameron should be SHOT!’

Lest she end up in a 4th Viscount St Davids Aristo Plonker v Gina Miller style court case for malicious communications, I should make clear that this was very much a figure of speech rather than an exhortation to murder. But it preceded a passionate rant against Cameron for calling and losing the referendum and then running away, Theresa May for being so useless, and Jeremy Corbyn for being, so far as Brexit was concerned, no better.

A little further on a parent heading to see his daughter take part in a school sports day at the Parliament Hill running track had a copy of The New European, and told me he was glad we had switched to tabloid form ‘because there is even more to read.’ Look on twitter and you will see something similar happened in The Strand yesterday. The paper born out of the ashes of June 23 2016 is here to stay, and I recommend a subscription.

Then came a woman who asked me if I had heard Andrew Adonis on the Today programme – I hadn’t. ‘He was marvellous,’ she said, ‘he was on there about education but he had a little blast on Brexit where he said in three sentences what everyone is thinking. It is a complete catastrophe.’

One year on, there has definitely been a shift of gear in the public debate. As I know not just from random encounters, but also my email and postbox, it is still in the ‘what the hell do we do?’ phase. But it is forming into something more concrete, and eventually the MPs are going to have to wise up and follow the lead of the people on this.

In the meantime, below is my offering this week for The New European, which has as the cover piece a brilliant essay by chess genius Garry Kasparov on Putin, Trump, Brexit and the need for Europe to be strong right now. I have focused, more prosaically, on the remarkable litany of lies told by the Brexiteers before, during and since the referendum, the latest of which is that anyone who voted Labour or Tory was voting for a hard Brexit. Well, I wasn’t, and nor were many of the Labour voters I know round here and beyond.

And as I told my interlocutors this morning, they must keep the rage levels high, and rejoice in the fact that the Brexiteers no longer even bother saying that Brexit will be good for Britain, merely that it has to happen because the country voted for it. They are on the run.

When the Brexit pathology is studied, hopefully by historians examining how the UK found its reverse gear and pulled back from national self-mutilation, the role of lying will have a prominent place in their analysis of how the return journey to sanity was made.

The £350m extra per week for the NHS is merely the most famous of a whole galaxy of lies on which the Brexit case was built and continues to be pursued. These days, the Brextremists like to say it wasn’t really a promise, so much as a clever campaign tactic, an illustration of what could happen if everything went well. This is, like most things that emerge from the mouths of hardened Brexiteers, disengenuous at best, another lie at worst.

Not even Boris Johnson believes it, or tries to defend it any more. But why should he worry? We live in an era when proven liars rise to be US President, or count their time in the Kremlin in decades not years, or in Johnson’s case get rewarded for his leading role in a campaign of lies with promotion to Foreign Secretary, allowing him to hold on to the belief that he can one day pursue his Churchill Fantasy all the way to Number 10.

Can anyone recall the last time Johnson was challenged over the £350m claim, or its role in helping the Brexiteers to their narrow victory? ‘Boring,’ say the Brextremists. ‘Old news,’ echo the media. ‘Time to shape a Brexit for the many not the few,’ say Labour. ‘Phew,’ says Boris, ‘looks like I got away with it again.’ Like he got away with the lies he told for the Daily Telegraph in his days as Brussels correspondent, when his ‘EU ban on bent bananas’ was but the best known of his post-lunch inventions.

And while the £350m big fat lie on the big red bus may be the one we remember, neither should we forget that LEAVE lied about so much more … we had promises that coming out of the EU would see us building not just more hospitals but ‘hundreds’ of new schools. There would be lower taxes for families and businesses, lower council tax, lower VAT on fuel, no VAT on tampons, higher wages, stronger employment rights, more roads, more money for railways, more cash for regional airports, more pay for junior doctors, abolition of prescription charges, more money for scientific research, equal or more support for universities, regional funds and cultural organisations, more public support for agriculture, more for tax credits, money for steel workers, money for new submarines. We were even going to get more to fix potholes. Lie upon lie upon lie.

Then there was the lie that we would be able to negotiate new trade deals with the US, China, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand ‘immediately after we vote Leave.’ Er, like last June 24. How is that going Mr Fox? Not as well as your air miles account. But not to worry eh … after all, these new trade deals that we don’t have and can’t yet negotiate will take effect immediately as we leave the EU. Or not.

And just as they had a nice round number for the extra money for the NHS, they showed the same attention to invented detail with their lie about how many new UK jobs will be created through new trade deals with USA, Japan, ASEAN, India and Mercosur. 284,000 no less. Or not.

We had the lie of the points-based immigration system. We had the lie told to EU citizens currently living in the UK, who subsequently became ‘pawns,’ that there would be no change to their status.

Then there were the trade lies about how we would stay in the single market. At worst, David Davis assured us, we would get a deal with the exact same benefits. Johnson couldn’t have been clearer. ‘There will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market.’ His former pal Michael Gove called it ‘win-win – we maintain free trade, stop sending money and also have control of our borders.’

Oh, but then there was the widely ignored question of that other border, the one between Northern Ireland and the Republic. There was ‘no prospect of security checks returning to the border.’ Promise. Honest guv. ‘There is no reason why the UK’s only land border should be any less open after Brexit than it is today,’ was how then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers put it. At best, a false promise, at worst a lie.

Lie upon lie upon lie. And before anyone goes all ‘dodgy dossier, 45 minutes’ on me … five inquiries, cleared by all of them. So as a proven teller of truth, I feel well qualified to call out these Lying Brexit Bastards.

A new Big Lie is currently entering the Big Lie lexicon. It is that 51.9 percent having voted LEAVE last June 23 – National Self-Harm Day – the number has now risen to over 80percent. The thinking is that given neither Tory nor Labour committed themselves to reversing Brexit, that means anyone who voted for either is now signed up to it. And as the only avowedly anti-Brexit parties did not set the electoral heather on fire – the SNP slipping back, the Lib Dems failing to cut through with their pledge of a second referendum, the Greens struggling to make gains – so far as the Brextremists are concerned, the debate about whether we leave really is over. But it really isn’t, is it? In fact, might the reason the Brexiteers are getting a bit panicky is that they know from their contacts in their constituencies, and from businesses in virtually every sector, that with every day the Brexit cliff-edge gets closer, the desire to pull back gets stronger?

I am one of those 80percent. I voted Labour. Partly out of tribal loyalty. But also, as I wrote in The New European shortly after the election was called, to stop Theresa May getting the mandate she sought for a hard Brexit at any cost. We all have our own reasons for voting this way or that, and I know I am far from being alone in saying that was mine. It is also true that if Mrs May had secured the landslide she sought and expected, she would have had the mandate to do what was set out in her manifesto. But she didn’t, so she doesn’t, and that is why she is reduced to a pathetic relaunch founded on pleas to other parties to share their ideas with her.

What neither she nor Jeremy Corbyn nor anyone else is entitled to do is to assume, let alone state, that those who voted Labour at the last election did so as an expression of support for Brexit. And if Labour stick with their current position, which is far too close to the government’s to be of any meaningful difference, then not just old tribal loyalties, but I suspect the support of many of the younger people Corbyn motivated to vote Labour, will be tested.

There is undoubtedly a shift against Brexit taking place, but with scant reflection of that in Parliament. Day after day, whether it is economic bad news, or another sector or individual calling for a rethink, we see that change, even with a media largely determined to shut real debate down. And just look at how even among the true believing Brextremists the debate has shifted. They have gone from a pre-referendum posture of ‘Brexit is going to be absolutely brilliant’ to ‘we know it is not going to be brilliant, but there will be a lot of trouble if we don’t deliver it.’

Even the most ardent among them have stopped making any effort to argue, that Britain will be better off. At the weekend, the Brextremist ‘line to take,’ circulated to their little band of ideologues from Brexit Central, was that democracy itself would have to be questioned unless Brexit was delivered, as voted for last June. So even they, it seems, no longer think Brexit should happen because it is good for the country, but simply because the country voted for it, at one moment in time.

There are however two other elements of democracy worth mentioning – and they are related. One is the role of truth. The other is the right of people to change their mind. And partly because the public now has a clear sense not only that they were lied to during the referendum, but that they are now being fed a different set of lies about how pain-free Brexit will be, they are beginning to doubt the good sense of exiting the EU, and moving to the idea that the country may need to take another look at this.

So it may well be that though the Lib Dems’ central line on a ‘final deal’ second referendum was rejected at the election as the two party hegemony reasserted itself, that is where we end up. Democracy, dare I suggest to the Johnsons of this world, may end up demanding it.

Meanwhile, as the economic reasons to change course mount, the Brextremists and their cheerleading papers are reduced to taking at 100percent face value the word of Donald Trump, who in a succession of bilaterals at the G20 Summit said pretty much whatever the person in the square comfy chair next to him wanted to hear, even if it was directly contradicted either by something he had said in a previous meeting to a previous square comfy chair incumbent, or to an audience back home.

Watching Theresa May lap up his meaningless promise of a great trade deal, which he was going to do very quickly – of course he will, he is Superman – was to wonder what part of ‘America First’ she fails to grasp. It was also to realize that she, like her plans for Brexit, are weakened beyond repair. As a result, Vince Cable is not the only one thinking Brexit may never actually happen.