Brexit: total catastrophe or timely cure for obesity?


Social media has become a global echo chamber that hugely magnifies our collective unhappiness. Where once we might have grumbled to our neighbours in a post office queue, or over a pint of mild in the local, we now post angry tweets about all the iniquities of life.

On my own Twitter timeline recently, there has been a great deal about the horrors of the UK’s supposed obesity epidemic, alongside strident alarm calls about imminently forthcoming food shortages ‘because of Brexit’.

I somehow doubt that the second problem, if it actually happens, will be greeted as a welcome solution to the first. But it just might turn out to be.

There was very similar alarmism about the consequences if Britain allowed itself to be dragged into war with Germany in 1939. Stanley Baldwin had warned in 1932 that ‘the bomber will always get through’ and the results were expected to be catastrophic. Not just in material destruction, but mass starvation, epidemics, and a total collapse of morale that might ultimately send large sections of the population insane.

And the reality?

The health of the population in the years 1939-45 improved on every measure, mental hospitals emptied and the suicide rate plummeted. Admittedly it was not such good news if you had a close encounter with a Luftwaffe bomb or a blacked-out truck, and for some the war was no doubt a period of utter misery. But I am old enough to have met many members of the generation now finally departing who looked back on it fondly as the best time of their lives.

This is not to suggest that we are facing a re-run of WW2 or that Jean-Claude Juncker is another Adolf Hitler. Dear me, no. There are important differences in their motivation and approach, and Hitler was famously a teetollar.

Sciatic: condition resulting from drinking large quantities of red wine while suffering from sciatica. See also: palatick.

Nevertheless, I do see some parallels. Those who predict utter misery and repeatedly ask whether it can possibly be worth the hassle of leaving the EU have much the same mindset as those who favoured appeasement at all costs 80 years ago.

They are also, by and large, the same people who have spent most of my life arguing that membership of what became the EU involved no essential loss of British sovereignty and that its interference in our daily lives was vastly exaggerated.

Only now to contend, without apparently sensing any contradiction, that we are far too deeply entangled ever to leave it; and, if we dare to attempt it, daily life will become all but impossible as planes fall from the sky and essential supplies dry up.

This is quite amusing in its way, like those on the Left who segue effortlessly between condemning the Tories for destroying the coal industry, and for not doing nearly enough to combat climate change.

But ultimately it is all part of the Big Con to which we have been subjected since Common Market membership first became a serious issue in the 1960s. The essence of the Con is that the educated European political elite knows far better than the thick lumpenproletariat what is good for it, so the tricks are:

  • to lie to the public about what you are doing, and why (a prime example being the presentation of the euro, which was predictably economically destructive for much of Europe, as a device to increase prosperity rather than to drive EU-wide fiscal and political integration);
  • never to consult the electorate if it can possibly be avoided; and;
  • if you are somehow forced to make the mistake of ignoring (b), keep asking them the same question until you can weary the halfwitted voters into giving you the right answer.

It was always inevitable that the unexpected result of the 2016 UK referendum would be challenged, and our leaders are shamelessly pursuing a course that can only lead to either:

  • more or less total capitulation to the EU and continued membership in all but name – which they will then be able to argue is actually worse than our previous position as we will be subject to all the rules without having any say in their formulation; or
  • a total breakdown of negotiations which will create the spectre of an imminent ‘no deal Brexit’ with all the catastrophic consequences previously outlined, leading to civil unrest, the collapse of the Government, and overwhelming pressure for a second referendum to reverse the unutterable folly of the first one.

I am not an optimist. I voted for Leave never believing that it would ever actually be allowed to happen, and nothing that has happened to date moves me one inch from that view.

Yet were we permitted, by some remote mischance, to leave the EU without a deal, history does strongly suggest that the gloomiest predictions will not be fulfilled, and there might even be some positive unintended consequences.

For Public Health England, surely a dream come true?

Given the increasingly authoritarian approach of this allegedly Conservative government to issues like obesity, surely an excuse to reintroduce food rationing will at least afford some comfort if they fail in their efforts to secure a Remain-friendly outcome to the increasingly nominal Brexit process?


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