There is a crisis of trust in British institutions that has been made worse by Brexit.
Although there has probably never been a golden age when a revered establishment was held in high regard both publicly and privately, the current position is worse than normal and continues to deteriorate.
The problem is that people are right to be distrustful, for there is an effort both to frighten and to gull them into acquiescing into a non-Brexit Brexit.
The Government is primarily to blame. Its Withdrawal Agreement contradicts its previous and clear policies, while its spokesmen insist that the reverse is true. In the 2017 manifesto, the Conservatives said that the country would leave the single market and the customs union.
The backstop and the proposed treaty keeps the whole of the UK in the customs union, which allows the EU to set tax rates, with Northern Ireland in the single market too. There was no footnote listing these exceptions. The promises were clear and have been broken.
There is no end date to the backstop, so no time limit can be applied and the best answer that the Government can give is that the EU does not like the backstop much either. If that is so, why is it there in the first place?
Theresa May has personally been equally clear that no prime minister would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Again, this was an unqualified promise and seemed uncontroversial for the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, but it has turned out to be false for she has agreed to exactly that.
Indeed, a whole annexe to the Withdrawal Treaty says so. The only argument in defence of this constitutional novelty is that the UK could withdraw from the treaty, but there is no provision for this and as a rule the nation abides by its commitments.
In the course of the negotiations, the Government consistently said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” but it now transpires that the money was not part of this catchphrase.
This means the country could spend £39 billion without knowing what the future agreement is going to be, so our strongest negotiating card has been played for nothing in return. This seems careless and less than competent but, worse, it contradicts clear policy.
Even before the ability of the EU to set our laws and interpret them through the European Court system is examined, when the Government’s specious claims can easily be exposed, clear promises on taking back control of our laws, preserving the integrity of the UK and using our money wisely have been broken but not admitted. No wonder trust is evaporating.
Yet, it is not only the Government that has fallen in esteem. The Bank of England’s behaviour is perverse. Mark Carney, the current Governor, has never been able to explain why he failed to give any warning about Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies before the 2017 general election but warns constantly about Brexit. The threats and terrors pile up as Pelion upon Ossa even when the earlier ones have been shown to be fake.
Before the referendum, Mr Carney warned of a “technical recession”and that interest rates could rise. There was no recession and rates fell. The wiser Andrew Haldane has discussed the difficulties of economic forecasting and predicting inflexion points but the Governor ploughs on. Conveniently for his political bosses, his actions fit in with their news agenda shortly before a House of Commons vote.
The Bank of England was given charge of interest rates because politicians were not trusted to set them for purely economic reasons rather than to help out in a political cycle. Can anyone now trust the Bank to set rates impartially? As Andrew Sentance, a former member of the Monetary Policy Committee, says, Mark Carney is in danger of ruining the credibility of the Bank.
This means that if mortgage rates go up, which at some point they will, the Bank’s motives will be suspect. It also risks calling into question the institutions which we must trust, especially the Civil Service, which has come under attack recently, and the judiciary, which was briefly in the firing line. The loss of the Bank’s impartiality would make it easier to attack even more important institutions.
Sadly, this is damaging for the body politic. If established institutions mislead their democratic masters then people will look for alternatives. Across Europe the plump, self-satisfied elite is being washed away by populist movements who often encompass extreme and politically dangerous views.
As British institutions lose respect because of their condescension, so more populist movements may rise in response, which in the end would be worse for those they seek to represent. If only politicians could stick to their word and impartial institutions could stick to their jobs then democracy would flourish.
To read the piece in full, click here.