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Artillery Row

Do you feel in control?

Seven years on from the Brexit vote, it is hard to feel independent

There’s an iconic scene in The Dark Knight Rises, the much-maligned final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Bane, the main protagonist, is conspiring with John Daggett, a wealthy businessman to enact a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises (Batman’s corporation).  While Daggett lambasts the villain over the failure to make him CEO, Bane asks a third. “Don’t go, I’m in charge!” Daggett retorts. The hitherto unreactive Bane calmly, but ruthlessly places his hand on Daggett’s vulnerable shoulder. Daggett realises now that he and the thuggish masked villain have not been partners, but that he is merely a pawn in Bane’s big-picture game of 4D chess. Bane calmly asks: “Do you feel in charge?”, before swiftly snapping his neck.

17.4 million people, many of whom had long given up hope in the British state, put their faith in a campaign to “take back control”. Seven years on from the vote to leave the European Union, the question — whether you voted Leave or not — is, do you feel in control? Are you in control of what home you live in? Of your own business? Of your own pay slip? Of what you can say or eat, drink, and smoke? Do you feel in control of your own streets?

Of course, the “take back control” mantra referred to national decisions. Nonetheless, both the success of the Leave campaign — and the subsequent campaign to reverse that outcome — revealed deep frustrations across the country that too many of the decisions that influence our lives were being taken by people who are detached from us, who don’t understand us, who are not accountable to us.

Those frustrations haven’t gone away after Brexit

Those frustrations haven’t gone away after Brexit, but now, instead of being able to blame Brussels, anger is being directed at the “other side”. Britain’s cosmopolitans, most of whom voted Remain, feel that Britain is becoming insular and regressive. As James Marriott wrote in The Times last week, the post-referendum era has “unleashed new and unaccustomed feelings of powerlessness and anger among educated liberals.” And for that, many of them blame voters and politicians who have a more nationalistic vision of Britain’s future.

Many on the other side remain angry. Some say that Brexit has been betrayed in a whole host of ways and that a cosmopolitan, anti-Brexit bureaucratic “blob” still denies them the democratic control that they crave. Indeed, the power of unaccountable EU bureaucrats has not gone away, it has simply been absorbed by an expanded class of unaccountable bureaucrats in Whitehall and across the country. The civil service is now one-quarter larger than in 2016.

This is where the Bane analogy applies. Leavers, like John Daggett, joined with a much bigger, more powerful partner in the form of pro-Brexit political elites to further their agenda. And like Daggett, it was thought that Leavers could control our powerful partner until we realised that it was pursuing an agenda of its own.

Like each one of us, the government is driven by self-interest; it wants control just as much as we do. But those two cannot co-exist, when the government intervenes in an area of our lives, it removes control from us. So, if you, like me, are a young person who doesn’t feel in control of whether they will be able to buy a home, you should demand answers from Westminster and local governments. Through imposing an absurdly burdensome planning system on us, they have deprived us of the right to build and replaced it with a right to object. Older generations, who were able to buy houses at the price of three or four times the average salary, are empowered by the state to protect the value of their home by vetoing attempts to build yours. That is, in large part, why the average house now costs 9.1 times the average salary, because the government has control, not us.

If you are frustrated by losing control of your right to peacefully enjoy a cheap beer or packet of cigarettes, the government is once again the culprit. They have assumed control over your body, over your health decisions, and they have done so by piling new taxes and regulations on things that are bad for you. They have been driven to do so by a public health lobby so well-funded and short of real problems to care about, that it has assumed responsibility for your own well-being. Government bureaucrats enthusiastically co-operate with them, as do those MPs we voted to give more control to in 2016. To make matters worse, the justification for taking control away from you is safeguarding the NHS. After sacrificing our most basic freedoms to save the health service during COVID, as cancer waiting lists pile up, and out of pocket healthcare expenses grow, Westminster shows no sign of stopping its attempts to take control away from us in order to “protect the NHS”.

Neither of those examples were particularly impacted by the EU to begin with. In areas like housing and healthcare, Westminster was depriving us of control long before the EU referendum was called. Where the EU was genuinely taking freedom away from us, Westminster has done little to push reforms. Retained EU regulations and new post-Brexit red tape in areas like customs, carbon emissions, and financial services among others, continue to restrict the freedom of our entrepreneurs, while holding back growth and dynamism in the economy. We seem to have suffered all the costs of Brexit without exploiting the benefits of our newly repatriated control.

Alas, Westminster is doing little to cut that burden, seemingly focused on increasing the red tape burden on households. The government has added £14.3 billion in red tape since the 2019 General Election and according to analysis by my colleagues at the Institute of Economic Affairs, an upcoming tranche of net zero and nanny state regulations are set to add at least £1,035 to the average household bill between now and the end of 2024.

I could go on. An ever-increasing chunk of our hard-earned money is being wasted on the government or being lost to the inflation its bureaucratic mismanagement caused; all to pay for them to take more and more decision-making ability about our bodies, homes, families, and businesses away from us.

Even still, they continue their crusade to blame anyone but themselves for the messes they have caused. They will blame successful companies and banks for inflation, blame immigrants for the housing crisis, they blame Brexiteers or Remainers for everything else depending on the audience. Because of the decision to leave the EU in 2016, there are no more Brussels bureaucrats to hide behind. If you are still frustrated by the fact that bureaucrats and ivory tower politicians seem to have more control than you do, the only place to look is Westminster. The buck stops there.

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