Yesterday’s news that a German company is closing its factory in Llanelli, citing Brexit uncertainty as a factor, *should* make people locally think about whether Brexit is such a good idea after all. I doubt that it will, though. We all see events through the prism of our own priors, and for those who think that multinational companies are trying to bully them into changing their minds, the news will merely reinforce that belief. There have been plenty already willing to say that the company is hiding behind Brexit as a soft excuse for something it would probably have done anyway. And they might even be at least partly right to believe that; although Brexit was cited as ‘a factor’, it was almost certainly not the only one. Being the last straw isn’t the same as being the initial or prime cause.
But this business of seeing things through the perspective of our own beliefs goes much wider than that. Writing in the Irish Times yesterday, Robert Shrimsley said that Brexit is ‘teaching Britain its true place in the world’. I really wish that were true, but as any teacher will know and understand, there are two sides to education. Delivering the lesson is one part; understanding and learning from it is something completely different. And often the lesson learned isn’t the same one as was being taught. As far as much of the UK is concerned, it seems that when the rest of the world tries to show the UK what it’s real place in the world is, the response is not understanding and enlightenment, but resentment and rejection of both the message and the messenger. For Anglo-British not-nationalists-at-all who ‘know’, with absolute certainty, that the UK is superior to everyone else and entitled to behave accordingly, the message received isn’t the same as the one sent.
Also in yesterday’s Irish Time, Fintan O’Toole suggested that the Prime Minister should be allowed to present what is likely to be a humiliating climb-down as a great victory, because saving face is something that the rest of the UK can afford to grant the UK. Logic says that he has a point; but there’s more to all this than mere logic, which is why I choose to disagree. Getting the UK to understand its true status in the world is about the only good thing that might yet come out of Brexit, despite my growing pessimism about even that. Letting the UK Government off the hook by allowing them to pretend that they’ve won a great victory over those horrid Europeans seems to me a means of perpetuating the illusions which they harbour. Those illusions really need to be shattered, once and for all. And it seems to me that it has to be done the hard way – the rest of the world needs to be prepared to be cruel in the short term in order to be kind in the long term.