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At the same time, this noise does not really address the counterfactuals — the “what ifs?”. The key one relates to what level best answers the need to address future problems in a way that enjoys democratic consent. The latter is the crucial element, not least because the unity for which Theresa May honourably and valiantly calls will be elusive. Such consent is a vital element because it is difficult to envisage the challenges of the future without the need to win support for difficult compromises. This is already apparent in such matters as housing, pensions and taxation, and will probably become more pressing. The opportunities to opt out of many hard choices by turning to the funds successively made available by North Sea oil, privatisation and quantitative easing have made the process of future consent more difficult.

Such consent at the national level will be very difficult, but current problems across the European Union suggest that it will be even harder at that level. Given the tendency in the EU towards convergence and a federalist centralism, then British opt-outs or divergences — whether in VAT exclusions, the percentage of those with private pensions, not being a member of the eurozone or following a particular line on immigration — may become more difficult. Yet, for many, these reflect and/or sustain particular characteristics of identity and nationhood that they do not wish to lose. Unsurprisingly, there is much here that is familiar, notably in terms of debates about identity.

Britain is a European country but that does not dictate any particular political arrangement. This also applies to the future. So many uncertainties exist: each adds speculation and hypotheses to current information. Uncertainties also serve to challenge theoretical frameworks and to pose question-marks to historic perspectives. These uncertainties relate both to Britain and to the continent, and it is never clear how to rank them and what causal links should be to the fore.

 To turn to Britain, it is unclear how far Brexit will undermine the Union and, more generally, reopen questions of Britishness, and, separately, how far it will liberalise the British economy. Such uncertainties have been pushed back as the very process of implementing Brexit has raised questions about not only what Brexit means but also whether it will occur at all.

As far as the continent is concerned, it is unclear whether President Macron will really be able to reverse the socialist tide that France has been riding since 1981 and that has pushed down its trend rate of growth. It is unclear whether the euro will continue to give Germany an unassailable economic advantage. In 2018, Hungary, Italy and Poland all displayed a willingness to oppose either the EU or its major constituent powers, or both, the new Italian government being vociferous in opposition to both France and Germany. It is unclear if Eurocrats reflect the views of the governments that appoint them, or whether they have seized power so that the EU is out of control.
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Lawrence James
November 10th, 2018
4:11 PM
This article is predicated on the flimsy assumption that a third of the electorate is somehow the authentic voice of the whole nation. It is not. Another equally questionable assumption is that historians are out of touch - they don't 'get out much' whatever that they may mean. We do. We also understand more about the past which has shaped the modern world and the nature of relations between nations. But such knowledge based upon study does count for anything in the Brexiteer mind, which is hostile to all experts, the more so when they contradict visceral passions.

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