Tuesday, 10 March 2020

The Brexit Virus

Several thousand EU nurses and doctors have left the UK since the referendum and newly registered EU nurses are down nearly 90% The NHS was short of nurses to start with. It seems likely that in the coming months, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of elderly Brits are going to contract COVID19 and require urgent medical care. The disease has at least a 15% mortality rate in the over 80s. But there won’t be enough doctors and nurses to help them. Not all of them.

Many of them will likely suffer more than they needed too. Some will likely die. Some of them will be people who voted Leave and have spent three years scoffing at the suggestion that they didn’t know what they voted for. But I can’t help but wonder, as they teeter on the brink between life and death, if some of them will perhaps regret their decision to send all those EU nurses packing. I suspect some of them might conclude that they didn’t know what they were voting for after all.

This is no time for ‘I told you so’ scoldings, and wishing death on anyone as punishment for the way they voted is just plain wrong. But it does highlight one of the arguments I made in favour of Remain. An argument that few people I put it to could quite grasp. I’d simply ask, how many unnecessary deaths is an acceptable price to pay for Brexit?

Politics is a game of consequence. People live and die according to policy implementation. In times of economic hardship, deaths are an inevitable consequence. Infants who do not receive the proper medical care in cash strapped hospitals, children in abusive homes who are not rescued by underfunded social services. People lose jobs and end up on the streets, leading to drug misuse and early death. There are countless ways to die. We’ll all eventually find our own way out. But we’d all like it to be no earlier than necessary. 

There was - and is -  no question that we’d be better off financially within the EU. So the question should have been asked, and reasoned answers provided. How many unnecessary deaths are an acceptable price of Brexit? But the argument on Brexit in the homes, streets and workplaces of the UK was a tribal one. Us and them. Remain and Leave. People picked a flag and waved it proudly, defiantly and unwaveringly like a fan on the terraces at a football match. Facts be damned. 

The true political consequences of Brexit were always, at best, an afterthought. Something trivial to be dealt with tomorrow. Alas. For many people, the consequences are about to come home to roost in a most unpleasant manner, an awful lot quicker than anyone imagined. And the truth is this. Those Leavers who fall victim to COVID19  and find themselves struggling to receive the care they need, either really didn’t know what they were voting for, or are fucking dedicated to the cause. 

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