The ‘take back control’ myth: Overselling, under-delivering, and leading to ever more disillusionment with politics and politicians.

First published in March 2021.

Priti Patel pledges overhaul of asylum seeker rules
Refugees coming to the UK via official schemes will find it easier to stay than those arriving illegally, she says.

I am struck by the parallels between this and Brexit: in both cases, there is a failure to accept that making rules for your state doesn’t mean being able to make rules for other states.

In the asylum case, Priti Patel is suggesting that “illegal” entries by asylum seekers will result in rapid removal from the UK. But removal to where? How do you get other (even ‘safe’) states to accept what are, under international law, people who are within their rights to be in UK?

Likewise, the Brexit debate has been about “taking back control”, but that can’t mean “forcing others to accept whatever you want”, only “asking others to see what they’ll agree to”.

This is the fundamental fallacy of the “take back control” narrative: it suggests not simply the removal of external impositions, but a deeper empowerment to do whatever you like.

Sounds great, but not a realistic understanding of the world as it is.

tl;dr, overselling, under-delivering, leading to ever more disillusionment with politics and politicians.

Or as Lord Michael Heseltine put it: “The man in the desert is free. He has sovereignty, but he has no power.” 

Going Further:

Professor Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.


[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 24 March 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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