Catastrophic Confidence

In an episode of the BBC comedy Red Dwarf, the down-on-his-luck crewman Dave Lister met physical embodiments of both his Self-confidence and Paranoia. 

Paranoia was a small, weaselly man who constantly reminded Dave of his shortcomings and failures, while Confidence was a large happy man who praised Dave non-stop and always tried to cheer him up. 

Lister (Left), Confidence (Right) © BBC

CONFIDENCE: (Putting an arm around LISTER) Hey! No one is better than Mr. Magnificent! And no one tells the Prince of Charisma what to do. Right, Prince?
LISTER: (Smiling) Yeah, right!
CONFIDENCE: That’s my Davey-boy!

As the episode progressed, Lister chose to spend his time with his Confidence and ignore his paranoia. This worked out well for Lister in the short term, until his confidence tells him that he is so special that he can survive the vacuum of space without a helmet or oxygen: 

LISTER: Look, I’m gonna go inside now.  Gets a little bit hot, you could get claustrophobic in these suits.
CONFIDENCE: Take your helmet off.
LISTER: (Backing away) What?!
CONFIDENCE: (Following LISTER) You’re hot.  Take your helmet off.
LISTER: I’ll die!
LISTER: There’s no oxygen out here!
CONFIDENCE: Hey!  Oxygen’s for losers!  Come on.
LISTER: I *need* oxygen!

CONFIDENCE: You don’t need anything, King.  You’re the King!
LISTER: You’re crazy!

CONFIDENCE: Who told you you needed oxygen, huh?  Some loser who was trying to make you feel small.  Look, I’ll prove it to you.  I’ll take mine off first.  We’ll soon see who the crazy one is around here!

CONFIDENCE removes his helmet.


[Almost immediately his body decompresses in a horrific explosion.]


How does this relate to the Brexit debate?

Its fair to say that the UK was inspired and even cheered up by politicians who told us that we could survive and thrive outside the European Union. They told us that we “weren’t just a star on somebody else’s flag” and that opportunities awaited us outside the EU. 

The UK listened to these embodiments of national confidence and voted to leave.

There are times in a person’s life and in the life of a nation when we need to listen to our inner voice of confidence and shut out self-doubt. But doubt is there for a reason. It reminds us of our current limitations, urges us to re-check things before we act. Doubt is practical. 

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis MP is one of the embodiments of national confidence we mentioned.

He assures us that everything will be fine, and the UK will have a great global future after Brexit. He even says we don’t need to emulate any of the nations that currently have preferential access to the Single Market:

Just as Lister was right to listen to his confidence to raise his spirits and inspire him to take action, we must also know when to stop listening to it when confidence becomes foolhardy overconfidence.

Yesterday Mr Davis was forced to admit that the government’s long-anticipated Brexit impact assessments didn’t really exist:

Like Lister needed oxygen to survive, despite what his overconfidence told him, we in the UK need an exit strategy if we are going to make a success of Brexit. 

As the BBC reports:

“Philip Hammond told MPs on Wednesday afternoon that indeed, it is the case that the cabinet has not yet had its big bonanza conversation about the “end state”, when the prime minister will have to put her cards on the table finally, and explain the kind of relationship she wants with the EU after we leave, and after the transition period.” 

Blundering through Brexit without impact assessments or even a pre-determined end state simply isn’t good enough.  There is no time to get a bespoke deal with the EU and they aren’t offering one anyway. 

The UK must pick a ‘model’ now – Iceland, Liechtenstein or Ukraine and then arrange for something similar for the UK.  Otherwise its the economy that will be heading for a helmetless spacewalk.