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Theresa May: Brexit means Wrexit

ad_221423652_e1475423881572If politics is war by less violent, constitutional means, it follows that truth fares no better in the peaceful competition between interests. This is especially the case when politics is staking out new territory. If one can define what a problem or challenge is, your solutions, such as they are, have a certain credibility from the off while everyone else plays catch up. Consider the deficit determinism Dave’s administration served up for for six years, and scored him a general election result too. The truth didn’t matter. By linking the crisis in the public finances with alleged Labour profligacy and not with bail outs and recession, the Tories controlled the story.

Theresa May is doing exactly the same with Brexit. And that means dishonesty at the very basic level is fundamental to how she defines it. In her short speech at Tory party conference earlier, she had this to say:

I believe there is a lot of muddled thinking and several arguments about the future that need to be laid to rest. For example, there is no such thing as a choice between “soft Brexit” and “hard Brexit”. This line of argument – in which “soft Brexit” amounts to some form of continued EU membership and “hard Brexit” is a conscious decision to reject trade with Europe – is simply a false dichotomy. And it is one that is too often propagated by people who, I am afraid to say, have still not accepted the result of the referendum.

She and every leading Tory knows full well this is untrue. When matters turned to Brexit over the summer, proponents of soft Brexit – presumably favoured by reconciled remainers and a large number of leave voters because, after all, a soft exit is what the likes of Johnson and Grayling talked up during the referendum campaign – defined it as fundamentally non-disruptive. Britain after Brexit was to be business as usual with as many benefits retained as is practicable. The hard Brexit position, which has only recently started speaking its name this last month or so, isn’t the rejection of trade with the EU as May pretends. It’s the reckless abandonment of arrangements that have strengthened the British economy and allowed for the interpenetration of capitals, of workers, of flows of trade and the circulation of goods. The EU sells more to us than what we buy, say the idiots, but as an entity where risk is distributed among a market of 440 million people, the sundering of free ranging economic ties with Britain are going to hurt us far more than our withdrawal will hurt it. And we know from the 2008 crash who’ll end up paying for this failure.

In the Bermuda Triangle of the Foreign Office, Dept of International Trade, and the Brexit office sense disappeared right after truth vanished from the radar. May has swallowed the Leave line that Britain can negotiate its own exit that retains all the benefits of the EU with none of the responsibilities simply because, well, we’re Britain and we’re a Very Important Place. As an assumption to hang a negotiating position, it’s utterly reckless. For one, as the default party of British business the Tories show scant awareness of capitalist economics. To demonstrate, there is some evidence British car exports to the continent have taken a hit post-referendum. Who benefits? Well, that would be other manufacturers. Imagine that on steroids. Two years of Article 50 negotiations means a drop in inward investment for companies wanting unimpeded access to the single market. Meanwhile multinationals with a significant presence in the UK, such as Toyota and Nissan, will no doubt hold negotiations of their own with a view to relocation. And European competitors are going to go hell for leather on EU market share held by UK companies because they cannot respond quickly to competitive pressures thanks to Brexit uncertainty. May’s foolhardy Brexit is going to put British capital at a disadvantage. Again, remember, this is supposed to be the party of business.

There’s a strategic deficit when it comes to the 27 member states too. She seems to have forgotten they have politics too. As above, some would gain from a Brexit as UK-based business relocates and their companies muscle in on markets: they have an interest in a bumpy landing for Britain. At the same time, EU member states – Germany especially – working toward greater integration have to strike a fine balance between maintaining stability that won’t negatively impact on their economy, and ensuring no one else has exiting thoughts. While the Tories believe in appealing to the rationality of unimpeded Mercedes sales in Britain, German and EU politics are divided over detente or punishment because EU business benefits differently and unevenly from Brexit. The second big political issue is the Tories’ fantasy of free trade without free movement. If by some fluke Britain negotiated such a deal, the populist and the far right in the EU could be emboldened to demand the same. With immigration and the refugee crisis a perennial issue, it’s difficult to see how Brussels, with the backing of Paris and Berlin would sign up to an arrangement that could accelerate EU disintegration.

Recall how we got into this mess? That’s right, the short, medium, and long-range interests of the country were put into jeopardy for the sake of a small number of Tory voters tempted by a declining and doomed fringe party. May likes to pose as a different kind of leader, but I can’t shake the feeling this negotiating position is also conditioned heavily by parliamentary party management. The Brexiters were always going to be her bastards, so the pre-announcement of Article 50 and a clear, if stupid and dangerous position on hard Brexit would keep them happy. But couple it with the Great Act of Repeal (an invite for a limited but publicity-hungry backbencher to call for a national holiday in perpetuity to fall on that date, to be sure), due to be legislated for as the EU negotiations take place and the PM can now look forward to a trouble-free conference. Let this be clear. The government are adopting the weakest negotiating position vis a vis the EU because it preserves party unity.

Asked about his son’s role in negotiating Britain’s future, Stanley Johnson reportedly said his Boris needs to avoid Brexit becoming a wrexit (wrecks it). Even if he was competent, which he is not, his boss is determined to steer the ship of state right into the harbour wall.

7 Comments

  1. Bazza says:

    Read a good piece in the latest New Left Review by Susan Watkins who argues that May must please the Tory grassroots who mainly voted Out, the Tory Big Business Remainers, and international capital.
    Watkins also argues that May has been given the hard word by Obama that US and Japanese TNCs want access to the EC single market.
    So pleasing these forces is what is guiding the Tories so perhaps we now know where they are coming from.
    Perhaps what should be guiding socialists is what is best for diverse working class/working people in the UK, the EC, and the World and working with progressive forces everywhere to achieve this.

  2. Bazza says:

    If we think about it then what are refugees/asylum seekers and migrants/economic migrants but unorganised human beings who have to sell their labour to live; so we all have much in common.
    The former flee terror and the latter quite understandably want a better life.
    But as I think about the impact on the UK and EC countries which can overall be economically positive (although 95% of refugees are cared for in countries that border theirs) I also think about the countries they flee from, where we badly need political and economic solutions.
    The New Left Review recently made a good point for example, it is predicted that Bulgaria is expected to see its population halved by 2020 which obviously will impact there (although remittances will be sent in the short-term and they will benefit when successful workers return) but perhaps it could also be argued that often the people leaving may be the most entrepreneurial.
    As a socialist I do feel a bit uncomfortable about the free movement of capital and labour (because the latter serves the former and is often used to undercut wages) but as socialists don’t we want some intervention and more planning?
    Or do we leave it generally (despite some controls) to mainly laissez faire?
    Perhaps we could explore something like a Triple Lock on Immigration (10% of the adult working population?) in the UK and EC countries but in a context of offering compassion to refugees, an amnesty on all old asylum cases (granting refugee status) and for illegals, bringing over the Calais kids, and taking more Syrian refugees.
    And the second part of the lock has already been suggested, a migration adjustment fund for councils. The third is to trade unionise migrant workers so they can’t be used to undercut wages by unscrupulous employers which will build community solidarity (and why not trade unionise refugees and asylum seekers too?).
    So we could explore more intervention and badly needed management into the system, more fairness, more compassion for refugees and essentially helping to organise unorganised human beings who have to sell their labour to survive too.
    I am not certain but here are some ideas to explore.

  3. C MacMackin says:

    This article seems to take a rather uncritical look at free movement of capital, goods, and services. The only possible defence for these on the left is that without them the UK economy will suffer unduly. However, shouldn’t we be trying to imagine how to reshape the UK economy so it is not dependent on such laissez-faire solutions?

    While I don’t necessarily object to free movement of goods to the extent that it means there are no tariffs, free trade agreements typically involve considerably more than that. They tend to require that governments must treat foreign companies the same as domestic ones when tendering contracts, for example. Even more seriously, in the case of the EU, there are all of the rules around market liberalisation (particularly in energy), restrictions to state aid, etc. Shouldn’t these be things which we try to avoid having to follow anymore?

    As for free movement of capital, what socialist in their right mind could be in favour of this? We’ve seen what it does to left-wing governments! Just look at Mitterand.

    1. Paul Dias says:

      “in the case of the EU, there are all of the rules around market liberalisation (particularly in energy)”

      And yet EDF is owned by the French state. And yet the French own their rail system, and so do the Germans and the Spanish and I think the Italians. But sod it, blame the EU.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        EDF is partially owned by the French state, although whether it is wholly public or private is not important to my point. I’m not saying that nationalisation is impossible under the EU, but it is more difficult. For example, EU regulations require open access to energy suppliers and make it more difficult for the same company to own different pieces of energy or transport infrastructure. There may well be ways we could get around this (I’ve proposed them on this website in the past), but if we’re leaving the EU anyway then surely we should try to get out of these sorts of liberalisation directives.

      2. C MacMackin says:

        And yes, I know that privatisation preceded the EU in the UK. There is absolutely no doubt that British conservatism is to the right of the EU mainstream. However, that does not change the fact that these directives will make Thatcherite policies more difficult to reverse.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      I feel I should also clarify that, in order to prevent undue damage to the economy, it may be necessary to enter the EEA even with the measures I criticise. However, we shouldn’t take that for granted and should try to negotiate our way out of them. I’d say aiming for an agreement not to place any tarriffs on trade with the EEA but not being bound by the liberalisation directives would be a good goal, but I admit it may not be achievable.

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