(Image by Ingram Pinn, courtesy of Philip Stephens - The Financial Times)
Brexit - A Personal View ARTICLE BY ANTHONY RUSSELL (July 2019)
(Britain) "used to be a nation providing leadership to the world
now, it can't even provide leadership to itself”.
Brexit was sold to the British people as a means to claw power back from Europe, control its borders and strike trade deals wherever it chose.
But there are three principle reasons why successive British governments overlook the steady stream of newcomers to its shores. One is the requirement for competitive labour when many British people are not taking up the jobs available. Ask for example, any Polish trader and they will tell you how hard it is to employ assistants in the UK. The second is the need for younger employees in a fast ageing society facing a major pension crisis. Finally as they say; ‘it’s the economy stupid’! Governments are still required to provide economic growth while abiding by a broken economic model and the only way they can think to do this is by increasing GDP through population growth. But GDP that includes waste as a ‘product’, is a catastrophic measure of success for the country’s longterm economy as well as the environment.
Not only is it impossible to find a governments prepared to admit to any of these factors, none of these have anything to do with the E.U. It’s all very well to say Britain lacks power in Europe. but if being a large economy gives you an undemocratic advantage, Britain should be wielding undue influence among the other nations. Yes, it can be argued that the E.U. has centralised too much power and failed as ‘Empire' always do, to devolve power away from the centrifugal centre. The irony is that Westminster knows well how to redirect power when critically necessary and has a lesson for Spain in this regard. Devolving power out from Westminster to Scotland and to some extent Northern Ireland and Wales, has helped to defuse secessionary inclinations from a union who’s components have at times felt like provinces.
Meanwhile, former major trading partners such as Australia who suffered as Britain looked to Europe in the 1970s, now cannot believe that Britain should wish to leave the world’s largest and most civilised trading block. As Professor Yanis Varafakis has stated, Europe is like the Hotel California; you can choose to join but you can never sensibly checkout. After all, leaving a trading block is almost unheard of and universally recognised as of questionable benefit. Proof of this is that not just Australia, but no country has encouraged Britain to leave, a tacit acknowledgement that nowhere is such a move considered wise. Much better and easier to effect change to the struggling union from the inside than perhaps have to spend many years trying to forge new trade agreements from the outside. Why should the U.S. or China take Britain seriously? We will indeed be forced to the back of the queue, while having to compete with every other economy in a race to the bottom in products and perhaps even services.
The sad truth is that Brexit is an irrelevance that has taken up valuable time and wasted a great deal of money. As a satellite of Europe, we will still be subject to trade conditions and the trading block's laws, not to mention the court in Strasburg, which Brexiteers have often failed to admit. Using the same broken economic model, we will still require cheap, youthful labour regardless of education levels, as this will be an irrelevance too. While parliament has been proving how broken is the political model in their pointless bickering, the country has failed to deal with many important domestic issues.
Most catastrophic of all is the failure to recognise that the world faces three huge issues that are being sidelined. One is the immediate threat of nuclear armageddon, not a media hype but as outlined by the distinguished scientist that formulate the Doomsday Clock ticking perilously close to midnight. The second is the now all too obvious threat of climate change, which could at any stage spiral out of all control, causing seismic movement of peoples across the globe and in its wake the possibility of utter chaos. The third is the requirement to set clear parameters both scientific and ethical to our fast changing technology. The internet and smart devises are already changing the human brain but the effects of mass unemployment in the face of Artificial Intelligence are hard to imagine and desperately in need of controls. Sadly, all these factors urgently require trans-global cooperation and anything but America or Britain 'First’.
In Australia, the constitution sensibly compels any government considering a referendum to set a 70% threshold in order to avoid major changes to the country that could feasibly be triggered by a single uninformed, wavering voter. 17.4 million people in the UK were hoodwinked in a referendum that failed to set any threshold, to vote to leave Europe whatever that was meant to mean. However, about 28 million either voted against it, didn’t support leaving or never thought it would happen, like the prime minister who called it.
To what extent are Britain's legitimate concerns about E.U. democracy credible when our own democracy has proven to be bankrupt? Bankrupt because we were prepared to take such a fundamental decision on the questionable vote of twenty six percent of the entire population. Bankrupt because officially-identified illegality by the leave campaign has led to charges but no consequences. Bankrupt because an ill-informed electorate spun various lies, was expected to make a binary decision about an extremely complicated issue. Bankrupt because even the Ancient Athenians would have recognised that power in the hands of the wealthy - with the cash to sway public opinion - is an oligarchy or corporatocracy but definitely not a genuine democracy. The work of a corporate elite is evident simply in the fact that the billionaire Brexit backer Crispin Odey alone made £200 million from gambling on a remain result. This is while, big money funding behind the principle Brexit players have been carefully concealed.
Having used the undemocratic - and un-British - blunt instrument of a referendum, how could it possibly be a betrayal of a minority of 17.4 million of the nation, to go back to the people to ask whether they want a No-Deal Brexit, a Norwegian or Canadian Model or negotiate good terms for remaining in the E.U.? In the circumstances, with genuine dismay in Europe at the UK’s departure, these terms would likely be generous. It strikes me as a truly bitter irony that as a country for centuries paranoid about unity against it in Europe, Britain has now actually managed to bring the other countries of the union closer together than ever and at long last talking about reform - predominantly in English!
Hoodwinked is exactly what has become of many in Britain. In the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher continued a process of deregulation which allowed the rich to get a great deal richer. This permitted some, such as The Koch Brothers and deeply divisive individuals such as Rupert Murdock, to weald ever greater power. The fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s signified removal of further constraints on rampant Western-style capitalism. The Election of Trump felt like the final coming-of-age of a new generation on the far right. They took over the U.S. Republican Party and have now taken over the British Conservative Party. For evidence, just listen to the recent incredulity of the likes of Britain’s longest serving MP Kenneth Clarke or the former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine or even Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames. In fact, traditional Conservatives have been called ‘Wets’ since their opposition to the most extreme policies of Margaret Thatcher but if you ever wonder what happened to the middle ground - to the statesmen in British politics - just look to their ranks.
And all should be alarmed by the almost hysterical zeal of this new ‘Dry’ faction. Mirrored in the U.S. they talk constantly about unilateral concerns against invented international enemies requiring at the very least, constant sabre-rattling from behind an ever larger funded war machine. They have zero concern for the catastrophic environmental crisis or for that matter any of the genuine pressing needs facing the world. In fact, proof of their mania can be found in the simple fact that they are prepared to risk leaving the E.U. even if unpopular with the majority of the population, it causes social unrest and a serious economic downturn for possibly a decade or more, with many companies going to the wall or leaving the UK. But most un-Conservative of all, in their very Anglo-centric obsession, they are prepared to risk the breakup of the United Kingdom itself. As a man who saw the union of Europe as a unique human achievement and a bulwark against future war, Sir Winston Churchill would have deplored the breakup.
But most of all, hoodwinked because too many people in Britain failed to spot the external forces at work, more powerful even than the nation states on which they prey. How they have caused a coup designed to destabilise Britain, tear it away from the world's most powerful trading block and leave us all to unfettered free-market forces. The hoodwinked have failed to see that the model now threatens us with our own wild-haired and unstable Trump. And that should worry everyone for the British Ambassador himself has noted Trump as considered; "uniquely inept, dysfunctional and unpredictable." Even Boris Johnson has described Trump as; “ . . betraying a quite stupefying ignorance, that makes him quite frankly unfit to hold the office of President of the United States.“
Churchill would probably have laughed and then likely wept reflecting on the present caliber of politician trying to negotiate this most complex and significant of issues. Eccentric and entertaining some of these buffoons might appear but international politics has never looked more serious. According to Pascal Lamy, for eight years Director General of the World Trade Organisation - the organisation so loved of Brexiteers - Britain will descend from first to third division. Sad then that the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted recently that Britain "used to be a nation providing leadership to the world - now, it can't even provide leadership to itself”.