Sunday, 28 July 2019

The real betrayal of Brexit


Primarily a no deal Brexit is going to be total shambles because all of our external relations and our regulatory affairs are all tied up in a single treaty construct. Article 50 is a dead man's switch. Politicians were warned ratifying Lisbon wasn't a good idea but they went ahead and did it anyway. They didn't even read the treaty.

That right there makes the British establishment the central problem and our EU membership is a symptom of it. The EU is not the only issue where successive governments sign us up to any number of international agreements and conventions without there being a meaningful public debate and without seeking direct consent. We are ruled, not governed.

Finally we have had a referendum on EU membership so that at least stops us being further subsumed into a technocratic supreme government and stops the further erosion of democracy. But only to a point. It still does nothing to address the essential problem outlined above.

This is why the Brexiteers should have had a plan. Now that they've got hold of the levers of power they haven't the first idea what to do next. They can't even come up with an exit strategy so instead they're simply going to push the self destruct button and hope for the best.

Brexit should have been the window of opportunity to fundamentally modernise the British constitution and to cast off the remnants of feudalism that we euphemistically call representative democracy. It should have been a chance to radically overhaul our politics. It should have been a chance to ensure that narcissistic politicians never get to do this to us gain. But it isn't.

By failing to have a plan, with the only objective being leaving the EU, all we've really done is created a vacuum. Thanks to our own ineptitude we've left the door open for Brexit to be hijacked by the Tory right so they can turn the UK into a sandbox for their obsolete "free trade" experiment.

Instead of setting about dismantling the sort of command and control governance where we the public have no say in between elections we are simply handing all of the power to a set of right wing ideologues who are just as prone to doing as they please, ignoring the need for both public and parliamentary consent whenever they can  get away with it.

As we watch Boris "Borisconi" Johnson fill his government with cronies from the Tory think tank set, this government is starting to resemble a hard right version of Tony Blair's government where everything was public relations while the cronies and special advisers got to work behind the scenes. This is not progress, We didn't need to leave the EU to do that. What goes around comes around and a general election would have been sufficient. So with Borisconi's cronyocracy in power, what is Brexit likely to achieve if anything? Answer; not a lot.

Already we can see how this goes. Johnson goes up north to pledge a few billion;s worth of investment in the northern railway system - a political signal in response to the narrative that Brexit happened because of underinvestment outside London. So already we are in firefighting mode. Doling out money we haven't got to wherever politicians think it might be needed. So business as usual.

But then as much as we don't have the money to squander now, we're especially not going to have it after Borisconi hits the nuclear button. British exports will be subject to tariffs and all manner of regulatory overheads making our goods and services less competitive while the price of energy and food creeps upwards. Those "bumper" free trade deals we've been promised are not going to materialise any time soon, and if they do materialise will be substantially inferior to the ones we already enjoy via the EU. Not forgetting that our most important single trade destination is still the EU.

Pretty soon the promises made by Borisconi will evaporate, as ever they do. Dreams of sunlit uplands turn to ash. This government then has to contend with major job losses, collapsing exports and massively reduced tax revenue. We will have to borrow just to stand still and the left are about to find out what the word "austerity" really means.

Course, Brexiters have convinced themselves that trade carries on as normal under a no deal Brexit and that so long as we throw enough money at preparing for Brexit then we can function as ever we did on WTO rules. No serious analysis supports this view but when it comes to politics, people like to be told what they want to hear and there are plenty of vessels such as The Spectator and Daily Telegraph ever ready to sing them their favourite tunes. We are, therefore, racing  toward a brick wall and the Brexiters won't know what hit them. And, of course, with a shyster government like that of Borisconi, it will be everyone's fault but theirs.

So as much as Brexit will not mark the dawn of an economic revival, it could very well lock in the same political stagnation. As a leaver voter I never claimed that Brexit has any particular economic benefit. I never really saw it in those terms. We don't make any real savings by leaving and if the UK was to retain its status as a serious player in world trade it would first have to secure the best possible relationship with the EU. That's not longer possible as we're leaving without a deal and in so doing handing all of the leverage to the EU in any future dealings.

I came at this from another point of view; that Britain was in dire need of political renewal and that EU membership is incompatible with a democratisation agenda. You can't give people more powers locally if those powers belong to Brussels and we have to ask permission to change our own laws. But having failed to set out demands for constitutional reforms all we really do is shift the unaccountable technocracy from Brussels to London, where the power is still concentrated in the hands of the wealthy few.

Depressingly, though, Brexiters don't seem to mind this so long as Borisconi rattles off the right slogans and panders to the Brexit crowd. When it comes to "big vision" demands, the best the Brexit Party can muster is the usual gripes about foreign aid and immigration. They are completely without vision, let alone a plan. They never properly diagnosed the problem, believing Brussels to be the essential problem, thus have no agenda to take us forward from Brexit day. Brexit has become an end in itself.

For now, Borisconi's government is enjoying a honeymoon period and Brexiter politicians have more power now that they've had in the last forty years. They will squander that power, delivering a total shambles that will turn the public against them very rapidly indeed. After that the momentum drops out of the whole thing and any further demands from that quarter will fall on deaf ears. The inevitable consequence of that is that the next administration, keen to restore our exports and fix some of the damage, will end up signing a quasi-membership accord with the EU, ensuring much of what we hoped to achieve will never happen. That, more than anything, will be the great Brexit betrayal - but the blame lies squarely with the Brexiteers.

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