The mess that is Brexit !

In the run up to the referendum I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments.  Remember the big red bus with it’s message about giving the NHS £50 million a day, that evaporated almost as soon as the votes were counted.  In reality there never was £350 million a week because we don’t contribute £350 million a week it was a complete and utter lie!

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I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.

Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area).  There was never any public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.

I voted to remain but the area in which I live voted to leave.  It was a massive shock to find out next day that my country had voted to leave the European Union.  In the days following the referendum there ensued a complete political meltdown, the Prime Minister resigned, and Scotland was considering a referendum that could break the United Kingdom apart.  There were calls for a second referendum, almost as if, following a football match, we could ask the other side for a replay because we didn’t get the result we wanted.  Everybody was blaming everybody else.  People blamed the Prime Minister for calling the referendum in the first place.  They blamed the leader of the opposition for not fighting it hard enough.  The young accused the old.  The educated blamed the less well-educated.  That complete meltdown was made even worse by the most tragic element of all, levels of xenophobia and racist abuse in the streets of Britain at a level that I have never seen before in my lifetime.

In the run up to the referendum I saw Nigel Farage being interviewed on a news program and he was saying that if the result was any closer than 55% to 45% then the result could not be considered a clear and unequivocal mandate and so they would try to get a new referendum at some later date.  Obviously they were expecting to loose.  But after the result came in at 48% to 52% to leave suddenly it was a clear and decisive decision which should be respected.  What a hypocrite.

It would be a waste of time to go through all the lies pedalled by the Leave campaigns (yes plural), instead I want to look at the reasons for the mess we now find ourselves in.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Although it was a massive shock at the time looking at the bigger picture this is not something which happened overnight, there are deeper reasons for what happened, many of them have nothing to do with Europe but have a lot to do with our fractured society and the political disenfranchisement which many people feel.

So, what does Brexit represent, not just for the United Kingdom, but for the rest of the world ?

Firstly I will look at what it represents for the United Kingdom.  Looking at the bigger picture, the referendum teaches us something about the nature of politics today and once we identify these factors it becomes apparent that similar things are happening in other parts of the world.

Politicians seem to be blissfully unaware of how divided our society is.  How London centric government has become as if they are working for what is in the best interests of London instead of what is in the national interest.  Geographically, it was mainly London and Scotland that voted to remain, whilst most other parts of the country voted to leave.

But our society is not just divided geographically, young people didn’t turn out to vote in great numbers, but those that did overwhelmingly voted to remain.  The great majority of older people voted to leave the European Union.  There were also divisions along class lines and between the well educated and the less well-educated.

If one looks for a common factor which divides the remainers from the leavers then one thing becomes apparent.  The fault line of contemporary politics is between those who embrace globalisation and those who see globalisation as a threat.

Politicians need to take these divisions seriously or at least to recognise that they exist.

Contemporary politics is no longer just about right and left.  It’s no longer just about tax and spend.  It’s about globalisation.

If we look at what motivated people to vote leave or remain then we see two factors in the opinion polls that were important to many people.  The first was immigration, and the second sovereignty, and these represent a desire for people to take back control of their own lives and they also represent the feeling amongst many people that they are unrepresented by politicians.  These ideas are ones that signify fear and alienation. They represent a retreat back towards nationalism and borders in ways that many of us would find disturbing.

Both of these issues are specious, the idea that the vote on Europe could reduce the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming into Europe, when the vote on leaving had nothing to do with immigration from outside the European Union.  Also on the question of sovereignty, we won’t be getting back our sovereignty because we never lost it in the first place.

In the Leave vote, a minority have peddled the politics of fear and hatred, creating lies, mistrust and doubt.  But for a significant majority of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment.  This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party which they thought was on their side, and so they rejected the entire political establishment.

All around the world we see a similar disillusionment with the political establishment.  We see it with the rise in popularity of Donald Trump in the United States, with the growing nationalism of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the rise of the Five Star movement in Italy.  There has been a rise in nationalism all over the world and I think this represents a rejection of globalisation.

I think what we are seeing is part of a much bigger struggle between globalisation and what I will call ‘tribalism’.  Tribalism in this sense represents many things, the desire for tradition and traditional values, but it often leads to nationalism or religious orthodoxy and theocracy.  It also represents the desire for things to return to the way they used to be back in the ‘Good Old days’, peoples imagined idea of the way things used to be.

The world has changed and it is impractical to try to take things back to an earlier state but this desire offers a way to manipulate people.  The Leave campaigns tried to imply that by voting leave and ‘taking back control’ that we could take Britain back to that earlier time of peoples imagination.  To ‘Make Britain Great Again’.  But this was just manipulation.

There are some politicians who would welcome a future where Great Britain was nothing more than a 1950’s nostalgia theme park but I think this would be a very bad thing for the people of Britain.

I think there is a gap between public perception and empirical reality.  It has been suggested that we’ve moved to a post truth world, where evidence and truth no longer matter, and lies have equal status to evidence based facts.  Take for example Donald Trump and his ‘Fake News’ tactics, which is basically to describe anything he disagrees with as being false or a lie regardless of whether it’s true or not.

How can we rebuild respect for truth and evidence into our liberal democracies ?  It has to begin with education, but it has to start with the recognition that there are huge gaps.  It will not be easy.

Tribalism is attractive to many people who see globalisation as eroding their cultural identity, it offers solidarity and protects cultural identity, but at the potential cost of diminishing tolerance and stability.  Often the solidarity needed within the concept of tribalism is secured through exclusion and hostility to outsiders.  At the extreme end of the scale different forms of anti-democratisation can arise through anti-democratic one-party dictatorships, military juntas, or theocratic fundamentalism.

Tribalism is a group with a distinct cultural identity seeking a smaller world within well defined borders that will seal them off from modernity.  These groups are cultures, not countries; parts, not wholes; sects, not religions, rebellious factions and dissenting minorities at war not just with globalism but with the traditional nation-state.

Globalisation is characterised by the global economic, political, cultural and environmental interconnections and flows which make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.  Globalisation promotes peace and prosperity, but this is achieved at the cost of independence and identity.  Cultures are intermingled in ways that some may see as an erosion of their own culture.

Globalisation has both positive and negative effects.  On the whole it is a good thing but there are some bad things about it.  At the extremes neither global corporate cultures or tribalist cultures are supportive of democracy.

There are some positive benefits to globalisation. The consensus amongst economists is that free trade, the movement of capital and the movement of people across borders benefit everyone on aggregate. The consensus amongst international relations scholars is that globalisation brings interdependence, which brings cooperation and peace.

But globalisation also causes a redistribution of wealth.  It creates winners and losers. To take the example of migration, we know that immigration is a net positive for the economy as a whole under almost all circumstances.  But we also have to be very aware that there are consequences, that importantly, low-skilled immigration can lead to a reduction in wages for the most impoverished in our societies and also put pressure on house prices. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s positive when taken as a whole.

In 2002, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, gave a speech at Yale University on the topic of inclusive globalisation.  In that speech he said, and I paraphrase, “The glass house of globalisation has to be open to all if it is to remain secure. Bigotry and ignorance are the ugly face of exclusionary and antagonistic globalisation.”

That idea of inclusive globalisation was briefly revived in 2008 in a conference on progressive governance involving many of the leaders of European countries. But amid austerity and the financial crisis of 2008, the concept disappeared almost without a trace.

Since then globalisation has increasingly been taken to support a neoliberal agenda.  It’s perceived to be part of an elitist agenda rather than something that benefits everyone.

We need to revive the idea of inclusive globalisation.

We need to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of globalisation.  If we look at the areas which voted to leave the European Union then it becomes apparent that those people who voted to leave the European Union were those who actually benefited the most materially from trade with the European Union.  But the problem is that the people in those areas didn’t perceive themselves to be beneficiaries.  They didn’t believe that they were actually getting access to material benefits of increased trade and increased mobility around the world.

Politics needs to become less polarised but unfortunately politics is becoming more polarised, all over the world.  One factor in this is social media and filter bubbles.  In order to keep people on the website longer so that they can click on more adverts social media sites automatically adjust peoples news feeds to show them more of what they want to see.  So once the AI on the site has figured out their prejudices and beliefs (and it doesn’t take long) then they will only see news which they agree with or articles which support their beliefs, anything which they might not like gets filtered out.

This is fuelling the polarisation of society and is a very bad thing.

Brexit has turned into a very bad mess and when it is finally over I think most people will be left saying “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for !” but unfortunately by then it will be too late.

Perhaps it is already too late.

Who knows ?

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The Great British Break Off

I observed both sides of the debate and discussed the issues with friends and colleagues in the run up to the referendum.

I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments.  I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.

Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area).  There was never a public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.

In fact the Brexiteers never really presented any coherent vision of what the result was intended to look like, just a lot of complaints and an incoherent set of purported benefits from multiple points of view.  They tried to be everything to everyone.  The leave campaigns (and yes there were multiple leave campaigns) could be summed up as “EVERYTHING will be better for Britain and Britons when we take back control of our own country”.

I saw that the official remain campaign never published any strong endorsement of EU membership and identified no clear set of benefits that the UK received and receives through its membership.  The entire official remain campaign could be summed up as “it would be difficult and expensive to leave, so better to keep things as they are”.  I later learned that this was due to the direct instructions from the Prime Minister at that time – David Cameron, who was also the head of the official remain campaign.

The entire campaign was conducted in a manner similar to that of the earlier Scottish referendum.  The remain campaign used logic and reason, while the leave campaign had all the emotional arguments and symbols on its side.  It was a campaign of emotion versus reason.  As any marketing expert will confirm, in a contest between logic and emotion, emotion wins most of the time.

During the campaign, I saw the British government doing what all the governments of the other EU member states do.  They claim all the benefits of EU membership as being the result of their own government policies, and blame all the negative effects on the EU, variously labelled as “Brussels” or “the (European) Commission”.  In the referendum, the consequences of that political cowardice really helped the Brexit campaign.

There is no consensus about what we are trying to achieve, either amongst the Brexiteers or among the Remainers.  Both sides are factionalised with deep divisions and everyone pulling in different directions.  The European leaders aren’t going to agree to the ‘Chequers Deal’, it is dead in the water, only Mrs May is delusional enough to think that it is still a realistic possibility.  So it looks like we are heading for a ‘No Deal Brexit’, and this is the worst of all possible outcomes.

When this is all over, everybody in the country is going to be saying “This not the Brexit I voted for”.

I voted to remain in Europe.

Since the referendum I have watched the core Brexit politicians reveal themselves as duplicitous manipulators who will say and do anything to promote their interests and the interests of their class and the interests of the lobbyists who are lining their pockets, rather than act for the good of the country as a whole.  I think certain factions within the Conservative party have a hidden agenda to fundamentally change the nature of British society to entrench the privileged elites.

A hard exit from the EU is simply the first step.  After this, there will be a concerted, sustained attack on the worker and social protections that the EU has fostered.  When I hear people like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg or James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame) talk about freeing British industry from red-tape and unnecessary regulation, I believe they mean to eliminate things like job security, paid vacations, the minimum wage and other worker protections.

In fact, previous Conservative governments have already made a start on this.  In recent years there has been a proliferation of “Zero hours contracts”.  This is a pernicious contract which allows the employer to bypass almost all employment rights.  This type of contract should not even exist in a developed country.

The division between the rich and the poor is getting wider.  Some progress had been made in recent years, John Major, building on some of Margaret Thatcher’s changes made some hesitant steps forward.  The Labour Party, under Tony Blair, appeared to accelerate this trend.  But in the last decade in the name of austerity these improvements have been reversed and the Conservative party has reverted to form, this coincides with the rise of nationalism in many countries.  Brexit is just one more step in this process and it is likely to be a exceptionally painful step for the majority of people.

I have come to the conclusion that the hardliners in the Conservative party are a significant threat to British liberty and to the British economy as a whole (at least outside the financial centre in London, and perhaps in the Tory heartland). The fact that the strongest advocates of a hard Brexit have significant wealth (much of which has been moved out of the UK, at least until the dust settles) or are seeking / have obtained bolt holes in other countries in Europe (e.g. Farage in Germany, Lawson in France) should be taken as a strong warning by the rest of the country.

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is just marking time.  It is simply waiting for Brexit to happen under Tory responsibility so it can win the next election and form a government.  I see Corbyn as very similar to Gordon Brown in that he lusts for power, but hasn’t got the slightest clue of what he wants to do with it – he will just drift aimlessly, simply reacting to events.

The greatest political disaster for Britain in the 20th Century has been the collapse of the Liberal Party (I mean the real Liberal party led by the likes of David Lloyd George, not the current joke called the Liberal Hypocrites Democrats).  The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats lost all credibility when they cosied up to the Conservatives in the Coalition.  When that occurred, the result was, as Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”.

Britain is a country divided, and it’s getting more divided.  There are damned few politicians even admitting the divisions exist, never mind actually attempting to resolve any of them. The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats are living in cloud-cuckoo land, Labour is ducking and dodging any responsibility while it waits to take over in the aftermath of what will probably be an unmitigated disaster, UKIP is happily pouring nationalist petrol on the fire while the Conservatives are happily expanding their internal dispute into a national crisis.

Is there anyone out there worth voting for ?

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The reality of Brexit

The reality of Brexit is now becoming apparent.

But what I can’t understand is that the government is negotiating to leave the EU, just so they can try to negotiate another arrangement with the EU to give us as much as possible of what we’ve already got, but on considerably inferior terms.

If we don’t get what we want (i.e. the EU benefits we desperately want back after we’ve left), the government has said it will crash out of the EU without any agreement, plunging Britain into a very deep economic crisis.  The so called ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

Does this make any sense at all?

No!

The EU is the world’s largest free trade area. As a member, we receive huge benefits worth enormously more than the net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year.

As a member, we enjoy free, frictionless trade with our biggest trading partner by far, right on our doorstep, where almost half of our exports go to and over half of our imports come from. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

The government is desperate to continue to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the EU after we have ended our membership, because they know that our economic survival depends on it.

In Parliament a couple of months ago, Theresa May said:

“We’re committed to delivering on our commitment of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and ensuring we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union.”

In other words everything we’ve already got as an EU member.

But the UK government has also said it wants to continue to enjoy these EU membership benefits after Brexit:

  • without being part of the EU Single Market or customs union;
  • without agreeing to the rules of the EU and its market;
  • without being subject to the European Court of Justice to oversee those rules;
  • without paying anything to the EU for access.

But it’s not going to happen and Mrs May knows this.

Before the referendum Mrs May said:

“It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy”

Yet that’s exactly what Mrs May now wants. She says she aims to achieve a new trade agreement with the EU that’s unique to us, that no other country in the world has ever achieved.

Of course, it’s not going to happen.

What’s the point of having a club if you’re going to allow non-members to enjoy the same or better benefits as members? What club would allow that?

So here’s the bottom line. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU. We need free movement of goods, services, capital and people for our country not just to survive, but to thrive.

We need to continue with the status quo: i.e. the arrangement we have right now.

Has this sunk in yet?

  • We’re leaving all the benefits of the EU, only to desperately try and get back as many of those benefits as we can after we’ve left.
  • We’re going to pay around £40 billion (the so-called ‘divorce settlement’) – money that will come from us, the taxpayers, you and me – to try and achieve what we’ve already got, but less of it, and on considerably inferior terms.

This is complete and utter madness. It will be much better to just keep the current arrangement. It will be cheaper, and we will all be better off.

As an EU member:

  1. We have a say and votes in the running, rules and future direction of our continent.
  2. We have full and free access to the world’s largest free marketplace.
  3. We enjoy the right to live, work, study or retire across a huge expanse of our continent.
  4. We enjoy state healthcare and education when living and working in any other EU country.
  5. We enjoy free or low-cost health care when visiting any EU nation.
  6. We are protected by continent-wide rights that protect us at work, when shopping and travelling.
  7. We benefit from laws that protect our environment (and have, for example, directly resulted in Britain’s beaches being cleaned up).
  8. We enjoy excellent EU trade agreements with around 60 countries, with more on the way, on advantageous terms that Britain is unlikely ever to replicate.

So, we’re going to throw that all away, just so we can get an inferior arrangement with the EU, in which we’d still have to agree to the rules of EU trade (over which we’d have no say) and we’d have less access to our most vital customers and suppliers outside of our home market.

And what are we gaining? Surely something?

No, nothing at all!

All the reasons given to leave in the referendum were based on lies and false promises! There are no good reasons to leave.

  • More sovereignty? Nonsense. We’ll get less. In the EU, we gain a share of sovereignty of our continent. Outside the EU, we’ll still live on a planet and have to obey thousands of international laws and treaties. We share sovereignty with NATO, for example. Is that a good reason to leave NATO?
  • Fewer migrants? Really? Just think about it. Most EU migrants in Britain are in gainful employment, doing jobs that we simply don’t have enough Britons to do. So if they all left, we’d have to replace them with about the same numbers of migrants as we have now just to get all those jobs done. What’s the bloody point of that?
  • More houses, schools and hospitals? Think again. Without EU migrants, we’ll have fewer builders, teachers, doctors and nurses. Migrants are not the cause of our problems. Blaming them is just an excuse by successive UK governments for not investing sufficiently in our country.
  • Get our country back? We never lost it! If being in the EU means losing your country, why aren’t the 27 other EU member states planning to leave? (Really, none of them are: support for the EU is the highest its been in 35 years).
  • Make our own laws? The vast majority of laws in the UK are our laws and passed by our Parliament in Westminster. But in the EU, we benefit from laws for our continent that no single country alone could ever achieve. Could our UK government have forced the mobile phone companies to scrap mobile roaming charges across the entire EU? Of course not. It took the might of 28 EU countries working together to achieve that, and so much more.
  • The EU is run by faceless bureaucrats? Another lie. The EU is run and ruled by its members, the 28 countries of the EU, along with its democratically elected European Parliament. The European Commission is the servant of the EU, not its master, and the European Parliament has the power to choose, and dismiss, the entire Commission.

We are leaving the EU for no good reason, not one. We are paying around £40 billion (money the UK has agreed we owe to the EU) to settle our debts with the EU, to enable us to have an inferior deal.

We will be poorer, and with less sovereignty, fewer rights and protections, restricted trade, and diminished power after we’ve left.

What’s the point?

There is no point!

This country really has gone crazy!