Wednesday 29th March 2017. A day that will go down in infamy as the day the British Government started the process that leads this once-great nation down the path to becoming a neo-feudal American client state. As despair settles into the educated classes we ask ourselves: is there some teaching department at Eton that specialises in the indoctrination of our next generation leaders? Do boys sit at benches as a wizened professor teaches them to love the British Empire? Do the young students leave class with starry eyed dreams of restoring said Empire to its former glory?
Do they sit around their Common Room scheming to make enemies of our European friends whilst sending the gunboats in to seal trade-deals with the fuzzy-wuzzies? What is the deal with Brexit? Why are the ruling classes so Europhobic and so hell-bent on leaving the Goldilocks zone of the Single European Market? What happened in their childhood to so distort their sense of reality around this destructive fantasy? The driving force behind this dystopia-in-waiting seems to be an utter disconnect with real-world economics. Our elites have become so focused on wealth generation through financialisation they have forgotten the purpose of money…. When money seems to create money and a minority can become fabulously wealthy, there is no longer any need to factor in the requirements of the economy where wealth is actually generated.
This can only be the reasoning behind Brexit. There is a historical precedent for this when Churchill put Britain back on the Gold Standard after World War One. The result was catastrophic for the economy as a whole but its purpose was to bolster the value of Sterling because that was what the City of London wanted. This is the problem with a globalised financial network with vast unchecked power close to the seat of Government. Our democracy is distorted around this giant black hole that promises to suck us all in. All other forms of economic activity can go to hell as long as a few can make a quick buck. Like a snake eating its own tail this can neither be sustainable nor is it entirely logical. To undermine the 99% of the economy merely to bolster the short term profits of the 1% is doomed to impoverish us all in the long term. Yet this is what Brexit will be.
To help us make sense of this insanity we hit the books. First up T. J. Coles “The Great Brexit Swindle” [ISBN 978 1 905570 81 2 Clairview Books 2016]. Coles is a new author to many of us and his track record suggest an interest aligned with Britain post-Empire international affairs and what the State would prefer to keep secret. More social justice and less economics. He deconstructs the facts and figures behind the voting patterns that lead to the pro-Brexit result in the EU Referendum. As it turns out, despite digging around to expose some pretty shady characters that funded and inspired the Leave campaign, the anti-EU spend was only a little more than the Remain spend. Considering the fact that the UK Government was pro-Remain (at least on the surface) the fact that 52% voted to leave cannot be explained by who spent the most money. Its history goes back much further to the point at which Poland joined the EU and the xenophobic Newspapers kicked into high gear.
To get a more complete picture we need to turn to Ian Dunt’s “Brexit – What The Hell Happens Now?” [ISBN 978-0-9954978-2-5 Canbury Press 2016]. Dunt is edior of the politics.co.uk web site and works in the press gallery in Parliament. He is a Politics Wonk supreme. He does detail, lots of detail. Anyone who follows Ian on social media (Twitter) will be astonished at the clarity and humour he brings to the topic. To be honest you really have no idea what is going on until you read his commentary. His cynicism about Brexit never descends into ideology or polemic. He is all facts, facts and more facts. Brexit makes passions run high and common sense has long deserted it. What impresses us about Dunt’s analysis is that he appears to be running ahead of the media, politicians and (heck) all of us. Pretty much since the time of the vote he has been bombarding us with all kinds of useful, insightful, obscurities ranging from Brexit’s effect on medicine regulation to what might happen to poor hill farmers. He lives and breathes this stuff.
If Dunt doesn’t know it, it probably ain’t worth knowing about.
The Cole book has all the hallmarks of having been rushed out in the post-Brexit wake to satisfy those of us who want to know ‘how the heck did that happen’? After his initial analysis it descends quickly into a run-down of the social justice records of the various BRICS nations that the UK is mean to be pursuing new trading relationships with. This is a weird angle to take. It suggests that our European neighbours are the good guys and that we should trade with them because they share our values. The rest of the world does not. Although we certainly agree with this as a cultural analysis we doubt it will cut much ice with anyone in this present Government. Although serving as useful background on the dirty scumbags who made Brexit happen it really doesn’t take us anywhere. Yup, the elite are full of Nazi shits – but we knew that. Those in the City of London who wanted Brexit did so because they were irked by Brussel’s interventionist approach to Financial Services. These people are the living embodiment of the disconnect between what happens in the real economy and what happens in the trading rooms of the Square Mile. They really thought that they could get rich by cutting trading ties with the most lucrative market on the planet. This only makes sense to hedge fund managers who are the only people in the economy who make money when bad things happen. Such is the moral peril where there is too much money, too much power and too much influence all aimed at undermining the wealth creating abilities of 99% of the people in favour of feathering the nest of the 1%.
Everything here has already been exposed by the Occupy Movement since 2008 yet nothing has changed. All that happened was that we put the Bankers back on their pedestals and blamed foreigners for all that ailed us. This approach must finally run out of steam and Brexit must see its last outing. Even then the 52% may remain so brain-washed that they will blame the EU for everything that blights them even years after they left the club. The only solution is to link the problem to its root causes. Yet the establishment can never let that happen. What is to be done?
Whereas Cole leaves us shaking our fists a windmills, Dunt arms us with an onslaught of facts and figures. In fact he is also pretty insightful as to the reasons why the vote went the way it did. During the run up to the referendum there was much written about the role of Boris Johnson and whether he really did – or did not – believe in leaving the EU. It wasn’t until we read Dunt’s book that we learnt about how much time Johnson had spent as a journalist in Brussels filing news story after news story of made-up bile about the workings of the EU. Many an anti-EU myth can be traced back to him and he turned the manufacture of EU myths into an art form:
“The average Brussels correspondent is just about mastering how milk quotas work, but no normal person read their stories for years. Boris Johnson did more to influence public opinion with one of his imaginary stories about the rules on bananas that the average EU correspondent has had in their entire career.”
Sex sells and Johnson has sexed-up the EU with racy tales that proved great anti-foreigner propaganda. When Poland joined the EU in the early part of the 2000’s he found a willing audience for his nonsense and his xenophobic bile was soon echoing around the British media. What lead up to the EU Referendum result was a 15 year anti-Europe campaign in the media who trotted out endless made-up twaddle and dumped it upon the British public. The Brexit result was not simply bought and paid for by a few Hedge Fund managers in 2016. It was the result of a very long and concerted propaganda campaign across the establishment.
As we have seen since, the level of delusion that drove this campaign was astonishing. Dunt exposes just how little genuine planning the Euro-sceptics had done to build a working model of the British economy outside of the Single Market. To them it was all a game, some political totem around which they would gather their fellow free-market fanatics. They had no plan because they did not genuinely plan on winning. It was all an academic exercise concerned only with the balance of power inside domestic politics. Specifically the internal machinations of the Conservative Party. Yet today we are slowly learning of the great unravelling their project has caused. A year ago it would hardly have seemed credible that Britain has undermined the position of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. The damage done is immeasurable. If Brexit was funded out of the pockets of City Financiers disinterested in the needs of 99% of the rest of the economy then the Politicians were similarly as deluded and disinterested in the need of 99% of the people. It remains a remarkable testimony to the power of propaganda that 52% of people voted for something that can never be reconciled with the interests of the nation.
That is Politics. It is no wonder that so many of us are so disenfranchised from this clown show.
But if the Politicians didn’t have a plan then their lack of practicality is fully exposed by “What the hell happens now?” It is, as the cover says, a book for those of us who still need actual expertise. Britain, as Dunt contends, has not “taken back control”. That is a fantasy. We live in a globalised world and our Government is run by the mega-rich for the mega-rich. Hence
“The control wrestled from Brussels is now sold off to the highest bidder, behind closed doors, in a conference room in Washington.”
Everything Dunt writes about is creepily prescient. The script that plays out today, every move by every Politician, every stab in the back, every lie, every false promise, has already been exposed in this book. You want to know the future of Britain over the next 20 years? Buy this book, it is all here. Dunt is a prophet and we should heed his words. It didn’t take any supernatural powers for him to predict the outcome. He just spent the Summer of 2016 rounding up and interviewing a whole bunch of experts that the rest of the mainstream media were not interested in. He asked the difficult questions the Leavers didn’t want to ask. The answers do not make comfortable reading. Yet it proves that the evidence was all there. It is a testimony to the stunning failure of contemporary British democracy that it has come to this. We prefer to live in a fantasy land rather that deal with the pragmatic issues that face a globalised Britain. There was always someone else to blame.
“At the core of Britain’s current dilemma is a refusal to engage with objective fact.”
Dunt describes the Brexit battlefield as a “tribal and emotional dogfight which bore little relation to reality“. It is hard to read this book without becoming really upset. It is of no surprise that a crowd-funding campaign managed to get a copy of this book sent to every MP in Westminster. We wonder how many of them seriously took the time to read this book and heed its lessons? One thing is clear to Dunt:
“…politicians should not be trusted with such big, messy questions.”
The question of Britain’s involvement with the EU cannot be simplified. Our economic and legal system are inter-twined like the double-helix of DNA. It contains endless complexity. It cannot simply be switched off. Yet this idea was planted into the minds of the electorate and once the Referendum was over the Politicians had found
“…a big old pot of electoral mandate and they were going to use it to paint any picture they damn well pleased.”
As it stands today in 2017 most of the electorate did not want to leave the Single Market. They were promised this would never happen. It is as if the referendum was Pandora’s Box. Once opened all the evils of the world got loose and could not be stuffed back inside.
“Leave wasn’t an alternate economic or political model. It was a blank canvas…”
In other words, Brexit is a coup. A gigantic “Reset Button” was pressed in the British Economy and nobody seemed prepared for what would happen next. But they all knew that they had to press the button. Even if it set fire to the house and burnt our home to the ground. Politicians were convinced that it had to be burnt down in order to be rebuilt. This was our “Year Zero” and few cared about how impossible it would be to get anything better for Britain out of the resulting mess.
“Increasingly, acknowledging the difficulties we face in leaving the EU is considered to show a lack of faith in Britain. Those in favour of Brexit have closed their ears to discussions about complexity.”
This is the bleedin’ obvious and a tragedy too. Brexit was always an act of faith and when every expert warned that there were no objective facts to support the dogma the zealots stopped listening. It became a religion, a cult. Dunt spells out the deep cultural divide that stops the British understanding how important the EU is for Europe.
“We went through incredible suffering during the world wars, but it fell from the sky. It did not march down the streets in jackboots. On the mainland that trauma was and is personal…”
To many of us who voted to remain in the EU this fact was visible and simple to understand. Although we may argue about the details the EU as a unifying project is one of the greatest achievements of mankind and should be viewed as one of the greatest outcomes of those times – right up there with the creation of the NHS. When we leave the EU we effectively leave the World.
“When Brexiters say they want to leave Europe to trade with the rest of the world, they fail to realise that leaving Europe is an obstacle to trading with the rest of the world.”
When we played in the big team were were in the big league with the other grown-ups and had highly beneficial trading relationships with practically every nation on earth. Now we have thrown that away and we are very unlikely to get anything better as we have no cards to play with. We have no advantage. All the locker room bravado of the boys from Eton mount up to precisely jack shit when it comes to trading in the modern world. A British Prime Minister started to make promises concerned things such a food labelling policy that forged goals that were pie in the sky:
“…Britain cannot satisfy those goals even outside the EU, unless [Prime Minister Theresa] May also wants to leave the World Trade Organisation. Standards of packaging apply at that level, so unless Britain plan to give up the concept of international trade, in a North Korean model of complete isolation, she will have to break her promise.”
“You can get out of the EU, but there’s always another international system of standard-keeping you have to sign up to.”
The “Sovereignty” that the Leavers harped on about is a delusion. It is like a Professional Footballer leaving a Premier-League Football Club to pursue a ‘solo career’. The concept is a nonsense. Britain cannot control its tariffs. They are the result of mutual agreements with other trading nations. The UK was already in the Goldilocks Zone with regards to international trade. It already had the best of all possible worlds. Brexit throws that away. Instead Britain will leave the EU but will have to remain bound by its rules for years to come. As it turns out, after Dunt explained this, this was exactly what was proposed.
Immigration was a hot potato that put ammunition in the gun of the referendum. Yet, as we have seen on every other issue, that gun is pointed at our foot and (to torture this analogy some more) Brexit is pulling the trigger. Britain has a lot of old people needing pensions. We do not have enough young people paying into the pot. Hence we import the young and talented from Europe. They pay the taxes and run the essential services that make this nation work. They are the reason why we don’t need to fund public education properly or pay more National Insurance. They are a blessing upon the economy.
“Those who arrived between 2001 and 2011 endowed the UK with productive capital that would have cost it £6.8 billion in education spending.”
What is more, most of them go home after they work here meaning we get the best of their youthful wealth generation then do not have to care for them in their old age. A real win-win for Team Britain. Yet the extremist Right-wing nonsense now being peddled threatens all that for – what? For what exactly? Where is the benefit? Surely it would simply have been cheaper to spend that cash bonus on the communities where new immigrants arrived? This is how Brexit is so self-defeating. Everything it was supposed to fix will be made much worse. The people who voted for it will be those hardest hit. …and they will still be surrounded by the foreigners they have been brain-washed into blaming for everything. Since the sociopathic-mega-rich and the Politicians will still keep blaming foreigners for their ills (the rich and powerful create) then we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb. Brexit adds fuel to the fire. It cannot diffuse a bomb it is adding explosives to. This is highly dangerous.
Reducing immigration will put enormous pressures on public finances. Public services will be cut and cut again. There is no happy ending. No upside. Just grinding poverty. A jack boot in a human face forever. Nobody will win in the long term.
“…reducing immigration to the government’s aim of around 100,000 would increase the wages of low-paid workers in the sectors most effected by between 0.2% and 0.6% – a figure dwarfed by the 2% expected fall in wage growth if Britain leaves the single market.”
“If”… Britain is leaving the single market.
The very European neighbours we needed to maintain good relations with have been appalled by the behaviour of the British Government towards them. They have gone out of their way to burn bridges and alienate our allies. It makes no logical sense. When Article 50 was finally triggered at the end of March 2017 it became clear just how weak the position of the British was. They literally started as underdogs and had no cards worth playing. The Right-wing press would bleat on about how the EU was going to “punish” us but in one revealing tweet the head of the EU told us that there would be no need as Brexit is its own punishment. Indeed.
The situation of the Brits is puzzling to our former friends. Some on the continent came to elaborate theories as to why the British negotiators had so deliberately worked to undermine the British position. Dunt wrote about one Polish theory that the Brits could walk out of negotiations with the EU in order to cover up their own incompetence and blame everything on EU intransigence. Dunt has his own theory that “the Brexit ministers have come to believe their own nonsense“. The Brexit universe is now a self-contained echo-chamber filled with the endless machismo of Etonian old boys slapping each other on the back and laughing at anyone outside their clique. In reality these self-same Ministers are hopelessly out of their depth.
“Through a mixture of ignorance and ideological frenzy they are driving Britain towards a hard, chaotic Brexit.”
Dunt predicts that Britain is in for a prolonged period of endless crisis. By the time a good 10 or 20 years have passed the Government of the day will not blame Brexit. Politicians being Politicians will simply blame whoever was in power previously and who ever is in opposition to them. The game will continue.
“Britain is about to experience a toxic mix of weak law and strong lobbying… It will revert, in all likelihood, to a low tax, low regulation laissez faire economy, more akin to that of Singapore or Hong Kong than the countries of the Continent.”
The question for us is this: do we want this?
“The idea that Britain has grown stronger by leaving the EU will be seen as a bad joke when it is being bounced from pillar to post by bigger negotiating partners. Any notion that control has been taken back will seem cruel and absurd. Sovereignty will pass from Brussels, over the heads of the British people, into the closed negotiating rooms of Washington, Beijing and New Delhi.”
This is a horror story for those of us who believe that Britain’s future path laid within the model of a Scandinavian social democracy. All that now is a lost dream. The nightmare that now has come upon us
“..is partly because of political self-interest and partly due to a new and unsettling form of nationalist hysteria among the political class. Once this attitude has been adopted, obstacles start to look like conspiracies and those who point to them start to resemble traitors.”
“There is an urgent need for nuance and sober reflection. Ultimately, it is British values which will help get the country through this difficult new period: calm debate, instinctive scepticism, practical judgement and moderation. We appear to have lost sight of those values. The sooner we reaffirm our commitment to them, the better off we all are.”
This book makes sober reading. Dunt has the measure of out political caste and lays out their failings for all to see. This goes far beyond Brexit being simply a bad decision for Britain. It exposes how toxic the political debate has become. Brexit is many things to many people but it is increasingly looking like, sounding like and smelling like a cult. It is an extremist religion that no longer requires any evidence to back its cause. It demands that all follow it where it goes and that all must simply believe in its lessons. Brexit is its very own Jonestown massacre but this time it is not only the faithful who will fall upon their swords. They will drag the whole rest of Britain down with them.
My own wife tells me everything will be fine despite the fact that she too voted to remain. She too has “faith” that Britain will be (somehow) “alright”. That we will end up like a cat standing always on our feet. Yet mighty empires have come and gone. Ours has been gone a long time and we have coasted through the post war years on the backs of our diminished Commonwealth. Our terminal decline as a once great trading nation was arrested only because we joined forces with our European neighbours to build a single free trade area.
In the great sweep of history I can only see Brexit being one more brick in the wall that divorces Britain from the traditions in its great past. Such a sentimentality for Empire may fuel the fantasies of the privileged ruling class who graduate from Eton. But if they truly want to take the helm of a respected and powerful nation they should look to the future not the past. The great nations on earth are now the Germanys and the Denmarks of this world. We may well scratch some small living in this world as some sordid little tax haven but we shall be a shadow of our former selves. It is sad to see such self destruction wrought upon a once-great nation by the very people who somehow imagined they were arresting our decline.
We could have been great. We could have been a contender. We could have been a California to a United States of Europe: different, wealthy, wise, leading, imaginative, progressive and forever inventing the future. Instead we have set ourselves on the path of being a feudal has-been washed up on the shores of the global economy. We will become a morality tale that future generations will tell their children about. “Eat your greens or you will be a brexit”. We will become Cuba before the revolution. A powder-keg waiting to blow up into revolution. And there is no way back from that place. Cubans may well hold their heads high but they are poor. Dirt poor and forever stuck in the backwaters of the 1950s where the world cast them. Yet that analogy is not so apt. The Cubans were victims of the abuse of empire. Since their revolution their fate was sealed by an illegal US blockade. Nobody outside the American bubble blames Cuba for what befell it in history.
History will tell a sorry tale of how Britain ate itself whole. Where ever our people shall now travel in the world we will no longer be known for our past achievements. Our Empire and great deeds will swiftly be forgotten. All sympathies shall be washed away by the eternal shame of Brexit. It will forever be connected to the fate of the British people in the manner in which death camps drag down the reputation of modern Germany. We will never live this down. This is a shameful episode that destroys everything we have achieved. Our friends see it as evidence that we have lost leave of our senses. Brexit is our national embarrassment. We cannot hold our heads high. This is a weight that obliterates the British character for generations to come. And we did it for some political vanity project.
Never in the course of human progress was so much sacrificed for such little gained. Purgatory has a special place reserved for the people who made this happen. Let eternal damnation be their price.