Sunday, 4 March 2018

Brexit Bunkum

There are now essentially three strands of Brexit, each based on their own particular bunkum. Firstly, there is the strand represented by the Brextremists, to whom May herself is held hostage. Secondly, there is the strand represented by the Blairites, and finally there is the strand represented by Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet. 

The Brextremists be they the Tories, or the handful of right-wing, anti-immigrant Labour MP's, and Protestant supremacists start from a reactionary nationalist stance. Hostility to immigration is one glue that binds them together, which is why they also attempt to perpetuate the myth that a majority of Labour voters in the North of England voted Leave, and that any opposition to Brexit by Labour would risk losing those voters. In fact, as John Curtice and the British Electoral Survey revealed, even in those Midlands, Welsh, and Northern constituencies that voted Leave, a majority of Labour voters voted Remain, and did so only by a marginally smaller amount than the Labour voters in London and elsewhere, with between 57 and 60% of Labour voters in the North and Midlands voting Remain. The perpetuation of the myth that a majority of Northern Labour voters voted Leave, is simply an attempt to frighten the Labour leadership off taking a bolder anti-Brexit stance, and thereby isolating the Tory Brextremists. 

As Irish Marxism sets out, nothing has changed in that regard as a result of May's latest “speech”, in which she simply sets out the particular cakes she wants to have and to eat, as opposed to simply adopting, as a philosophy, and strategy, the idea of wanting to have cake and eat it, whilst failing to explain how that would be possible given Britain's subordinate status viz a viz the EU. The Brextremists are unable to answer the question of the Irish border. In the case of Protestant supremacists like Kate Hoey, and now as seen in the leaked memo from Bojo to May, the whole question of reinstating a hard border, and thereby abandoning the Good Friday Agreement, is being raised, which opens the door to a return to the dark days of the 1970's and 80's. The Stage 1 Agreement signed before Christmas was clearly a fudge, in which the EU negotiators attempted to get May off the hook, but with which she repaid them by immediately capitulating to her extreme right-wing, and calling into question the agreement on full regulatory alignment. That is typical of the way the Tories throughout have acted in bad faith. Its no wonder the EU have now put the Stage 1 Agreement in tighter legal language, and having done so, May is already saying that she could not possibly comply with the requirements that flow from it. 

May says that no British PM could agree to a customs border down the Irish Sea, between Britain and Ireland, but unless the whole of Britain is to be inside a Customs Union with the EU, there is no real alternative. Moreover, its clear that British Prime Minister's already do agree to such arrangements. Devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already implies different regulations in those areas; the Protestant bigots of the DUP, are allowed to block basic human rights, in the province, that are taken as fundamental in the rest of the UK; there are similar divergences with the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, The Isle of Man, and other Crown Territories. Indeed, the Tories, having realised that Brexit will crush some areas on the East Coast, are now proposing establishing similar borders even around parts of the British Mainland, with the creation of Freeports. If they can agree to such borders even within the mainland, why not between the island of Ireland and the mainland? 

The Tories proposals for Freeports also tell us a lot about the Tories real ambitions as far as Brexit are concerned, because Freeports, like the Tory Enterprise Zones of the 1980's, are designed to be totally deregulated areas, which act as a battering ram into the rest of society, for a full tilt race to the bottom over protections for workers rights, environmental protection, and so on. Again it illustrates the bad faith of the Tories, who try to deny all of their history of opposing the Minimum Wage, of introducing ever more draconian anti-union legislation, and hostility to workers rights in relation to Health and Safety etc. It is the Tories who promised that Brexit would lead to a bonfire of regulations and workers rights, even though, again in their usual lying manner, they try to deny it. 

The Brextremists full on want us to believe that it is possible to have cake and eat it. Partly, that flows from their colonial era mentality of British superiority, and supremacism, in large part it simply reflects the bad faith of the Brextremists, who are prepared to push any snake-oil, in order to get permission to push forward with their hard Brexit ambitions. There is absolutely no possibility that the EU would agree to the demands of the Brextremists to have all of the same rights and privileges of being in the Customs Union and Single Market, whilst not being bound by its restrictions. May, in her speech said that the EU could not expect that Britain would have all of the obligations of a Norway option, but with none of the benefits. In fact, as the EU is in the driving seat, they can expect whatever they choose, and Trump's imposition of tariffs on steel, aluminium, and now proposals for further tariffs on cars, and so on, as he launches into a trade war to bolster his flagging support, shows how stupid it was for the Brexiteers to think that the tiny British economy would be able to have any leverage over these huge economies. Yet, the truth is that what May is asking for is all of the advantages of Norway and more, but with only the obligations of Canada, and less! 

And, the Brextremists arguments that being outside those institutions doesn't matter, because 90% of global growth will come from outside the EU, is yet another example of bad faith, and dissembling. The fact is that 90% of 10 is still only 9, whilst 10% of 100 is 10! The EU is the largest economy on the planet, and even a smaller rate of growth in that economy, is more than a larger rate of growth in smaller economies. Moreover, in typically arrogant fashion, the Brexiteers assume that just because this 90% of growth in the rest of the world happens, that means that it will automatically come to Britain. They seem to forget that there are 200 other countries in the world that will be sharing out that additional growth between them, as they all seek out export opportunities. And, most of those other 200 countries realise what the Brextremists do not, which is that it is easier to bargain from a position of strength if you are part of a larger collective, in that bargaining process. That is why nearly all of these other 200 countries are joining together themselves in EU type structures, be it in Latin America, Asia, or Africa, so as to obtain that leverage, and the trade deals of the future are being negotiated between these regional trading blocs, not between individual national economies! If the Brextremists had asked trades unionists, who have some understanding of actual bargaining and negotiating, they could have explained to them, from the start, precisely why individual workers are weak, but collectively they are much stronger!

Given that the UK is a relatively declining economy, whose decline has been reduced as a result of EU membership over the last 43 years, the main beneficiaries of this global growth will be all of those rising, more dynamic economies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, not to mention those countries in the EU, such as Germany who already export far more to China and elsewhere than does Britain, and whose ability to do so will be further enhanced by the economic muscle that the EU and its 500 million people, and market provides to it.  The fact is that the EU accounts for around 60-70% of UK trade, either directly or through the trade deals that the EU has negotiated with third countries, and from which the UK benefits. Losing out on that 60 - 70% of existing trade through the EU, merely to get the possibility of expanding marginally trade with the remaining 30%, has rightly been described as giving up a three course meal, in favour of a packet of crisps. 

The latest Blairite Brexit has come in the form of the letter by 90 Labour MP's and others calling on Labour to commit to staying in the Single Market, as well as the Customs Union. But, Corbyn has been quite right to point out the deficiencies of the Single Market, and its underlying free market ideology. The Blairites typically put forward this free market friendly solution at the expense of workers rights, in Britain, and across the EU. In that vein, they are also happy to join the Brextremists in the demand for a restriction on workers right to free movement, whilst imposing no limitation on the free movement of capital. 

The Blairites would, of course, like to come out openly and argue for opposition to Brexit in its entirety, but they prefer to put forward this halfway house, rather than stand on a point of principle. But, their Brexit is equally as delusional as that of the Brextremists. Logically, remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, which does, at least, provide a solution to the question of the Irish border, Gibraltar and so on, also entails remaining in all of those EU institutions such as Euratom, and so on. Again that is at least sensible, because unless Britain remains in those organisations, it will be practically impossible for Britain to obtain regulatory alignment with the EU, required for any kind of free trade agreement. Unless Britain is in the Customs Union and Single Market, it will either have to pay to join each of these regulatory and standards organisations, and pay through the nose to do so, or it will have to shell out even more money to establish its own regulatory and standards bodies, which would still have to comply with EU standards and regulations, before any frictionless trade was possible. It would also necessarily mean that Britain would have to accept ECJ rulings where any disagreement over those regulations and standards arose. 

But, if you are going to be a member of the Customs Union and Single Market (which actually is also what the Brextremists originally argued for, i.e. to be in the Common Market, but not the EU), and be bound by its rules and regulations, why would you do that, pay all of the necessary costs of doing so, and yet agree not to have any say in the formulation of those rules and regulations? Clearly, you would not. Such a solution might be okay for a small economy like Norway, whose main concern is to be able to sell its oil and gas on global markets, or like Switzerland, whose tiny population and economy depends upon its private banking industry, and services to various tax exiles and others anxious to hide their wealth from public view, but it is not at all practical for an economy of the size and diversity of the UK. 

The logic of the Blairite Brexit is to creep and go, so as to point out that logic, when the time arrives, and then argue for the need to remain inside the EU, rather than to take a principled stand now, to oppose Brexit itself. In fact, that kind of bureaucratic, managerialist approach is precisely what created the conditions that led to the rise of populist nationalism in the first place. 

The final Brexit is that now argued for by Corbyn and the Labour leadership. It avoids the lunacy of the Brextremist position, and unlike the Blairite position, it recognises, at least in Corbyn's particular presentation, the free market ideology that underpins the single market, and the need to challenge it. But, the fact remains that this Corbynite Brexit still represents an attempt to have cake and eat it, almost as much as that of the Brextremists. Remaining in even a Customs Union, rather than the Customs Union, in reality requires also being in the Single Market, because the largest element of having frictionless trade across borders depends upon having full regulatory alignment, rather than just common tariffs. Moreover, the idea that the EU would allow Britain to be in a Customs Union, and yet still negotiate separate trade deals with third countries is quite honestly bizarre, because the whole point of a customs union, is that the entire area is surrounded by a common tariff. The idea that the EU would allow Britain to negotiate trade deals with third countries even alongside the EU, is delusional, because that would give Britain, outside the EU, a privileged position vis a vis every other country inside the EU. 

None of these variants of Brexit stack up. The only logical and principled stance to take is to oppose Brexit entirely. For Labour, the correct element of Corbyn's position of rejection of the free market ideology that underpins the single market needs to be pushed forward, but the way to do that is not to stand aside from that single market, but to throw the whole weight of the British Labour Movement into a struggle with other EU workers and socialists to transform the nature of the single market itself, and to reject its free market ideology. The reality is that even progressive social-democracy in one country is as much a fantasy, and a reactionary dead-end as the concept of socialism in one country. If Britain under a Corbyn government is to push ahead with a progressive social democratic agenda, if we are to avoid the kind of conservative austerity measures imposed on Greece, and other countries over the last eight years, that can only be done by a united EU wide labour movement, waging a common struggle for the rights of the working-class, across the whole EU. 


Brian Green said...

Generally good article. However to assume that somehow the EU state is worse than the UK state it to head in the wrong direction both tactically and in principle. The fact is that it was Britain that drove most of the legislation to free up markets in the EU as well as to frustrate any targeting of tax dodging. The two countries worst hit by austerity were the two countries with the biggest financial crashes, Greece and the UK. Britain has experienced the second worst cuts and fall in standard of living after Greece. None of this had anything to do with Brussels but with the City of London. In other words all capitalist states are equally bad, and Corbyn's concerns about the single market are besides the point. Marxists needed to oppose Brexit for one simple reason, a stagnant capitalist system sets up centrifugal (destructive) forces that end up fuelling reaction, whereas a progressive workers movement always moves in a centripetal direction, a unifying direction, towards closer European workers unity. You are quite right to point out the tortured relation between the UK and the USA. The UK was bankrupted by lend lease and dispossessed by Bretton Woods which Churchill described as Britain's biggest defeat outside war.

Boffy said...


Thanks for your comment, but I think you are under a misapprehension. I have arguing all along that it is wrong to argue that the EU state is worse than the UK state, or more correctly I have always argued as against those who put forward an anti-union stance that it is wrong to believe that the British state is any way better than an EU state.

In fact, my position has always gone further than that you have set out here. Whether it was Britain that advanced the policies for free markets and so on, or not is rather irrelevant. Even if it had been, say, Germany, rather than Britain that advanced such positions, it would not change the fact that the British state, as much as the German state, or an EU state is a capitalist state, and so socialists should not choose between them, on some kind of lesser-evil basis. Indeed, the EU is preferable to any of these individual nation states, precisely because it represents a more mature form of society, of a more unified working-class, as opposed to one divided by national borders.

However, I do not agree that "Corbyn's concerns about the single market are besides the point.". They are not a reason to argue for being outside the EU, but that does not make them besides the point. It simply means that the point is, as I set out in the post, to create a unified EU wide labour movement that wages a struggle against those conservative underpinnings of the single market, and attempts to transform the EU into a Workers Europe.

Brian Green said...

Sorry if I misrepresented you. Glad to hear you do not engage in a beauty contest between the various capitalist states.

George Carty said...

Weren't there non-financial reasons why the UK and Greece did especially badly after 2008?

In the UK, the effects of the crash were magnified by a drastically worsening balance of payments resulting from the exhaustion of North Sea oil fields, while Greece was a fundamentally non-viable economy that had been propped by vast sums of American aid during the Cold War (given on account of its important strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean). Once the Cold War ended the US aid dried up, Greece spent beyond its means in an attempt to maintain its living standards, until by 2008 it could borrow no more.

As for anti-immigration sentiment, what do you think of the survey by the Yougov-Birkbeck-Policy Exchange, which suggested that many people who claim to oppose immigration for economic reasons (such as pressure on public services or competition for jobs) are lying, and that their true concern is that the indigenous British population is being gradually replaced by immigrants and their descendants?

I suspect this may explain why the Leave vote was heaviest in de-industrialized areas (people who are aware that their communities are dying are most likely especially receptive to anti-immigrant propaganda for psychological reasons), and also explains why Muslim immigration is especially problematic – Muslims do not integrate well into British society, both because of the prominent role of alcohol in British culture, and because Muslim women are forbidden to have sex outside of marriage or to marry non-Muslim men.

Boffy said...

Hi George,

There were undoubtedly non-financial reasons why Britain and Greece did worse following the 2008 financial crisis. I've covered some of those economic features in various posts in relation to both the UK and Greece. What was a common economic feature to both Britain and Greece, and to Spain, Ireland, and Portugal was the imposition of austerity, which cratered aggregate demand. An example of the effects of different underlying economic conditions can be seen in relation to Ireland, as I have pointed out over the last 8 years.

Ireland had drastic austerity imposed on it, as a consequence of the irish state bailing out the Irish banks that had gone bust as a result of over lending on property speculation. What has been different with the Irish economy is that, over the last few decades it has significantly grown its high value, high productivity sector, so that the underlying economic strength and competitiveness of the economy is in contrast to that of the UK, or Greece, or Portugal, and Spain. Despite the effect of austerity on cratering Irish aggregate demand, therefore, its economy rebounded fairly quickly.

The conditions in Britain were different to those in Greece, Spain Portugal. Britain could have borrowed very cheaply in the period after 2008. There was no purpose to austerity, other than to suppress the economy, so as to restrain wage growth, and keep interest rates low, so as to reflate asset prices. General economic theory, and just good business practice would suggest that if someone is offering you something more or less for free (and near zero interest rates mean effectively money-capital is being given away for free) you should fill your boots, because you may not get that opportunity again.

Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland were in a different position. They could not borrow for nearly free. But, the EU as a whole could. A progressive social-democratic EU, would have a single fiscal policy, and the EU would borrow on the basis of its overall credit rating, and then make the necessary fiscal transfers to places like Greece, Portugal and Spain so as to promote the investment required in those regions, to facilitate improved competitiveness.

I'm not surprised that people lie about their true motives for anti-immigrant sentiment. Talk to people you know, and you often get the real reasons rather than the reasons people give. Its why I said long ago that about 30% of the population are bigots, and was not at all surprised, therefore, by the Brexit vote. But, as I've also said before, 30% of the population is far from being a majority. Moreover, a large portion of that 30% are not Labour voters anyway. They are in large part already Tories or worse, or people who are generally apathetic in relation to politics and voting in general. Its only when they get the opportunity to vote on the particular thing that is the bee in their bonnet that they are motivated to take any part, which is another reason that the referendum was a bad idea, and why it is naive for liberals to believe that in highly divided societies - for example societies with severe religious or ethnic divides - elections can ever have any effect or than to exacerbate those divisions, and drive towards communalism and violence that often opens the door for some Bonapartist strongman to arise to hold the ring between the contending factions.

Its not that people in various parts of the world do not want some form of democracy, but that in such societies, democracy itself creates the conditions for its own failure.

George Carty said...

Could activists opposed to immigration (at least immigration from the Middle East and Africa, which I believe is far more unpopular in Britain than EU immigration, amongst both Leave voters and Remain voters) not argue that they are actually defending liberalism and democracy, by resisting the introduction of the ethnic or religious divides that you suggest would undermine democracy?

This was made most explicit in the campaigns of the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, and was perhaps also the reason why the Blair government allowed Eastern Europeans to work in the UK immediately once their countries joined the EU (a policy mirrored by only two other "old" EU countries: Ireland and Sweden) – Blair hoped that Eastern European immigrants would be less destabilizing than Asians or Africans.

Boffy said...


If I gave the impression that I was suggesting that any such ethnic or religious divide exists in the UK that was not at all my intention. The impact of immigration to that effect is miniscule in Britain. I was referring to situations such as exist in places such as Egypt, or Iraq. All I was saying as far as the Brexit referendum was concerned is that it gave those with a bee in their bonnet over a particular issue, here immigration/nationalism to raise what is usually a lower order political concern into the dominating issue. A similar occurrence could be seen with the Scottish independence referendum.

Moreover, even where existing ethnic religious divides exist, this does not mean they have to be a dominating divide for all time. Britain used to be divided between Catholics and Protestants in the same way that exists in Northern Ireland. Its legacy can be seen in the competing football teams in Liverpool, Glasgow and so on. But, those divisions are no longer the dominating ones, because in more capitalistically developed economies, the division of society along horizontal cleavages of class, rank and status dominate, and these cleavages range across ethnic, religious and gender divisions. Its where economic development is not so advanced that the cross cutting cleavages make democratic - be it bourgeois democratic or worker democratic - solutions difficult, as the current impasse in the Northern Ireland Assembly demonstrates.

George Carty said...

If I gave the impression that I was suggesting that any such ethnic or religious divide exists in the UK that was not at all my intention.

Not at all – I was suggesting that some opposition to immigration (especially Muslim immigration) may be motivated by fear that such a divide may arise in the future between Muslims and non-Muslims (doesn't such a divide already exist to a lesser degree in Blackburn and other "mill and mosque" towns?), or by concerns that liberal social progress re women's and gay rights may be reversed due to conservative Muslim pressure (hence my mention of the openly gay Pim Fortuyn).

The higher birth rates of Muslim communities are also seen as a threat, which is why Muslim women are often targeted in hate crimes even though actual Muslim malefactors (whether terrorists or members of grooming gangs) are overwhelmingly male.

Its legacy can be seen in the competing football teams in Liverpool, Glasgow and so on

Glasgow certainly, but the Liverpool/Everton rivalry has no basis in sectarianism.

Boffy said...


No I think that's wrong, and the data disproves it. Firstly, the poll data on the views of Leave voters show that not only does their bigotry extend to questions of immigration, but also to other areas such as feminism, environmentalism, homophobia etc. They are more likely to agree with the reactionary ideas of Islam on those topics rather than to be progressive opponents of it.

In addition the greatest congregation of support for groups like the BNP or UKIP has never been in those areas where there are high concentrations of immigrants. It has always been in surrounding areas. I don't think that the bigotry of the majority of the people who backed Brexit, and whose bigotry extends to all these other areas is in any way characterised by the kind of cerebral processes about relative birth rates you have outlined. That is after all the nature of bigotry that it is based upon primal, gut antipathy rather than any objective, logical consideration of the facts.

In fact, the opposite can be seen in the reaction of those who want to return to some kind of Victorian puritanism, and who object to women working in the sex industry, or who see women wearing skimpy clothing as F1 girls etc. simply find an easy and obvious target to attack.

The Liverpool/Everton rivalry isn't today based on sectarian rivalry, but it was originally, and the establishment of clubs that were basically Catholic and Protestant occurred in cities across the UK, where such sectarian divisions were strong.