Thursday, 11 October 2018

Tory Brexit Contradictions


There are numerous contradictions of Tory Brexit policy in relation to Ireland. 

Because the Tories are beholden to the DUP to keep them in office, even more than the constraints of their own unionist politics, the Tories are constrained to argue that they cannot agree to any solution that treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK. That argument is clearly bogus whether it is advanced by the Tories, or by their DUP support act. Northern Ireland already is treated differently to the rest of the UK. Nowhere else in the UK, for example, has the same devolved government settlement, whereby the two sectarian communities are ensured a right to be represented as a part of a power-sharing executive. Indeed, nowhere else in the UK would the current situation in Northern Ireland, where the continued antagonism between the political representatives of those communities has prevented that devolved government from sitting for nearly two years, be accepted. The DUP, for all their insistence on Northern Ireland being treated the same as the rest of the UK, do not make that claim when it comes to their bigoted policies on same-sex marriage, abortion and so on. 

Similarly, as I've set out elsewhere, the Tories have no problem with parts of the UK being treated differently, when it comes to the tax havens for the rich in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and so on. 

The easiest answer to the Tories Brexit contradictions would, of course, be to recognise that Northern Ireland, is an integral part of the island of Ireland. A united Ireland would make that aspect of the Tories Brexit problems go away. That is why the DUP are flexing their muscles already, as whispers spread that Theresa May, is considering relaxing her opposition to some new regulatory arrangement between the rest of Britain, and Northern Ireland. The DUP have the Tories by the throat, and they have just squeezed their fingers slightly. 

The Tories Brexit contradictions in relation to Ireland stem from the ridiculous red lines that Theresa May set down at the start of the negotiating process, whereby she rejected any possibility of Britain remaining inside the Customs Union or Single Market. If she had not done that, or had thereby left open the possibility of some kind of Norway option, the Tories Ireland problems would again be easily resolvable. If the whole of Britain is inside the Customs Union and Single Market, then the problem of the Irish border disappears. 

But, the problem with that for the Tories, and the reason May put forward her red lines, is that the the whole Brexit mess arose, in the first place, because the Tory party is riven between its reactionary nationalist wing, and its conservative, social-democratic, pro-EU wing. The reason Cameron called the referendum was to appease, but he hoped, ultimately, suppress the reactionary nationalists inside the party, and its external wing in UKIP. May's red lines were designed to appease that reactionary nationalist wing, with nothing more than a hope that time would provide some fudge down the road to enable her to square the circles. It hasn't, the circles instead have just continued to tighten around her neck. 

Any idea of remaining inside the Customs Union or Single Market, the so called Norway option, would inevitably be seen as BRINO (Brexit in Name Only). It would not assuage the reactionary nationalists inside the Tory parliamentary party, who also represent the majority of the Tory grass roots, and Tory voters, whose main concern is a dogmatic desire to stop immigration, remove the jurisdiction of the EU, and ECJ over regulations that prevents them tearing up existing workers, consumers and human rights, and environmental standards, in the same way that Trump is doing in the US, and other right-wing nationalists seek to do across the globe. Indeed, the Norway option is understandably the worst option for the reactionary nationalists, because not only does it not achieve any of those objectives, but it turns Britain, as Mogg and Gardiner have both said, into a vassal, whereby it has to abide by all of the regulations established by the EU, pay all of the costs of being in that club, whilst having no political input into the political process that determines those regulations. It is also why Labour's Brexit stance is also ludicrous, because there is no reason why any rational government would choose such a situation, whilst Labour's claim that they could somehow negotiate a deal with the EU, to allow them to also have a seat at the table, in determining those regulations, is the same deluded idea, of having cake and eating it, as the Tories have been putting forward, for the last two years. 

The EU, would, of course, agree to a Norway option. Why wouldn't they? It essentially keeps the UK inside the EU, keeping the borders open and trade flowing, and so on. Only Britain suffers, by having no say in the political process. But, for that very reason, the reactionary nationalist wing of the Tories would not accept it. May could push through such a deal by getting the support of Labour. It would meet most of Labour's six tests, but, of course, it still would not provide Britain with a seat at the table, an element of those tests, which not even Labour could achieve. Corbyn offered May such a solution at the Labour conference, but she has notably refused to take up the offer. And, no wonder. To do so, would rip the Tory party into shreds. Where 90% of Labour members support Remain, and would possibly accept such a soft Brexit option, as a lesser-evil to a hard Brexit, as a stop-gap to Bre-entry, of Britain rejoining the EU again, in a few years time, under a Labour government, the opposite is true of the Tories. If May forced through such a solution, by a reliance on support from Labour, the Tory party would split. She is not going to sacrifice the Tory party, and her own job in that way. 

That is why she pushed through the Chequers proposals, to buy more time. The Tories Brexit contradictions on Ireland come down to the fact that their red lines on the Customs Union and Single Market, flatly contradict their red line that there can be no hard border in Ireland, and similarly no new border down the Irish Sea. These conditions are not reconcilable. If Britain, including Northern Ireland has different standards and regulations in relation to goods and services circulating inside its borders, either produced in whole or in part, inside its borders, or imported from elsewhere in the world, then it is clear that the EU will need to undertake checks on all of those goods and services, before they are allowed into the EU, to ensure that they comply with EU standards. That is already what happens with goods and services being imported into the EU from non-EU sources, and is what happens with all trade taking place outside all single markets, whether or not free trade agreements exist between the various parties. 

This has nothing to do with free trade, or the existence of customs barriers, tariffs and so on. It is about goods and services complying with a common regulatory rulebook, and no amount of technology can resolve the requirement for verifying that the actual goods and services being traded across borders comply with the required standards. The willingness of the Tory Brextremists to try to define regulatory alignment as the same as regulatory divergence, shows exactly why, especially given the history of British duplicity, just over the last two years, when it comes to such agreements, anything other than a formal membership of a Customs Union, and Single Market, and the jurisdiction of the ECJ, would inevitably lead to the EU being screwed by the UK, and being used by the Brextremists as simply a route towards a hard Brexit at a time of their choosing. That is why the EU are not going to agree to such a solution, and why May has now apparently had to move further away from her Chequers proposals to the idea of Britain staying inside the Customs Union and Single Market, for an indefinite period. But, she is not going to get her Brextremists, nor the DUP to agree to such a solution, and nor can she rely on Labour supporting her under such conditions, where Labour MP's will smell blood and the possibility of bringing down the government, and forcing a General Election. Any Labour MP that propped up the Tories by voting for their proposals, in these conditions, would quickly find themselves facing the wrath of their members, and being sent the way of Field and Woodcock. 

The Tories think that they have a clever ploy when it comes to the Irish border. They always saw it as a Trojan horse to be able to get inside the single market and customs union, without actually being members of them, and thereby leaving themselves open to being able to be free to do trade deals with other countries. That is why, despite the obvious major stumbling block it represented, the Brextremists always ridiculously claimed that three was no problem with the border issue. But, the argument they put in that regard also shows the contradiction in their position. If three is no deal, the Brextremists say, they will not erect a hard border in Ireland, so that if a border is erected, it will be the EU that will have to take responsibility for its creation. In respect of the free movement of people across the border, they say, that is not a problem because there has been a common travel agreement between Britain and Ireland going back to the creation of the Republic. 

But, a major concern of the Brextremists is to prevent free movement of EU citizens into the UK. If there is no border in Ireland, then it becomes impossible for them to achieve that ambition, precisely because of the Common Travel Area. Any EU citizen wanting to come into Britain, only has to first fly to Dublin, and then they are free to drive across the border into Northern Ireland with no restriction. Once in Northern Ireland, they are then free to catch the ferry across to the British mainland, or to fly from Belfast into Manchester or Liverpool, or London etc. again unrestricted, because of the Common Travel Area. Therefore would in fact, be no realistic possibility of Britain preventing tens, even hundreds of thousands of EU citizens simply using Ireland as a gateway into Britain, unrestricted, because of the Common Travel Area arrangements that the Brextremists have championed as the very reason why no hard border is required. 

Britain, might want to spend millions of pounds in a wild goose chase trying to identify all of these EU citizens coming into Britain, legally by this back door route, but given that many of them might simply be in the country for a few weeks or months, at seasonal times working as fruit pickers, or in holiday season employment in resorts, the cost of doing so, for the chance of success would be prohibitive. Moreover, citizens of the Irish Republic under the same arrangements of the Common Travel Area, have always had a right to legally come and settle in the UK. There would be nothing stopping EU citizens flying to Ireland, and taking out Irish citizenship, before then simply moving to Britain as every other Irish citizen is able to do. 

The other option in relation to Northern Ireland, is to have some kind of special status for the North. That is, of course, what the DUP have been cutting up rough about. But, it also presents a further contradiction for the the Tories. If some kind of special arrangement for Northern Ireland is established, that enables it to remain inside the Customs Union and Single Market, so as to get around the question of the border, then Scotland will demand exactly the same kind of arrangement, and that will also strengthen the SNP's arguments for an independent Scotland, inside the EU, with an open trading arrangement across its border with England. Not only would that mean that Tory attempts to reconcile the divisions within its own party would have led to Brexit, but it would also mean that it had led to the breakup of the UK itself. England under such a situation would simply become a rapidly deteriorating rump, on the outskirts of Europe.

The Customs Union and Global Free Trade Deals 

The Brextremists have always trumpeted the idea that after Brexit, the world and its dog would beat a path to Britain's door, desperate to do trade deals that would benefit Britain. This idea stems from the same deluded colonial era notions, of Britain's standing in the world, that also led them to the belief that the EU could not do without Britain, and would, consequently give them a tremendous deal to keep them a part of it, or closely attached to it. 

They have assumed that, for a start, the old colonies would be their for the picking, as a Britannia once more ruling the waves, resumed its previous regime of unequal exchange, so as to extract tribute from them, as it did via the old Mercantilist system, and the dominance of British merchant and financial capital. The MP for the 18th century, Rees-Mogg, does not seem to have realised that the world he seeks to return to, disappeared more than a century ago. Britain is no longer going to be able to use gunboat diplomacy to enforce trade deals on such countries, beneficial to Britain, as it did in the 18th and early 18th centuries. It is no longer able to force China to buy British opium, grown in India and Afghanistan, as it did during the Opium Wars. Nor is it in a position to send a modern equivalent of Robert Clive to India, to ensure the dominance of a modern day British East India Company. Quite the contrary, these economies are now the ones in the driving seat, facing a rapidly declining British economic, political and military power. Indeed, it was this latter reality that led Britain to pool its resources with other similarly situated European powers, inside the EU, in the first place. 

The Brextremists have pointed to the fact that a number of these countries have said they would be open to doing a trade deal with Britain. But, of course, they have not pointed out that any such deal would be on terms that are worse than Britain already enjoys with many of these countries already, via the trade deals they have already entered into with the EU! India, for example, has no reason to give Britain preferential terms in a trade deal, compared to those it already has with the EU, precisely because the EU is a market of 500 million people, whereas the UK is a market of less than 70 million, and the EU is a $14 trillion market, whereas the UK is only a $2 trillion market. India may want a trade deal with Britain, but it will be one that enables India to export more of its goods and services to Britain, not vice versa. It will be a trade deal that enables large Indian companies like Tata, to be able to asset strip British companies, to cheaply acquire technologies, patents and so on, as it has done with Jaguar Land Rover, and Tata Steel. It will require Britain to give Indian students privileged access to UK Universities, and enable Indian managers to come to Britain, to run Indian subsidiaries, just as in the past it was British managers who went to India to run their subsidiaries there. 

The US, which is engaged currently in a global trade war under Trump's own reactionary nationalist agenda, has just renegotiated the NAFTA free trade deal with Mexico and Canada. The changes in that deal are actually, mostly superficial compared to Trump's usual boasting about having renegotiated what was the worst trade deal in the world, into being the best ever trade deal in the world. But, there is one significant element in what has been renegotiated, which is that the US has now inserted a clause which says that if Canada or Mexico negotiates a trade deal with any other country or trading bloc, for example, China or the EU, the US would have the right to cancel its deal with them. This essentially prevents Canada or Mexico from entering into new trade deals, other than those which the US itself approves with other countries and trading blocs. 

The US can do this, because of the size of its economy, and its importance to Canada and Mexico. But, does anyone seriously believe that the US would not similarly impose the same condition upon Britain as part of any trade deal? One reason that Trump inserted this clause, was in order to be able to use it, in his own trade wars against China and the EU, and as part of his own geo-strategic political goals, whereby trade is used as a means of exerting political pressure. The Brextremists have similarly, boasted about the approach of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, to Britain to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that the US, under Trump, pulled out of. But, its clear from Trump's insertion of this clause into the deal with Mexico and Canada, that Britain would have to choose. Either it could have a trade deal with the US, or it could have a trade deal with Japan and China, as part of TPP. Trump would not allow Britain to have both. Indeed, its inevitable that a trad deal with the US, would also come at the cost from Trump, of Britain removing itself from its trade agreements with the EU, or anyone else that Trump has a grudge against at that particular moment. A look at Trump's approach over the Iran nuclear deal, illustrates precisely that point. 

Yet, one of the main arguments put forward by the Brextremists was that leaving the EU would enable Britain to have cake and eat it, in this other sense too. They claimed that it would enable them to continue trading with the EU on the same preferential terms that currently exist, a claim that in any event would have been impossible, whilst additionally being able to establish trade deals with growing economies across the globe. Its quite clear that that is not possible. 

The reality, is, as I set out, more than thirty years ago, the world has been divided up, not as Lenin anticipated, in Imperialism, into colonial empires, but into large economic blocs, comprising increasingly integrated single markets, customs unions, and currency areas. The era of the nation state is, in reality long gone, and any attempt to go back to it, is a forlorn and reactionary endeavour that socialists should oppose. Kautsky was right, as against Lenin, in describing the future trajectory of world capitalism, in his theory of super-imperialism, but he was not entirely correct. Instead of a single imperialist hegemon, as Kautsky envisaged, and as the dominance of the US seemed to confirm in the post war period, what we actually have seen develop is the world divide up into three super-imperialism, in North America, the EU, and in Asia (China-Japan at its hub), with nascent super-imperialisms developing in Latin America, and more recently in Africa, with various sub-imperialist nation states within these latter regions seeking to assert themselves as the dominant power within those regional imperialist blocs. 

Each of these regional super-imperialism, seeks to protect and extend its own geo-strategic power, and Trump's insistence on this clause, and his attitude to the EU, to China and so on, is fully consistent with this imperialist organisation of the world economy. The idea that a puny British capitalist state, cast adrift from any of these super-imperialisms is going to fare well, is totally delusional, and the contradiction that the Tories now face, in trying to reconcile the negotiation of trade deals with all of these super-imperialist powers, simultaneously, is merely an expression of that reality.

Parliamentary Sovereignty, Democracy, and Respecting The Referendum 

The Tories claim that Brexit would enable Britain to be free, and to get back control, by restoring parliamentary sovereignty is, of course, bunkum. It is the same kind of superficial logical that leads to the claims about the millionaire and the pauper both being equally free to sleep rough. In reality, of course, on Britain's streets today, as a result of Tory austerity and callousness, we see thousands of paupers sleeping rough and dying on the streets, with thousands more being added to their numbers each year, but we see no millionaires choosing to join them in that misery. Every individual is only free to the extent that their resources, and most significantly financial resources, enable them to be so. You can only choose to live in a mansion, if you have the money to pay for it. Whilst some kind of physical disability might limit your freedom to engage in various activities, the possession of sufficient financial resources, even enables you to mitigate those limitations to one degree or another. Its difficult also to see that Donald Trump would have been able to attract the female companionship he has enjoyed, were it not for the billions of dollars he claims to have in the bank. 

The same is true of economies. North Korea, and Cuba, for instance, are both notionally free. They have achieved political independence from former colonial rulers. They can choose to adopt whatever political stance they desire. But, in reality, that political stance is limited by their economic power, which is extremely limited in both cases. Indeed, even their ability to freely adopt a political stance is constrained by their limited economic strength. 

A rapidly declining UK economic power, which will decline even more rapidly outside the EU, may have notionally taken back control, but the reality is that its weakened economic position, its separation from a seat at the table of a larger economic unit, will have led to a reduction in its actual sovereignty. The fact, that the UK would have to choose whether to continue in a close trading arrangement with the EU, or to have a traded deal with the US, is an example of that reality. As part of the EU, the UK would be able to have a say in any trade deal that the EU might strike with say, China, but, as a single nation state, it will have no say in any trade deal that the US might strike with China, or any other trading bloc. 

At the moment, Britain has a seat at the WTO, through the EU, but there is no guarantee that it would have any such seat after Brexit, and already Trump is talking about walking out of the WTO, in the same way he has walked out of the Iran deal, and the Paris Climate Deal. At some point, these large regional blocs will seek a restructuring of global para-state bodies such as the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF, as well as bodies such as the UN Security Council, reflecting this current reality, and the demise of the nation state. Britain's legacy position, as a former colonial and imperialist power, on those bodies, will then disappear, reflecting its current position. 

If as described above, Brexit, in fact, also leads to a breakup of Britain, with Northern Ireland and Scotland, which both voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU, becoming independent, or increasingly separated from England, then the residual power of England would dissipate even more rapidly. That in itself would call into question its continued seat at the table on world bodies, which are held in the name of what would then be a non-existent Great Britain. 

The Tories stance over Brexit, and refusal to get out of it, by a third referendum on the issue, is also based upon their ridiculous claims about needing to respect the decision of the second referendum on the issue, held on 2016, as against the decision of the 1975 Referendum to join the EU, whilst rejecting the idea that a further referendum would be an indication of current democratic feeling on the matter. Some Labour politicians equally present this ludicrous argument. The 1975 referendum was agreed by a 2:1 majority, as compared to the 52:48 majority to leave in 2016. Some Brextremists have tried to claim that the 1975, referendum was only about staying in the Common Market, rather than being in the EU. That is untrue. By 1975, the legislation had already been passed for the setting up of the EU in 1982. The decision to stay in the EEC, in 1975, was a decision thereby to be in the EU, when it was created. 

That this first referendum, agreed with a 2:1 majority should stand for some time, before being challenged, was perfectly reasonable – assuming you accept the democratic credentials of plebiscites as a means of determining the will of the people, to begin with. There was no likelihood or evidence that the majority had changed their opinion in the years after 1975, despite all of the attempts of nationalists from both left and right attempting to drag the UK out of the EU, during all of the period after 1975. That certainly cannot be said about the narrow decision to leave in 2016. Setting aside all of the dubious aspects of the 2016 referendum itself, its very narrow majority, clearly means that it does not have the same right as the 1975 referendum result to be considered as in any way binding for a prolonged period. That is why it is frequently the case that decisions expected to have a prolonged lifespan, require a two-thirds majority before they are adopted. 

That, in itself, might be considered undemocratic, and opens the door to those who would like to impose such constraints, for example, on strike ballots. But, for that very reason, the idea that democracy can be something that involves only periodic votes, which cannot be regularly and free ly challenged, is untenable. On what rational basis can it be said, therefore, that the 2016 referenda result is a democratic and binding result, a democratic vote that must be respected, but that a 2018, referenda that would give a current expression of the popular will, is not at least equally democratic, binding and to be respected? 

The idea that the 2016 referenda result is somehow more democratic than any result of a 2018/19 referenda makes no sense. It makes the decisions of the past superior to the decisions of the present, and in a very real sense, privileges the votes of the dead over the votes of the living. About 1.5 million voters have died since the 2016 referendum, and they are mostly old voters who voted 4:1 in favour of Leave. That is around 1.2 million Leave voters, who have died. At the same time, a similar number of young voters, who were denied a vote in 2016, are now entitled to vote, and they stack up approximately 4:1 in favour of Remain, or an additional 1.2 million Remain voters. In total that is an additional 2,4 million votes in favour of Remain compared to Leave as was the case in 2016. That alone would reverse the 2016 result, let alone all of those Leave voters, who have seen the chaos that has ensued in the period after 2016, and who, therefore, would vote Remain rather than Leave. 

So, if the Tories claim to be pursuing Brexit on democratic grounds, how is that at all defensible, given that their refusal to agree to a further vote on whether to accept their deal, or to vote to remain in the EU, means privileging the votes of more than a million dead people over the votes of more than a million living people, who are precisely the people who will have to live with the disastrous consequences of Brexit, for the longest period. 

The Tories Brexit strategy is riddled with contradictions. It makes no rational sense, and is leading into deeper and deeper chaos. The Tories will not scrap it, and have no way out of it. Unfortunately, with Labour fudged, and confused response agreed at the party conference, Labour is in little better position to offer workers a way out of this disaster either. Its time that Labour took seriously its duty to provide leadership, and came out clearly to argue that Brexit is a disaster, and that the only rational course of action is to put a stop to it. Labour should do all in its power to frustrate the Tories plans, and to force a General Election, and should stand in that election on a clear platform of opposing Brexit, of pushing forward a programme along with other EU workers parties for a reform of the EU, as part of a struggle for an EU Workers Government, that would put an end to austerity, and commence a programme of fiscal expansion, and development of workers rights.

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