Thursday, 15 November 2018

May's Choice

The term Hobson's Choice means to be presented with no choice at all. From today, we might instead refer to May's Choice. Theresa May, unable to negotiate a good deal with the EU, is telling parliament that it must either vote for her bad Brexit deal, or else have to accept a No Deal Brexit. So much for Brexit being about restoring parliamentary sovereignty! It is, of course, nonsense. There is no reason to accept that the only choices are May's bad deal, or No Deal. There is the very obvious other choice, that it could be recognised that the Brexit decision was a very bad decision, to begin with, and that we should simply reverse it. We give that option for anyone who decides that some financial product, or consumer good they bought from a shop didn't meet their requirements, so why shouldn't people have the right to decide that they made a mistake over Brexit, and that they don't like any of the actual options for leaving, and so would prefer to remain in the EU? We are still seeing large amounts of money being paid out in compensation for people who were mis-sold PPI. But, the PPI scandal will appear as totally insignificant compared to the Brexit mis-selling scandal! 

Let's look at what people were sold by the Brextremists, and what they will get. The Brextremists claimed that Brexit was about taking back control for parliament. Well, the fact that Theresa May has tried to prevent parliament having any real say in the Brexit process from Day 1, shows the extent of that lie. In May's Brexit fudge, it appears that Britain will in any case stay in the Customs Union, for a temporary period, of unknown duration, but will, because of being outside the EU, have no say in the rules and regulations applied by that Customs Union. It will have accepted the idea of taxation without representation, or as Mogg and Gardiner and both Johnson's have described it, it will turn Britain into a vassal state. Britain has actually had a significant role in determining the rules and regulations of the Customs Union, and Single Market, but will now lose any influence over the process whatsoever. Rather than regaining sovereignty, Britain will have given up sovereignty over this huge and important sphere of economic life. 

But, of course, the idea of regaining sovereignty was always an illusion anyway. Even if the Brextremists got their way, and Britain left the Customs Union, and Single Market, the reality is that the majority of UK trade is with the EU. In order to be able to sell goods and services to the EU, therefore, the UK would have to agree to abide by those very same rules and regulations, over which it would have no say. That, indeed, as I pointed out on Wednesday, is why nation states formed together into trading blocs, like the EU, with their close trading partners, in the first place. Moreover, in selling to the US, China, and elsewhere, the UK would also have to agree to comply with any of their rules and regulations too, in respect of any goods and services it wished to sell. It would have no say over those rules and regulations either.  The Brextremists don't mind that, because they point out that only 6% of Britain's 5 million businesses, sell into the EU.  They forget to say, however, that that 6% are precisely the biggest businesses, and it is they who are crucial to the British economy; it is they who earn all of the foreign currency that Britain requires to pay for its imports from the rest of the world!  In that statement alone about the 6%, and their concern for the 94%, the Brextremists disclose their true reactionary nature, as people who are still living in some bygone age, and whose interests lie with representing that 5 million small businesses, who are the ones responsible for Britain's low productivity, precarity, and low wages, that make large numbers of workers dependent upon in work benefits.

The fact is that however much the Brextremists witter on about the UK being the sixth biggest economy in the world, it is still a minnow. The UK economy is a $2 trillion economy compared to the EU's $14 trillion economy, and a similar size for the US. But, the reality is that the modern global economy is not made up of individual nation states, other than where those states, like the US are themselves vast, in their own right, but is comprised of economic blocs like the EU, Mercosur, ASEAN and so on. Its against these huge trading blocs that the tiny independent UK economy would be trying to bargain. It would be desperate to gain access to their vast markets, and would thereby have to comply with their requirements. The fact that the UK has had to concede to the EU's requirements in the Brexit negotiations is simply a reflection of that very fact. If the Brextremists complain and think the EU has been bullying them, then they should learn to suck it up, because that is the reality that the UK will have to live with in all of its dealings with every other large economic bloc in the future. 

Of course, the reality is that Labour's stance is, if anything, even more delusional than that of the Tories. Labour's position is to refuse to support any Tory Brexit deal that fails its Six Tests that are based on the principle that any such deal should not leave Britain in a disadvantaged position compared to being inside the EU. But, that is impossible to achieve. There is no deal outside the EU that is as good as, let alone better than being inside the EU! If you could get all the benefits of belonging to a trades union, without the need to pay subs, or undertake any of the other obligations of being a union member, no one would ever join a trades union! Labour says it will vote against the Tory deal, and then campaign for a General Election. Good, but on what basis will it fight that election? At the moment, Corbyn says that Brexit cannot be stopped. Insofar as we get any kind of commitment from Labour spokespeople about what they will say in the manifesto for that election it is simply a repetition of the mantra Labour respects the referendum result, and a Labour government would government would somehow miraculously negotiate a better Brexit deal than the Tories. 

But, it's quite clear that the EU can no more agree to a deal that meets Labour's Six Tests than it can  negotiate such a deal with the Tories. So, what then? After another year of pointless negotiations with the EU, we would simply arrive back at the same point we are in now. We would simply have exchanged political stalemate and chaos under May, for political stalemate and chaos under Corbyn. Having failed to negotiate a deal that meets their own tests, what would Labour do then? Would they as the Brextremists demand now, say, in that case it has to be a No Deal Brexit? That would destroy Labour for at least a generation, in the same way that the Tories are heading for destruction now. 

The only sensible position for Labour to take, is to argue that Brexit was a mistake, that it is a reactionary policy that will badly affect the poorest in society, and will damage workers as a whole. It is to recognise that 90% of Labour members, about 70% of Labour voters, and a majority of all voters in Labour held seats, oppose Brexit, and want to stay in the EU. Labour should indeed demand a General Election, so as to end this impasse, but they should do so, on the clear basis that if elected they will scrap Brexit, and begin to work with other social-democrats and socialists across the EU, to bring about a Workers Europe. 

It's clear that May wants to impose a choice of just her bad deal or no deal. All of the Tory media ar now piling in behind her to pressure MP's to vote for her deal on that basis. We can expect that to be intensified over the next month. The threat is quite clear. They are saying, if you vote down May's deal, then you are voting to throw the country into the chaos of a No Deal Brexit. That is a shameful lie. If May only gives parliament the choice of May's Deal or No Deal, then the responsibility for No Deal, will not lie on the shoulders of MP's who vote against May's bad deal, but with May herself, for refusing to allow any other alternative. If May wants to do that fine, but it should be made clear that the responsibility for the chaos of No Deal rests entirely on her padded shoulders, not those of MP's who simply have done their duty in attempting to hold the government to account.

May not only could not get support from all her Cabinet for the deal, but when she came to parliament, it took over an hour before even one MP, stood up to in any way provide any backing for it, after a torrent of opposition from other MP's.  May seems to be in a state of total denial.  In many ways she has become a figure that has to be pitied.  Waiting for someone to come to her defence in the parliamentary debate, was like those old westerns where the tumbleweed rolls through the main street of the town, as a sign of total desolation.  As she stood up and simply repeated empty rhetoric that denied the reality of the situation that is obviously to all, she had the appearance of a mouse that was being cruelly taunted by a cat that at any time could bring its life to an end.  And, now the mouse in the form of Tory MP's appear to be about to do just that, as they introduce a motion of no confidence in her leadership.

Again, the the BBC, Sky News, and the rest of the Tory media are doing their best to try to shore up her position.  They purvey the notion that her opponents need to get a majority of the Tory parliamentary party, in order to remove her.  In fact, as happened when Thatcher was ditched, its only necessary, in practice to get 100 Tory MP's to vote again a sitting leader, but they have to go.   With already around 85 members of the ERG opposing her, getting that 100 votes seems well within their grasp, and then its likely that the run off will include a Brextremist that the party rank and file will elect.  At that point a large portion of the Tory parliamentary party will effectively split, even if they do not actually resign the whip.  So, not only has rigamortis set in to May's Brexit deal, even before she gets to put it to a vote in parliament, but its not even assured that she will be Tory leaders by the time such a vote comes before parliament in about a month's time!

Moreover, the reality is that May would never carry through a No Deal Brexit anyway, however much she might threaten to do so. If , in a month;s time, MP's vote down her bad deal, and she insists that the only alternative will be a No Deal, several things will happen very quickly. Firstly, there will be a run on the Pound that will make its 20% drop in 2016, after the Brexit vote, look like small beer.  Even today, the Pound has dropped by nearly 2%.  It would be likely to drop by 30% against both the Dollar and the Euro. That would force the Bank of England to step in to try to defend it, in the same way it did in 1992, when a previous incompetent Tory government created financial chaos. That led to the Bank of England having to raise its official interest rates to 15%, and threatening to raise them even higher. It led to mortgage rates rising to over 15%. House prices, which had crashed by 40% in 1990, as interest rates had started to rise, were hit again. Today, with UK house prices in an astronomical bubble, any rise in interest rates is likely to cause them to fall sharply, and a more significant rise in interest rates will cause a house price crash even greater than that of 1990. 

The next thing that will happen is that the migration of EU workers in Britain, back to the EU, that has begun, will turn into a stampede, and that will cause many of those industries and services like the NHS, Social Care and so on, that rely on these workers, to go into meltdown, as they lose their workers. Many of those workers, who are living in privately rented property, bought by buy to let landlords, will thereby leave those landlords with property they cannot rent, causing them to add to the property crash, as they put all of those properties on the market, trying to stem the collapse in their wealth, tied up in that property. 

We have already seen that large food companies like Premier Foods, and others are stockpiling food ahead of the possibility of food shortages as ports get clogged. The NHS and some pharmaceutical companies are doing the same, given that many of these products have to be imported from the EU. With a further 30% drop in the Pound, the cost of imports in any case would rocket, as it did with the drop in the Pound in 2016. That would be the trigger for consumers also to start stockpiling food and medicines, and fuel. A large part of the Brexit vote came from that 80% of the over 75's, mainly Tory voters, who still have delusions of Britain's colonial past, and place in the world. As in all such situations of potential shortages, they will be the first to be trying to elbow their way in to stockpile food, stock up on their medical prescriptions for months in advance, and to store fuel in whatever means they can, so as to avoid the consequences of the disaster they have brought on the country via their vote.  One of the things that Premier have been stockpiling is gravy powder and granules, and I notices in Sainsbury's yesterday that it has rearranged its aisles, with almost a half of one aisle given over just to gravy!

That would not last 48 hours, before Theresa May and her government was forced back in to parliament to rush through an alternative to a No Deal Brexit. It would involve a climb down of historic proportions, as she was forced to send whoever the latest Brexit Secretary of the time was back to Brussels, assuming they could find their way to the Dover-Calais crossing, to plead for Article 50 to be suspended, whilst Britain negotiated to remain inside the EU. The No Deal Brexit threat is, as it always has been, an empty threat that could never even begin to be carried out. MP's should not be bullied by such a threat. They should vote down May's bad deal. 

But, the real choice then becomes stark. It is what it has always been. It is what the EU pointed out right at the beginning. It is the choice between such a disastrous No Deal, or remaining inside the EU. Labour should be making that clear, and campaigning now, decisively to scrap Brexit, and the dangerous delusion it represents.


George Carty said...

If there's a second referendum that offers only the choice of May's deal or No Deal Brexit (and not Remain or even EEA/EFTA), would you recommend spoiling the ballot paper?

Boffy said...

I'm in favour of Labour demanding a General Election not a second referendum, is the first thing. I'm in favour of Labour coming out strongly to say that Brexit is a reactionary policy that should be stopped is the second thing. That is what the emphasis should be on, not a second referendum.

As I will write shortly in another post, one way to bring that about is that Labour should immediately put down a No Confidence Motion in May's government. Its now a minority government having lost the backing of the DUP, and it looks like the 48 Tory MP's required for a No Confidence vote in her, within the Tory Party is about to be reached. So, if her government is already a minority, and if at least 48 of her own MP's have no confidence in her, its clear that a majority of the House of Commons has no confidence in her, and her government.

If the DUP and the Tory Mp's who have submitted their letters mean what they say, they should vote with Labour and the other parties to express no confidence in the government, in which case it would fall, and Corbyn would be called on to form a government.

There is a clear majority in the Commons to ensure that No Brexit is on the agenda for any second referendum, and there is no reason why they should not be able to insist on that if it came to a second referendum, so the question really does not arise. If Mat tried to prevent that by authoritarian and bureaucratic means, that would be a trigger for a motion of No Confidence in her government, that would surely pass.

So, the chance of a referendum without No Brexit being an option is not going to happen, but hypothetically if it was the case, I would be arguing for Labour to double down on opposition to Brexit, to build a social movement to oppose it, and to wage an active abstention campaign, for the referendum, around the need for a General Election, and a Labour government committed to reversing Brexit.