Saturday, June 20, 2020

The sun has set

Even by the standards of this dismal government, this week has been puzzling. The jingoistic 'Global Britain' flag has been waving without much sense of what 'Global Britain' actually means, other than an expensive makeover for a plane. All the while, the threat of a destructive no-deal exit from transition remains.

Then there was the embarrassing launch of negotiations for a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand, glossing over the fact that talks between the Australasian countries and the EU for a free trade agreement are advanced and that we would benefit from one far quicker if we were members of the EU. Australia has made it clear that we are not a priority and the deal with the EU takes precedence. Otto English is scathing. This mirrors the heralding of the opening of trade talks with Japan, without mentioning that this is to replace the trade deal we already have with them through the EU - a deal that we are abandoning by leaving the single market and customs union.

All this comes after Johnson's previous nod away from globalisation towards nationalist autarky and import substitution, together with the abolition of the Department for International Development. It convinces me that Chris Grey is right. There is no plan.
The Brexiters have no more idea in private than they do in public about what they are doing. Predictions based upon their concealed intent project on to them a competence they simply don’t possess.
Brexit as an ideology, as opposed to the type of reformist Euroscepticism that didn't question our membership, was only ever a vehicle for a vague, self-indulgent sense of grievance projected onto a fictitious, scapegoat EU. It never proposed a coherent model of political economy or of international relations. It had nothing to offer other than bluster. I'm not sure that its adherents either expected or wanted the opportunity to put their fantasy into practice. Perpetual complaint without responsibility is much easier

Those of us with long political memories, like mine stretching back to our entry into the EEC in 1973, will know that we are simply replicating the debates of the 60s and 70s. The options are the same as then. That's because the question is the same. Where does the future of a post-imperial Britain lie?

There is a lot of talk of the EU as a peace project, but there is less about its other role as a solution to the questions raised by decolonisation and the end of the European empires. Even though the long and bloody retreat was not complete, it was obvious that individual European nation states could not play a global role on their own. A regional collective of independent states had the economic power to enable them to be significant international actors and thereby enhance their own sovereignty. Isolated individual states would be ineffective by comparison.

The choice Britain faced was between European engagement - either through EFTA, which we helped found in 1960, or full membership of the EEC - or a global role - through the Commonwealth or, more improbably, a relationship with the USA. Guess what we are debating today?

The decision was obvious even then. Distance and history drew us to Europe. The other options were not viable and, on its own, Britain would have drifted into continuing decline and irrelevance. We left EFTA to join the EEC because of its limitations. Now we won't even try and rejoin EFTA and be part of the EEA.

After 47 years, Britain abandoned the solution only to rediscover the problem. Except that the alternative remedies are even more unpalatable today. The EU has enlarged, is an economic superpower, our economy is deeply integrated with the internal market, and we are not just close, but joined by a tunnel. We have given up a powerful position without any replacement.

All the other choices, barring the utopian fantasy of a world of unconstrained independent nation states, leave the UK as a weak supplicant in a world dominated by regional networks. We have lost sovereignty by trying to enhance it. Pretending that we can be part of a Pacific bloc is mad. The solution to our predicament is obvious and we have just rejected it.

And so we are stuck, pursuing a disastrous policy at ruinous cost. As for the government that has to handle this, Chris Grey gets it right again:
We’re not in sway to some set of manipulative geniuses pursuing a well-thought out, if malign, agenda, but the captives of a coterie of utterly deluded simpletons who have stumbled into power by a series of accidents. The plane hasn’t been hijacked by steely-eyed terrorists so much as it has fallen into the inadvertent hands of a group of smirking school bullies and debating society geeks, led by a priapic layabout and advised by those for whom the term Incel inadequates is not so much an insult as an unattainable aspiration. Thus as Rafael Behr writes, convincingly, “incompetence is a built-in feature, not a bug of Boris Johnson’s government”.
And that's where we are today. An awful government, pursuing a destructive policy, without a clue about what to do other than to posture and indulge in rhetorical hostility towards our closest allies on whom we depend. Their only tactic appears to be reckless brinkmanship at the behest of a deranged sect on the right of the Tory Party. And all for nothing. There is no good reason to continue with a policy that never made sense and is only the result of a political miscalculation. But instead, we have left the EU without no idea about what to do instead. I despair for our country.

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