The “Calm, Determined, Stronger, Fairer” UK Brexit Zig Zag

Photo by Ben Chapman | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ben Chapman | CC BY 2.0

“So at this moment of change [Brexit], we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all”.

— Theresa May

“My plan for Britain is not just a plan to leave the EU but a plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, underpinned by genuine economic and social reform. To make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few”.

— Theresa May

The UK’s Brexit roll-out is a constantly evolving project, zig zagging along because the Tories in charge of it, like everyone else, have no real idea of how it will culminate.  So far it has been ad hockery all the way, though one or two of the project’s connecting threads are starting to be visible.

One week, Theresa “the woman without qualities” May, who voted against Brexit, is in favour of a “hard” Brexit (basically one involving no deal of any kind with the EU regarding the single market and immigration), the next she softens her tone and hints that a more placative agreement with the EU, amounting to a “soft” Brexit, might be welcomed in whatever hoped-for way.

Nothing was more symbolic of this chaos and muddled-thinking than the most recent pro-Brexit television broadcast by May, which showed her against the background of ships moving in the Scottish port of Aberdeen.

Oops– the port of Aberdeen was granted a €258 million loan from the European Investment Bank on 20 June 2016, just 3 days before the UK voted to leave the EU!

It all seems to depend on how much heat the pro-Brexit right-wing of her party, citing that chimerical entity “sovereignty”, can turn on her.

Her predecessor, “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, weary of feeling this heat, called the Brexit referendum to cool down his party’s right-wing, absolutely confident in his nonchalantly patrician way that Brits would consider themselves better-off by remaining in the EU.

Such referenda, although purportedly on a single-issue, tend invariably to have outcomes determined very much by the mood of the electorate, which is affected by a plethora of considerations having nothing specifically to do with the issue officially on the table on referendum day.

This turned out to be the case here, as those UK regions sold down the river by neoliberalism and globalization, which destroyed entire working-class communities (a similar story obtains in the US), as well as being misled by bucket loads of false promises issued by pro-Brexit politicians and their megaphones in the right-wing media, decided this was the time for them to register their anger and frustration by rocking the boat and voting Leave.

In the meantime, the EU, like a vengeful spouse in acrimonious divorce proceedings, is determined to inflict as much pain as it can on the UK for wanting the split.

May’s priorities are focused almost entirely on day to day Brexit-management, to the exclusion of everything else that is longer term, with one exception– her Brexit calculations have her party’s 2020 election prospects entirely in mind.

(May replaced Dodgy Dave between the 2015 and 2020 elections, and hence has not secured an election mandate as party leader.  The consensus is that she’ll be shown the door as party leader if she fails in 2020.)

May’s calculation requires her to “talk” a hard Brexit, to neutralize the right-wingers who ended her predecessor’s political career, and to gain the support of the right-wing press– owned by the foreigner Murdoch, the Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family, Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire), the tax-dodging Barclay brothers, and a Russian oligarch.

This overseas-domiciled and tax-dodging (in the cases mentioned) crew have set the low-information agenda for those inclined towards Brexit, so May’s strategy, if we can call it that, has been accommodating towards their hard Brexit stance, while leaving things vague enough for loopholes to enable a “softish” Brexit if needed.

May, craving electoral success, has to cater to all sides and eventualities.  The results are likely to be calamitous for the UK.

Why is this?

May’s primary objective is to convey the impression that Brexit will “work for all”.

Alas there is no evidence for this claim.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Brexit will be managed to the advantage of global capital, despite May’s utterly bogus claim that Brexit will “make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few”, and that Brexit will enable the UK to “take control”.

The EU has always subserved global capital, and post-Brexit UK is not going to do anything different.

The control exerted by global capital post-Brexit is probably going to be even greater than anything seen pre-Brexit, so desperate is the UK for economic arrangements seemingly capable of filling the trading lacunae left by its exit from the EU.

Since the Brexit referendum, deals to supply weapons to the murderous Saudis and the Turkish despot Erdogan have been cemented, and more are likely to follow.

The EU, despite its submission to global capital– but somehow reflecting the vestiges of a social-democratic tradition in its leading member-states (Germany and France), and its Nordic (Denmark, Sweden, Finland) and Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) members– has at the same time not wanted the governments of its members to be run entirely “like businesses”.

For the EU, it is perfectly fine that a member-state is run, with only the most limited constraints, for business, but the line, albeit increasingly thinner, is still drawn by it when it comes to member-states being run wholesale “like businesses” (that is, providing an entirely unlimited free ride for business).

The UK’s pro-Brexit movement, in the absence of anything resembling a Lexit, is not going to be shackled by this or that constraint previously imposed by the EU.

For instance, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Trump’s non-American sycophant par excellence, though a minimal figure, has always advocated the privatization of the NHS.  And this is exactly what the Tories have been pursuing by stealth since 2010.

Unless voters intervene, the annihilation of the NHS will be a fait accompli once Brexit is implemented by the Tories.

There are palpable clues that a post-Brexit UK will be heading, depending on what is expedient politically each week or month of course, in the zigzagging but inexorable direction of a fully neoliberal “the UK is a business” state-formation.

May has already said she “stands ready” to use Brexit as an opportunity to turn the UK into a tax haven, or as the financial press euphemistically puts it, “a low-tax financial centre”.  It is already one of course (this being the primary function of the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar).

What May clearly means is that London’s financial sector, which is already awash in murky water, will become an even muddier swamp able to match similar swamps in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Panama, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so forth.  Dwellers of these swamps include assorted drug dealers, human traffickers, gun runners, owners of illegal gambling syndicates, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Argentinian president  Mauricio Macri, UAE president  Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ex-prime minister of Georgia  Bidzina Ivanishvili, Silvio Berlusconi, ex-prime minister of Iraq  Ayad Allawi, ex-prime minister of Jordan  Ali Abu al-Ragheb, Mark Thatcher, ex-prime minister of Qatar  Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Jackie Chan, former Emir of Qatar  Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex-president of Sudan  Ahmad Ali al-Mirghani, Tiger Woods, convicted ex-prime minister  of Ukraine Pavlo Lazarenko, Hosni Mubarak, ex-chairman of Volvo Anders Wall, Bahamian bishop of the Church of God of Prophecy Solomon Humes, Lionel Messi, Mitt Romney, Sir Phil “the spiv” Green, Dodgy Dave Cameron, and a full array of the world’s mafiosi.  (With the exception of Green and Romney, all the individuals listed here were named in the Panama Papers.)

In addition to May desiring this state of affairs for the City of London, it is clear from the composition of the team put together by the secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals, that Brexit UK is going to pursue a thoroughgoing pro-corporate agenda.

Fox’s deputy minister is Greg Hands MP, who has joint-US-British nationality, and worked for Rudy Giuliani in his 1993 campaign to become mayor of New York City.  Hands is a former banker specializing in derivatives in both New York and London.

Fox also appointed Catherine Raines as his director-general for international trade and investment.  Two items on Raines’s CV are noteworthy:  she was head of corporate development for the pharma giant AstraZeneca, and before she joined Fox’s ministry UKTI she was deputy CEO of Staffordshire county council, where she oversaw the handover of its educational support services to the outsourcing monolith Capita.

With a former derivatives banker and a pharma giant V-P (the latter with outsourcing experience as well) at its helm, UKTI is likely to give multinational corporations all the open doors they want après Brexit.

This corporate bonanza will probably be accompanied by a weakening of environmental regulations, since most of the leading Brexiteers are climate-change deniers or supporters of fracking (and in most cases, both).

Pro-Brexit climate-change deniers include Farage, Michael Gove (who tried to ban climate change from the school curriculum when he was education minister), the foreign minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson, Thatcher’s finance minister Nigel Lawson, and the above-mentioned Liam Fox.

Pro-Brexit supporters of fracking include Farage, Gove, BoJo, Lawson, Fox, the low-wattage transport secretary Chris Grayling (famous for declaring that cyclists are “not road users”), the equally low-wattage former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith (or George Smith, to use his birth-name, famous for asserting that people with disabilities are “normal” when he was minister for work and pensions–  he wanted more of them to be passed as fit for work so they wouldn’t be entitled to benefits), the minister for international development Priti Patel (who says Brexit will give the UK more opportunities to trade with Israel), and the minister for the environment, food and rural affairs Andrea Leadsom (a front-runner for the Tory leadership when Cameron resigned, but who torpedoed her candidacy by saying that being a mother meant she had a greater stake in the country’s future than her childless rival Theresa May).

This hugely attractive and compassionate bunch (sic) are not going to be too concerned about pollution, biodiversity, natural habitats, animals abused by industrial farming, climate change, the prohibition of lethal pesticides, declining fish stocks, the international trade in endangered species, and the use of GMOs, when the agribusiness corporations howl about environmental regulation being a burden to them.

There will be no remotely green agenda under this ghastly crew.  `

Much of the corporate world also regards health and safety regulation as an onerous burden, and this is likely to be weakened after Brexit.

Nearly all the top Brexiteers have echoed the right-wing media’s screeds about how “EU red tape is choking British industry”, as if the UK’s chronic lack of investment over the course of decades can be addressed by making it easier for mega-corporations producing “food” to pass off their crap as real food, or for agribusiness to bulk-up animals by injecting them with noxious chemicals.

May prates on about her deep concern for “just about managing” families (JAMs), but the austerity agenda passed on by the disastrous former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is being implemented with only a slight cosmetic tweak here and there.

The UK economy has grown since 2010, but, according to the Guardian, 7.4 million Brits, among them 2.6 million children, live in poverty despite being from working families (amounting to 55% of these deemed poor) — 1.1 million more than in 2010-11.

The report cited by the Guardian, produced by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that the number living below the Minimum Income Standard – the earnings, defined by the public, required for a decent standard of living – rose from 15 million to 19 million between 2008/9 and 2014/5.  The UK’s population is 65 million.

These 19 million people, or just under 1/3rd of the UK’s population, are its JAMs.

A significant factor in these shifts, the JRF said, was the increased number of  people living in basically unaffordable private rental properties, with the number of people in poverty in private rentals doubling in a decade to 4.5 million.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the JRF study said. “This is primarily, but not entirely, due to costs.”

The number of rental evictions has risen by 60% over 5 years to 37,000 annually.   Over the same period mortgage repossessions have fallen from 23,000 to 3,300.

The JAMs are being royally stiffed by the Tories.

Social care is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them, the NHS is starting to charge for treatment as it undergoes a backdoor privatization, they have fewer opportunities for upskilling in order to raise their incomes, and so on.  This while their wages are stagnant even as the cost of living is increasing for them.

Such important and pressing issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but they are not.

The Tories pro-corporate Brexit agenda has become the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Loud noises are made about “taking back control” where immigration is concerned, etc, to placate those who may be enticed by the laughing-stock and far-right UKIP, but the Tories care more about the UK’s banks and financial houses than they care about the JAMs or anybody else.

Donald “I’ll drain the swamp” Trump is selling his base down the river, and Theresa “I’ll work for all” May is doing the same for Brits.

Many have a name for what is really and truly going on in the UK and US: class warfare.

The bastards have the underprivileged by the throat.  All the mainstream political parties are terrified of offending them, if they haven’t already thrown their lot in with the bastards.

What is desperately needed, for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, is a reversal of this situation, in which many firm hands turn round and grasp the throats of those responsible for the misery of tens of millions of people.

Is there anyone in the almost moribund Labour party, torn apart by infighting caused by its still significant Blairite remnant, capable of saying any of the above unequivocally?

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.