Brexit Still Not 'Done' — Never Will Be

Executive Summary:

  1. Brexit has no clear objectives
  2. The EU didn’t create British problems
  3. Absolute sovereignty is impossible
  4. British industry needs to follow EU standards
  5. ‘Global Britain’ is economic nonsense
  6. British people won’t put up with it indefinitely

1. No practical goals defined

Britons were never offered a Brexit plan — At no point in the 2016 referendum, or the 2019 General election, did the Leave campaign define exactly what exit from the EU was supposed to achieve. Without measurable goals, it will never be possible to know whether it has succeeed or failed. This logical impossibility nicely aligns with the Brexiters’ child-like notion of freedom — the absence of accountability, restraint, or responsibility for one’s actions.

The Leave campaign aimed to achieve nothing — an absence, a void, pure emptiness, where EU law and citizenship rights used to be. The only clear messages it gave out were that all of Britain’s deep-seated problems were caused by ‘other people’ — Brussels bureaucrats, Polish plumbers, Human rights lawyers, etc.

Scapegoating — the simplest way to mobilise upright apes. It draws on our chimp tribalism. It suppresses the differences which flow from any consideraton of practicalities, priorities, or the division of spoils. But, most importantly for the lazy politician, it avoids making promises that you can be held to account for.

2. British problems with British causes

Some persistent British problems — that many Leavers and Remainers can agree upon:

  • Low productivity
  • Rentier capitalism — short term, risk-averse
  • Unrepresentative and over-centralised politics
  • Grotesque inequalities — of income, wealth, power, status, and justice
  • A vestigial welfare state — underfunded and fragmented into rigged markets

“How does the EU membership prevent Britain from resolving these problems?” — is the question that Brexiters never directly answer. Because there’s no significant solution that EU membership prevents us from pursuing. In fact, most of the world’s successful, equitable, high-productivity, high-export, economies are EU members.

But Leavers’ also refuse to answer the question, because different parts of the Brexiter coalition would give diametrically opposed answers, e.g. ‘red wallers’ typically favour redistribution while most Brexit leaders are unhinged Thatcherites — who genuinely believe that inequality hasn’t gone far enough to actually work.

While implicitly accepting that Thatcherism ‘didn’t work’, the latter have enough low cunning to recognise that their own ‘solutions’ go down like ‘a pint of cold sick’ — even with their own supporters. So they’re wrapped up in the flag and implemented in secret, like the ridiculously one-sided Australian trade ‘deal’.

The truth is that the EU only regulates what its member states allow it to — and for the most part, the EU and its member states pursue the same neo-liberal economic policies that Thatcherite Brexiters propose for ‘Global Britain’. Policies based on Milton Friedman’s failed theory that ‘freedom’ can only be achieved when policy is subordinated to the interests of one social group — shareholders.

Freeing the 1%. To paraphrase Brexit’s leading spokesman, freeing the 1% from the tyranny of accountability, requires nations to “Fuck business, fuck competiive markets, fuck consumers, fuck workers and fuck the environment.” … Just keep the dividends (rents) rolling in.

3. Sovereignty is never absolute

Brexiters offer a fantasy vision of absolute national autonomy. A conditon which no king, state, or private individual has ever achieved — in the entirety of human history. Even the strongest sovereigns make accommodations, deals, partnerships, and unions, because they offer prizes which can’t be won by coercion or intimidation — the pursuit of common interests. Weak sovereigns make them for the same reason.

Separatism is the politics of the spoiled child — throwing a temper tantrum, when confronted by the existence of ‘other people’, whose wants and needs don’t perfectly align to their own. It’s an inability to recognise that real freedom requires negotiation — not the impossible absence of constraint. In practical terms, it’s the inability to recognise that every trade deal involves some concession of sovereignty.

Spoiled children eventually realise that you have to give something to get something. So, now Brexiters want to lower our standards of food quality, industrial safety, environmental protection and human rights — in return for inferior trade deals with the United States and a ragbag of dictators and demagogues.

The weakest partner cedes most in 100% of trade deals. Can you name a single post-Brexit trade deal that offers better terms and higher standards, than membership of the EU single market? Of course not. Just try ranking UK economic power against this list —The USA, China, The EU.

4. The EU sets world standards

Brexit won’t free British industry from EU standards — except the most trivial. Because the world’s biggest market for goods and services sets the standards for international trade. Any Chinese, Japanese, or American company that wants to trade in Europe, adopts its standards. Because differentiation is grossly inefficient — once you’re tooled-up for the highest standard.

Brexiters beg entry to the second rank of global trade, where those who can’t compete at the highest standards, scrap over the low-hanging fruit. Which exposes a fundamental truth about British capitalism — that it actually prefers low wages, low skills, and low productivity. Because that’s where the highest, short-term, profits can be returned from the least effort and lowest investment.

Progressive UK companies now compete with hands-tied behind their backs. They still have to meet the same EU standards, but weighed down by labour shortages, extra taxes, extra paperwork, delivery delays, and the extra cost of maintaining staff and infrastructure on the European mainland. Meanwhile, HMRC no longer receives the billions in tax that UK-residents once paid on the goods and services they used to sell to European customers.

5. The Far East is too far away

Sea transport and force of arms built the previous version of ‘Global Britain’ — not swash-buckling entrepreneurship, or exceptional ingenuity. In the 18th century it was simply quicker and cheaper for London and Bristol to trade with the ports of Amsterdam and Antwerp than with land-locked Manchester. In economic terms, The Continent was nearer.

But why deal on equal terms with Europeans and their powerful navies, when you could to coerce entire continents of defenceless people to trade with you on unequal terms? Sure, you’d need to travel a bit further, but you’d still get to London with hundreds of tons of slave sugar, before the stagecoach from Abroath unloaded a few chests of kippers.

Every major economy trades most intensively with its immediate neighbours — and less with those at distance. It’s no accident. It’s caused by the same mechanisms that make banks, office blocks, travel agents and restaurants to cluster with their own kind in the same part of town. The ‘agglomeration’ effect is pretty much an iron law of economic geography. The inescapable tyranny of timezones means that this rule applies equally to most services — including digital.

Current trends increase the advantage of proximity. Successful developing economies get out of low skill/value work, grow wages, and generate internal agglomeration. Garment workers in Leicester now earn less than those in China, while proximity makes them cheaper than those on lower wages in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, assuming that we survive climate change, and assuming that AI owners still need services from the rest of us, the likelihood is an economy of ever more personal, and local, services.

Colonel Bufton-Tufton usually fights ‘the last war’, but in trading tems he’s just decided to take on the 21st century Chinese Peoples’ Army — in a 19th century gunboat.

6. Lost rights and privileges revealed every day

UK fishing — the perfect example of Brexiter logic. Exit from the EU customs union and single market was guaranteed to end British fresh fish sales on the continent. Britons don’t eat the fish caught in British waters and Europeans do. And no small business will ever turn a profit by air-freighting langoustines to Australia. Despite all of this, Brexiters obsess about the holding of British fishing quotas by foreign fleets — quotas sold to them by British owners who couldn’t be bothered with the messy business of actually catching fish.

Every day another group of Britons discovers they’ve lost something from Brexit — something they can’t recover from the Anglosphere or the Asia-Pacific. Right now, goldfish-memory journos are fussing about labour shortages in agriculture, distribution and hospitality — niches previously occupied by young Europeans.

Around one third of small business exports to the continent ceased on 1 January 2021. The vast majority of fresh food exports have ceased. Most UK businesses that used to import from the rest of the world for re-sale in Europe have either given up, moved to the continent, or are now considering one of those two options. And so on … and on …

The Brexit press can’t bury all the bad news forever —there’s simply too much of it, it directly affects too many people, and there’s at least another decade of humiliation to come. The Labour Party may currently be chasing red wall grandads living on comfortable pensions in owner-occupation, but it’s a suicide mission. It’s what you do, when snapshot opinion polls and focus groups determine policy, instead of real social trends. Sooner or later, the party will turn to their Europhile grandchildren, or simply curl up and die.

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