by Frank Schnittger
Wed Feb 28th, 2018 at 05:09:38 PM EST
Fintan O'Toole has an interesting take on why the Brexiteers think they can ultimately force the EU to give the UK what it wants in the Brexit deal:
Marxism is alive and well in British politics. The irony, though, is that its strongest influence is not in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party. It is on the Tory right. Perhaps the oddest thing about the Brexit zealots - though there is a great deal of competition for this title - is that they cling to a particularly crude form of Marxist economic determinism.
Their whole project is predicated on the belief that a cabal of capitalist bosses can issue orders that the entire European Union would rush to obey. The all-powerful clique in question is made up of the principal shareholders of Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Opel, Porsche and Mercedes.
It would be hard to overstate just how large these German industrialists have loomed in the consciousness of the Brexiteers and their media cheerleaders. They were to be Britain's saviours. It was they who would ensure that the EU would be forced to give Britain all the benefits of the single market and the customs union even after it departed from both. It was they who would provide the lubrication for the zipless, frictionless Brexit of the Leavers' dreams.
Of course not all economic determinism is Marxist. The Realpolitik school of foreign policy analysis often defines the interests of state actors in economic terms. And of course you can define politics in terms of class war and be on the side of the ruling as opposed to working classes. But the Tory Brexiteers were in no doubt as to how the world worked:
The chain of reasoning began with a factual proposition: the Germans sell a hell of a lot of cars to the UK. The next link in the chain is rational: therefore, the German car manufacturers would not want any tariff barriers to be created after Brexit. And then, in the way of magical thinking, there is the great leap.
Seeing their interests threatened, Frau Mercedes and Herr Audi would lift the phone to Angela Merkel. "Merkel!" they would bark. "There must be no tariff barriers. We will not allow it!"
The chancellor in turn would call Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk: "The British must have their cake and eat it. Understood?" "Yes, Ma'am!" Hence, BMW stands for Brexit Made Wonderful.
Even as the Brexit project retreats ever further into chaos and absurdity, this fantasy survives. Pro-Brexit papers continue to run headlines like the Daily Express's "Merkel's Brexit NIGHTMARE: 18,000 German car firm jobs at risk." The Sun reports on the "pleas from German car manufacturers, led by BMW, builders of Britain's electric Mini, for Brussels to stop punishing Britain".
This in spite of the explicit statements from those same German car bosses that the integrity of the single market matters much more to them than the disruption of their trade with Britain.
There are many ironies in all of this, not least the reliance on Germans to save an English nationalist project and the fact that most Marxists (including Marx) have long since abandoned this very crude idea of how economic interests translate into political actions. But the greatest irony of all is that Brexit itself is a particularly powerful example of how political sentiment can outweigh economic self-interest.
It has long been my view that the UK government regards the formal Brussels based Brexit negotiations with the EU Commission as little more than window dressing. The REAL DEAL was always going to be done behind the scenes by the UK Prime Minister and Angela Merkel, anxious to preserve Germany's trade surplus with the UK. I suspect the UK fully expects the Brussels talks to break down, at which point the Prime Ministers of the countries which REALLY MATTER would ride in to the rescue with a "sensible deal" more to the liking of the captains of Capitalism.
And the reason the Brexiteers think this is that that is more or less the way things work in the UK. Rupert Murdoch once gave the game away as told by Anthony Hilton: "I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. `That's easy,' he replied. `When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.'"
So when Boris Johnson et al talk about "TAKING BACK CONTROL", they mean that it is they and their primary sponsors and funders who want to take back control from the EU. The people of central and northern England who voted for Brexit in large numbers were never going to gain any more power over their lives: they were but pawns in a power struggle between competing elites in British political and economic life. Brexiteers fondly imagined that all they had to do was make a deal with German Capitalists, as they do in the UK, and the EU would have no option but to rubber stamp the deal.
Even after a year of negotiations in Brussels which have basically gotten nowhere in terms of realising the Brexiteers' dream of "having cake and eating it" their fantasies persist. I recently had a conversation with a Remain voter, now a convinced Brexiteer, who made the following arguments:
1. The German's won't want to lose their trade surplus to the UK and will force the EU to agree a deal
2. Many in Europe are also unhappy with the EU and will soon follow the UK's lead
3. Britons are prepared to accept some short-term economic pain if it means greater economic growth and political freedom in the long run
4. Longer term the UK economy will grow much more rapidly outside the EU because more of its exports go to non-EU countries, and these are growing more rapidly than its exports to the EU.
5. The "experts" got it all wrong when they predicted economic collapse after the referendum vote and many other experts see a much brighter future for the UK outside the EU
6. The EU will still want the UK's cooperation and support on matters like defence and security and thus will be forced to agree a close relationship on other matters of common interest.
7. The EU is basically a failing, undemocratic, bureaucracy and the UK is ahead of the curve in getting out.
8. The UK will never allow a border in "the Irish sea" as the Irish government and EU are suggesting.
I made the following points in response:
1. The UK makes up 4% of EU exports, while 40% of UK exports go to the EU. The impact of any tariff and non-tariff barriers on trade will therefore be an order of magnitude greater for the UK than the EU.
2. Opinion polling in the EU actually shows an upswing in support for EU membership and parties advocating withdrawal from the EU have not performed well in recent elections. In Ireland, support for the EU is at an all time high, despite the fact that the impact of Brexit will be greatest there.
3. All the economic models predict that the impact of Brexit will be slow, incremental, and cumulatively very negative for UK economic growth in the longer term.
4. There is nothing to prevent the UK increasing its exports to non-EU countries now, while still a member of the EU, and in fact the EU has been actively concluding relatively advantageous FTAs with all our major trading partners. The EU has far greater leverage in such negotiations than the UK would have on its own and a much more experienced trade negotiating team.
5. The "experts" are virtually unanimous in predicting reduced economic growth for the UK in the longer term, and the UK economic growth has already slowed considerably compared to its peers in the EU and elsewhere. And this is before Brexit has even happened.
6. I, for one, will be very happy when the UK's influence on the EU's foreign and security policies is much reduced. We do not want to be dragged into another Iraq war by Tony Blair and his like.
7. It is a rich irony that it is the UK which accuses the EU of lacking in democracy when the UK is the only EU country with an entirely unelected House of parliament and an entirely antiquated single seat FPTP voting system which ensures that smaller parties are often grossly under-represented and where voting in many constituencies is pointless as the result is a foregone conclusion. The "Brussels bureaucracy" is smaller than the Derbyshire County Council staff and is no more unelected than the Whitehall civil service.
The UK will soon see the flip side of how democratic the EU is when any deal they negotiate requires the unanimous consent of 27 members, the EU Parliament and some regional parliaments. If the deal includes any elements not already ceded to EU decision making it will require a referendum in countries like Ireland to be passed. In reality, when Brexiteers criticise the EU for lack of democracy, what they mean is that the EU fails to do what they wants it to do. Unlike the British Empire, the UK does not rule the roost.
8. The UK will have to allow N. Ireland to remain in the Single Market and Customs union if it cannot devise another way of avoiding a requirement for customs controls at the Irish border. The UK has already given its word on this issue in order to conclude phase 1 of the Brexit talks, and Ireland and the EU will not agree to any final Brexit deal that requires customs controls at the border.
Naturally the argument got nowhere with both sides accusing the other of getting their facts wrong. Overall the Brexiteer position can be summed up as "the EU needs the UK as much as the UK needs the EU and therefore they have no option but to agree a deal in the interests of both parties." I've been studying politics a long time, and if there is one conclusion I have come to it is that nothing is inevitable and if things can go wrong, they often will. It is still possible for the EU and UK to reach an amicable settlement which mitigates the damage caused by Brexit but it is by no means certain that they will.
Indeed if my recent conversation is anything to go by there will be no substantial Brexit deal. Both parties are simply living in a different universe. For a negotiation to succeed you need common interests, competence, goodwill and trust. In my view the last three are sorely lacking and not showing any signs of improving. I see no reason to change my prediction, made shortly after the referendum, that a very hard Brexit with no substantial deal was the most likely outcome followed by a prolonged period of deteriorating relationships. A post Brexit FTA could take decades to negotiate and ratify.
The EU was founded to secure and preserve peace in Europe after many centuries of war including two world wars. It has been an extraordinary success in doing so. It has secured democracy in Spain, Portugal, and Greece and straddled the Iron Curtain divide. Attempts by Brexiteers to breakup the EU and restore the previous system of rivalry between the Great Powers which resulted in almost continuous war must be resisted at all costs. Continued European peace depends on the Brexiteer project of dismantling the EU being roundly defeated.