Brexit means Brexit… but does that just mean an opportunity for continuing hegemony?
As the new Prime Minister gathers her ministers and aides around her to discuss the ‘vision’ of a Britain outside Europe, little is still clear about what that vision is. The apparent lack of information is no accident. Neither is it a conspiracy. It is both a tactical necessity, to ensure a strong bargaining position, and at the same time a cautious approach to get ‘the best deal’.
But ‘the best deal’ for who?
It would appear that the slowly emerging clues as to Theresa May’s direction for Brexit point to there being winners and losers – and that both will exist on either side of the Remain / Leave divide. The public, and the media, continue to think in terms of pro-Remain / pro-Leave groups. Yet this is a serious mistake. The Prime Minister has successfully pulled together politicians and interested parties together from both camps, to the rallying cry of “Brexit means Brexit”. The rallying cry has been more than just empty rhetoric or a sound-bite. As the dust settled over the summer, all those with significant connection to No.10 who stood to be affected by Brexit came to realise that Britain will leave the EU – the only question is, in what way and with what deals. Thus the situation that is beginning to unfold is now one of self-interest by the ruling hegemony in order to further empower their own positions – financially and/or politically. In brief: a good deal needs to be a good deal for the government’s own political career.
“Brexit means… opportunity”
The revelations from Nick Clegg of the cold-hearted nature with which Cameron and Osborne’s government engineered policy, by putting their own political interests ahead of any common good, (‘benefiting those who vote for us; alienating those that don’t’) is an indication of how we can expect May’s government to behave. For No.10, Brexit is an opportunity to make tough changes on border controls whilst soundbiting May’s new “shuffle-left” in rhetoric, as she continues to develop a Toryism that wears a “we’re for the working-man” mask. At the same time, the opportunity is there for No.11 and their close buddies in the City of London to potentially manoeuvre the economic practices of the UK outside Europe and emulate financial tax-havens such as Singapore. In short, if the UK is forced to leave the single-market in order to tighten control on borders – then signs suggest May is probably willing to do this. The political gains from tighter border controls, securing future electoral victory by appealing to large swathes of floating voters, is a no brainer to a politician whose main objective is to win the next election. And economically speaking? Many businesses and the financial sector at large worry about the economic impact of being left out of the EU and losing their ‘trader-passports’ with the single-market. Be under no illusions. No.10 and No.11 will both fight to retain these. However, it is likely at this very moment that the behind-the-scenes meetings at Chequers are already contemplating how they could engineer something of a Singaporean Financial Revolution that would be attractive to the City of London. Economically, Brexit could significantly damage the UK – but it is looking like there will be significant damage limitations put in place for those who matter to the overall financial sector.
So is Brexit looking positive or not?
For Theresa May, major corporations and those who continue to make good use of offshore financial services – yes. But all those who used Brexit as an opportunity to vent their frustrations at an unaccountable elite who were enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else – no. The opportunities being taken by the current government appear to be the ones that will give good headlines on immigration, thus strengthening their own position with a significant proportion of the electorate, and opportunities to tie Britain’s economic structure even closer into a system of financial hocus-pocus. The failure of the British Government to do anything after the revelations of the Panama Papers, and their overt brushing-under-the-carpet of any proposals to close tax havens in British Overseas Territories, whilst ignoring media revelations calling into question legislation on Trust funds, shows their hand clearly. They are entirely unwilling to upset their friends by changing the system – regardless of what Brexit means. Ironically, at the same time that May is offering dinner meetings for donations to her Party (see here) for anyone who has enough money (cash for access all over again) the EU, that ‘undemocratic’ institution that we were told is the bed-fellow of big business, is demanding Apple pay back £11bn of tax to Ireland. I find it hard to believe that May’s ‘Independent’ UK, who would not even discuss the notion of legal changes to trust funds or closing their own tax havens, has any interests in becoming tough on large corporations. Quite the reverse. If the UK must leave the single-market, then the financial elite will press for lower and lower corporate tax in order to attract more financial traffic through the city of London. So? The problem with this is that the money would not find itself into the Treasury for public investments – heads the rich win, tails the poor lose.
For those that Brexit was a vote about immigration, then May looks ready to hand them a partial vindication in the form of tougher border controls. The question is, at what cost to the way our economy is to develop outside of the EU? For those that Brexit was a vote of protest, then they could well have shot themselves in the foot. We, the people, have had no say in the changes to our government post-Brexit and they have been given an excuse (should they choose) to be able to effectively change at will their mandate from last year’s general election. The opportunity Brexit has given to the Government to rewrite a Bill of Rights in ‘their own image’, as well as the future plans to gerrymander MP constituencies, mean we’ve all but handed an unelected Government the right to reshape our constitution and the social contract before any new election occurs. What is more, you may argue, we’ve handed May’s government the 2020 election victory before it’s even being thought of. For many, therefore, a protest vote against political elitism, plutocratic hegemony and lack of representation has achieved nothing but strengthen the system being protested against in the first place.