The slow death of Britain through Brexit

First, I have always predicted that the effect of Brexit (by which I assume significant detachment from the Single Market and poilitical influence on European affairs) would be a slow immiseration of Britain.

Each year, a little bit more costly, risky and more inefficient in every economic endeavour; our public life a bit greyer, isolated, less open; an ossified and inward looking society.

Compounding these small losses over 30 years and we have a country considerably less well off and ‘rich’ (in all senses, culturally, spiritually etc.) June 23 was not national indepdendence day but national irrelevance day.

The logics that drove the UK to join the Common Market in 1973 have not changed. The relative power position of the UK is however now considerably lower than then, hence ‘going it alone’ will be all the more hard– and pointless. Listening to the Dr Fox and Mr Davis pontificating about trade deals reveals how little they understand about the modern networked and regulated capitalism we use. The policy action is about tackling non tariff barriers, market design/ shaping, collaboration across borders and expanding trade in services and data. None of this appears to be anywhere near their conception of reality. Capitalism requires regulation. Moreover, free movement of workers is essential in selling and expanding services since so many services are ’embodied’ in the provider of the service– the architect, software designer, medical researcher etc. are a huge part of the ‘service’ being delivered.

Secondly, Brexiteers seem to forget that geographical position, economic endowment and history matter. ‘We can be like Switzerland- rich!’ crows Farage. This ignores many inconvenient truths. For a start, Luxembourg- inside the EU- is richer than Switzerland. Moreover, the Swiss have a highly federal political structure, depend on massive immigration levels, pursue a poltical-economic business model predicated on tax evasion and finance whilst pursuing a foreign policy characterized by not joining anything (they only voted to join the UN in 2002, are outside NATO etc.) These are hardly characteristics that fit the United Kingdom’s position, traditions or ambitions.

It is quite possible for a small state with good specialization to make a go of it in an international world. But the UK is not such a state. Of course, one of the logics of  Brexit is to push towards such a broken- up Britain: an independent London could flourish. Indeed, one of the emerging political tensions will be London- which voted 60:40 remain, is highly open to the world, constitutes 12.5% of the UK’s population but contributes 30% of her income. London would require good reasons not to want to be more autonomous. Furthermore, the Norwegian example forgets her endowment of massive energy reserves, essentially a Saudi Arabia on ice. This enables Norway to indulge a luxurious, nominal-sovereignty life-style – believing itself to be fully independent, subsidizing its quaint farming communities to prolong this illusion whilst heavily dependent on the European Union for its geopolitical survival. The UK, lacking such luck, cannot afford such delusions.

Thirdly, it is depressing how familiar- and refuted– are the Brexiteers claims of the ‘Britain in the World’/ Anglosphere etc. Such arguments were endlessly paraded from the 1950’s onwards and every time the world kept telling the Brits to get a grip and recognise their role, their strengths and their weaknesses. ‘Full Control’ in an interdependent world is chimerical- look at the Suez Crisis, the IMF 1976 crisis and the 1992 crisis. Have you not learned how the world is?