No matter what the Tories hope, Britain is not an island

by Jonathan Todd

We’re wasting the finite time that Article 50 affords the UK to agree terms for our departure from the EU on an election supposedly about Brexit in which Brexit has hardly featured. This exit is not a trifling concern: no part of national life will be untouched by it.

“We’re being infantilised as a democracy,” Matthew Parris observes (£) of the lack of Brexit debate during the general election. But if there is a group of people with less appetite for Brexit discussion than our political class, it seems to be the general public.

“When it comes to Brexit, people have moved on,” wrote James Bethell after canvassing one Labour and two Conservative seats in East Anglia. The UKIP vote has moved on to the Conservatives. The Remain vote has failed to move on to the Liberal Democrats.

Roughly half of those Remain voters now accept that the UK must leave the EU – the other half want a government to ignore the referendum result or find means of overturning it. Whereas the defeated side remained energised after the Scottish referendum in 2014, the passion of the 48% has quickly dissipated.

Britain is over Brexit but Brexit isn’t over Britain. The grim prophecies of Remain have not really gone away. The UK’s trade balance, for example, has worsened by 1.8% of GDP since the final quarter of 2015. The fall in Sterling that Brexit triggered has sucked in imports, which are pushing up inflation, with no compensating rise in exports.

Our ability to pay our way is deteriorating – before tariffs are paid on goods moving from the UK to the continent (due to our exit from the customs union) and regulatory divergence further undermines the UK’s competitiveness (as a result of single market departure). To say nothing of the loss of labour and productivity induced by the end of free movement.

We’re on course to gut the NHS of the European workers upon which it depends but what happens in Libya, won’t stay in Libya. The things that we dislike about abroad (e.g. Islamic extremism) won’t avoid us just because we inadvertently curb the things we like from beyond our shores (e.g. NHS workers).

Did we intervene too much in Libya (in using aerial power to help topple Gaddafi who was butchering his own people) or too little (in failing to stabilise the country afterwards)?

“Why did we not attack Sweden?” Osama Bin Laden once asked the American people. The implication being that if the US stayed out of the Middle East, Islamic extremism would stay out of the US. But, tragically, Islamic terrorism has now visited Sweden. And – particularly given that 9/11 preceded the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – it is not at all clear that under the counterfactual of these wars not occurring, there would have been less terrorism in the US and UK.

If Iraq is a case study in imperial overreach, Syria is the opposite. We might endlessly debate precisely what the right responses ought to have been. But, perhaps, no matter what the west did, someone with a perverted interpretation of Islam would have found a way to justify unjustifiable attacks upon us. Making it less about what we’ve done or not done and more about what we are.

Part of what we should be is prosperous enough to put adequate resources into the policing and security services that combat extremism. After Manchester, there are legitimate questions to be answered about whether this has been the case. Between September 2010 and September 2016 police workforce numbers in England and Wales fell by 18,991, or 13%, according to Home Office figures.

The police join other services – like schools and hospitals – at the very core of what we depend upon the public sector to provide, where troubling questions are now posed about sufficiency of resources.

The Tory government has failed to close the fiscal deficit, while cutting essential services to the bone. This combination is not just a government failure but also suggests structural weakness in our political economy. The working age population of the UK seems to be struggling – though our hard work and taxes – to generate the resources required by our public services, whose resource requirement grows as society ages.

Any loss of competitiveness caused by Brexit would exacerbate these problems. We risk becoming a version of Italy with worse weather and stodgier food: trapped in long-term a structural decline that we cannot escape.

A strong economy is not an optional extra. It is a prerequisite of the public services that are so integral to what makes us proud to be British. Thriving businesses and a thriving NHS are two sides of the same coin.

While Brexit has not featured prominently in this election, we have been reminded, in the most appallingly way possible, that Britain is not an island. In meeting our economic and security challenges, this will continue to be reality. Whether we chose to look it squarely in the eye or not.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “No matter what the Tories hope, Britain is not an island”

  1. Tafia says:

    Our ability to pay our way is deteriorating – before tariffs are paid on goods moving from the UK to the continent (due to our exit from the customs union)

    The LIE you deliberately peddle here is you omit to mention the impact of the removal of the EU imposed tariffs on imports coming into this country. So just so that you have to acknowledge, the same economic sources remain used to justify staying in the EU are now saying food prices etc will drop by up to 25%. Start telling the low paid that their food bill dropping 25% is a bad thing – see how much they piss on you. As an example wines from the new world, south africa, australia, new zealand etc will drop in price quite substantially, whereas wines from the EU will increase in pric by what ever the WTO tariff is.

    Then you prattle about the middle east like a moron. The reality is if you want to get involved overseas then you HAVE to accept that it will alter things at home in ways you have absolutely no control over – there is no alternative to that and nor should there be.

    Then I give up. You still don’t seem to grasp a basic fundemenrtal here – unless you develop policies that can be understood in a couple of minutes by somebody stacking shelves in Tescos with no educational qualifications, then you will never see the inside of No 10 ever again. And why should you. And do you know hwy? Probably not but I’ll tell you. It’s because of tax credits. They have made Labour obsolete.

  2. The fall in Sterling that Brexit triggered has sucked in imports, which are pushing up inflation, with no compensating rise in exports.

    I’m sure Jonathan meant to say that imports are now more expensive rather than Sterling’s fall encouraging (sucking in) more imports.

    I still strongly suspect that the short term economic pain in leaving the EU may be justified by longer term problems in the EU’s economy. Then again that will be answered in the future, not now.

  3. Soarintothesky says:

    The EU tariffs are concentrated in Food (average 22%), Motor cars (10%) and a few textiles. Otherwise they are already the world’s lowest for any large economy. We inherit the EU’s tariffs if we move to the WTO. If we drop them unilaterally, to the benefit of the poor, it’s true, we wipe out the farming industry and a large fraction of the rural economy (while yet maintaining subsidy levels). We also wipe out the motor car manufacturing business as most of our cars are made by Japanese and German firms selling into the EU. They will face 10% tariffs from the EU. This will be a bigger self inflicted wound than destroying farming. No new models will be built in the UK. We have no clothing industry left so textiles don’t matter. If we don’t drop food tariffs, then US, Australia, Canada, Iceland and New Zealand will not put us at the top of the list for trade deals. US, Aus and Iceland have already backed down on the UK as a priority until US/Aus complete deals with the EU. WTO leaves us stranded for years. Not forgetting Bank Passporting. Basically, all deals are bad deals compared to Remain.

Leave a Reply