Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit: the triumph of Project Fear

When backers of the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU pointed out the dire consequences of leaving the EU, they were accused by Brexiters of running Project Fear.

It’s true that statements of such as Britain’s soon to be ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, rather overstated the case. He sometimes seemed to suggest that leaving the EU would plunge Britain into immediate bankruptcy or trigger a third World War. Still, it will certainly have consequences that, if not quite so fearsome as those, will be pretty dire all the same.

For instance, the US and the EU are in the midst of negotiations for a trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. It’s massively skewed towards serving US interests at the cost of Europe’s. In particular, it could damage Britain’s NHS by forcing it open to US private corporations.

A number of European voices – but not Britain’s – have been raised against TTIP provisions. Indeed, Germany’s Angela Merkel has said the whole Treaty might have to be abandoned. The US is going to have to shift if they want an agreement in place.

Brexiters argue that Britain will do better negotiating a deal directly with the US. However, Barack Obama has made it clear that a trade agreement with Britain alone would not be a high priority for the US. They would, no doubt, put one in place, but does anyone believe that it would be on more advantageous terms than the EU can obtain? Would Britain be in a position, deprived of its membership of the EU free trade area, to resist the terms the US dictates?

Another issue that constantly re-emerged during the campaign concerned fisheries policy. But European waters have been over-fished for decades, and stocks were drastically declining. A long process of negotiation led to agreements on preservation that everyone resented – compromises, by their nature, often please no-one – but at last stocks are beginning to grow again. Does anyone really believe that re-introducing a free-for-all will improve the situation?

Then there’s the break-up of the UK itself. The Scots voted massively to remain in the EU. Within hours of the announcement of a Brexit win, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, told us a new Scottish Independence Referendum was back on the table.

Does anyone believe that the Scots would not be likely, on this occasion, to vote in favour? Last time the EU said they wouldn’t look kindly on an application for membership from an independent Scotland. Does anyone believe that they might not, this time, be only too happy to have them join?

So there are things to fear from the decision for Brexit. Pointing it out doesn’t mean the Remain campaign ‘Project Fear.’

On the contrary, the party of the fearful was the Brexit side. The bold choice is to work with others, because you have to lower your defences as your partners lower theirs, to enable cooperation. These are exciting challenges to meet, but they expose us to risks just as they open opportunities for mutual benefits.

The fearful response is to turn our backs on the opportunities, in order to avoid the risks. Frightened people want more defences against the outside world. In the Brexit debate, the code for that fear was “immigration.” Immigrants were blamed for our ills, and the EU was blamed for immigration.

It was the fear campaign that voted against the EU. Sadly, they’ve only prepared new disappointments for themselves, because what they feared wasn’t caused by the EU. The British economy has institutionalised precariousness at work, so no one can feel their job is safe. It has put downward pressure on wages, as people lose jobs and can only find work at lower salaries. It has starved our great public institutions, the NHS, Education, the Police, so people find it increasingly difficult to count on the services they’ve felt in the past were theirs.

Neither the EU nor immigration was responsible, however. These are consequences of a policy of austerity, which isn’t delivering growth, but is delivering pain. Brexit isn’t going to improve that. On the contrary, it’s going to make things worse.

As predicted, the Brexit vote has precipitated teh resignation of David Cameron. Those suffering the pain of austerity realised he was a pretty lousy Prime Minister. However, his likely successor, Boris Johnson, will be far worse. Even more frightening is the figure in the shadows behind him, the man who was most openly triumphing over the Brexit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage. His influence will be toxic: if the referendum campaign had a merit, it was above all in exposing him as the racist we always knew he was.

Is this the most frightening face of Brexit?
Hard right-winger Nigel Farage celebrating take-off
He’s on the up and up. The problem with the style of approach adopted by the likes of Cameron is that it only encourages the hard right represented by such as Farage. Throw them a concession, and they demand more. Cameron only called the referendum to satisfy the right wing of his own party, and look what happened. Now we’ve had a Brexit vote, and the hard right is cock-a-hoop.

That’s where fear got us. And if you think that what’s about to happen now is a lot worse than what the Brexiters feared before – well, I can only agree with you.


Mark said...

Fine comments and insight, David ! Very good.
What the doxa has requested doesn't mean the government has decided.
You highlight an interesting point : "... Germany’s Angela Merkel has said the whole Treaty might have to be abandoned. The US is going to have to shift if they want an agreement in place."
You omit to consider the EU might have to shift, and shit, if it wants to remain in place. And its place, in the eyes of a wider issue, may very well be under the umbrella of an adapted TTIP.
Thursday, he queen has fallen off the EU chessboard. And TTIP the rules of the next game ?

David Beeson said...

I think the EU's smarting under the British decision to leave. That's shaking it up and making it look again and what it is and what it does. In time, it may well discover that not having Britain trying to veto things may actually be an advantage.

On TTIP, I believe the EU has the leverage to resist US pressure. The UK - or rather England - probably doesn't.