Monday, January 16, 2017

Seasick, Yet Still Docked

Britain, having gone nowhere as of yet, is queasy. The pound, sacred symbol of British potency, is heaving and diving. Capitalists, usually so resolute, look decidedly pale and fidgety. What's happening?

If you asked me last year, I would have told you, emphatically, that I did not believe that Theresa May was serious about pursuing a 'hard Brexit'. I would have directed you to her pro-business, modernising, Remainer record: she was more John Major than Nigel Farage. I would have pointed out that 'hard Brexit' depended on a Ukip, hyper-Atlanticist fantasy long nurtured by the Tory Right but having zero realistic prospects. The idea that Britain could make up for losing access to its biggest trading partner by swerving into a Nafta-style trade pact with the US and coaxing the ex-colonies into becoming export markets, was bananas, and the British ruling class would not have it. Neither would Theresa May.

Eppur si muove. Donald Trump, using 'the office of president-elect' to intervene in this situation, has offered Britain a fast trade deal once Brexit is completed. And Trump, you know, has mastered the art of the deal: he certainly doesn't mess around with any "one president at a time" rhetoric. Theresa May, gratefully welcoming Trump's intervention, is about to give a major speech indicating that, indeed, Britain will withdraw from the common market rather than give up border controls.

In exchange for the losses incurred to business by hard Brexit, Philip Hammond has offered businesses the enticement of massive tax cuts. Might there also be, as Trump has proposed, a bonfire of regulations? The City of London became known as a sort of Guantanamo of the international financial system during the 2000s, thanks to the things people could get away with. Is the government's dream for the entirety of British capitalism that it be situated somewhere between Guantanamo, the Northern Marianas, and the Panama Papers? Life will become harder for the majority, by every index, even with a 'soft Brexit' short of this structural adjustment.

If so, Corbyn -- who has hesitated to take a hard line on a hard Brexit -- surely now has a clear enemy. It's not even just a hard Brexit that is being openly vaunted. The "red, white and blue" Brexit currently on offer is a red, white and blue dystopia. So this would be the opportune moment for the opposition to define exactly what a left-Brexit would entail, and how it would work.