Thursday 7 September 2017

How Theresa May is Betraying Brexit

What did "taking back control" mean? For the subset of Brexit voters who didn't vote out of anti-immigration concerns, it boiled down to the question of sovereignty. Setting aside the illusions of sovereignty (how is the British state "our" state?) in the age of global capital, it was a point on which the European Union was vulnerable. The operation of the Commission is secretive, the European Parliament is a parliament in name only, the bureaucracy is opaque and there was very little linking the everyday of the average British citizen to the EU. Apart from mendacious headlines and "this regeneration scheme was funded with a grant from the European Union" boards, what use the legions of unaccountable eurocrats? As someone who voted remain and thinks Britain should stay, were it not stupid and dangerous to disregard a democratic decision, I can understand the appeal of the sovereigntist argument. Repatriate the powers, bring political decision making closer to the people, cut out foreign bureaucracy.

The Repeal Bill, which the government are trying (with some difficulty) to pilot through the House, is a betrayal of these voters. Why? Because the government are using repeal as a massive power grab.

As Keir Starmer argued this afternoon, if passed it gives ministers the power to govern by fiat. Decisions that would normally be scrutinised by Parliament and subject to votes bypass this process. Under these provisions, for example, the government could privatise more tracts of the public sector, arrange for another round of budget cuts, change employment rules and so on. Smarming his way through the questioning, David Davis tried assuring the House such powers would never be used. Responding, Keir noted that if they're not going to be used then why are they needed? Davis says they're a matter of technicality, and some doe-eyed parliamentarians on the opposition benches might be inclined to take him at his word if it were not for the fact this government has a track record of sneaking stuff in and using underhanded tactics to get its way. Davis knows this, which is why - in a classic case of Tory projection - he has put the betrayal narrative on to Labour. It's not the Conservatives who are subverting Brexit and thwarting the ambition for better democracy by hoarding power, it's Jeremy Corbyn and his determination to prevent Britain's departure from the EU. Please, I encountered arguments of great finesse in the Panini vs Daily Mirror footie sticker playground wars of the mid-1980s.

These arguments haven't washed with a number of Tories either, raising the popcorn-gorging prospect of some interesting blue-on-blue action. Dominic Grieve is opposed to the government's plan to steer Brexit through by statutory instrument, and Sarah Wollaston argues the moves reduce Parliament to a committee charged with rubber stamping ministerial decisions. A bit like the European Parliament, in fact. This comes on top of yesterday's leak concerning immigration plans after Brexit, which bear all the hallmarks of Theresa May attempting to out-UKIP UKIP, regardless of the needs of labour intensive business and the lives of 3.6 million people who've settled here from the EU. I'm less concerned about the bleating of businesses who hire overseas to hold down labour market rates and put off investing in labour-saving technologies (and especially if they voted to Leave), but the uncertainty and discomfort, not to say the damage to the UK's reputation May's immigration position is responsible for is equal parts disgusting and outrageous. And all because she's trying to stop the Tory party leaking support.

With Tories close to business interests reliant on cheap labour from elsewhere in the EU and the small few whose views on this matter owe more to liberalism than Enoch Powell already riled, further authoritarian idiocy on the government's part puts a question mark over their ability to pass the bill. Damian Green, the Maybot's sometime interface with the human world has rang round the lobby hacks to say the government is totally in listening mode. He's looking for "reasonable points", whatever they are. There is talk of rebellion-minded Tories keeping their gun powder dry and saving it for later issue-by-issue voting and committees, and Green and his robot master better be praying that is just what happens. Nevertheless, perversely, Jeremy Corbyn might have concentrated minds a little more after yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions. It's been widely trailed that the whips are saying it's either May or Jezza if this fails. The fact she stumbled and was clearly bested by the Labour leader adds to the sense of threat. When the chips are down and the very viability of the government is in contention, it doesn't look like votes the backbench revolt will muster more bodies than Ken Clarke. I could be wrong, but they say the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour ...

Hence why May wants to do Brexit this way. With her moral authority and political standing shot to pieces, but perched atop a fraying parliamentary party, grabbing power and concentrating it in her hands avoids the possibility of Commons clashes sapping her strength further and frustrating whatever petty ambitions she has left. Constitutionally it's a recipe for dog's dinner legislation and arbitrary decision-making. It subverts a key prop and compelling reason why large numbers voted to Leave. But diminishing the already limited democracy we "enjoy" counts for nothing next to the day-to-day interests of the Tory party and its incompetent leader.


Boffy said...

There is no evidence that EU workers coming to Britain act to undercut wages. Those 3.6 million EU workers who come here, represent around £72 billion of aggregate demand into the UK economy, or about 3.6% of GDP, which in turn provides the jobs, and so wages and profits of a large number of British workers and bosses, not to mention around £28 billion of taxes of various forms that goes into the government coffers - as I set out recently.

In the US, Trump's argument in relation to coal and steel jobs is bogus, because as you say here, if the US stops imports of those things (which will then increase the costs of US businesses, making them less competitive) the US coal and steel firms will cut their own costs by introducing more machines and robots, not more US workers, especially as the US coal industry is losing out to cheap US shale oil and gas, and to US solar energy production.

But, in Britain, if Lincolnshire vegetable growers, or food processors, cannot get the workers they need, or if they have to increase their costs to do so, cheaper EU food will flood in, so that the East European workers who would have come here will simply stay where they are, producing that food that will then be imported into Britain, and their wages and taxes will go into the Romanian economy, not into the UK economy, as now.

In fact, its likely that rather than employing UK workers or investing in technology to replace the workers the capital employed in Lincolnshire etc. to grow fruit and veg, or in the various East coast food processing and packaging, would simply move to the EU, where there is plenty of land (Serbia is incentivising people to cultivate the land, for example) and where those workers who would have come to Britain, will then be available to do the necessary work.

The only option the government would have would be to follow Trump, and other nationalists, as the BNP suggested some years ago, and to implement a policy of economic autarchy, imposing high tariffs, or quotas on imported food etc. That would mean a huge reduction in UK workers living standards, just to protect inefficient British capitals.

jim mclean said...

Before EU workers, it as UK BAME workers that were bringing in the harvest, before that it was the city lumpen, all cash in hand, the "Gypsy Travellers", this term has been adopted by most nomadic peoples in the British Isles, have always played a major part in agriculture. One thing, there is little difference between BNP manifesto and Keir Hardies

Boffy said...

There has always been a nationalist streak within the British Labour Movement. Its up to socialists to oppose it vehemently. Its why I have always argued that the premise of Labour's policy on Brexit and the EU should start from the premise of a defence of free movement.

Its why I support the Labour Campaign For Free Movement, and urge CLP's and Trades Unions to move forward motions to party conference demanding free movement, and committing Labour to staying in the EU.