Tuesday 19 May 2020

The Barney with Barnier

Dissimulation, double think, craven idiocy, lies. I could be talking about the internal life of the Labour Party, but on this occasion we're revisiting our old friend: Brexit. Keeping the issue alive is not only about pushing right wing identity politics, but a way of keeping the Tories' excitable Brexit-obsessed flank on side. The aftermath of the coronavirus crisis will be bad enough without getting menaced by a resurrected Brexit Party. So snoringly predictable I could drop off. What's going on now, then. What's on the bored, Miss Fored?

In today's grandstanding, the government have published its approach to the negotiations. You know things aren't going well for the UK's position when the Telegraph splashes with the claim Michel Barnier is "losing the argument", and the ever-dependable Daily Express cheerleads remarks made by David Frost, the UK chief negotiator, that what the EU is offering a "low quality trade deal." Sounds like fighting talk and one sure to warm the cockles of Brexity hearts.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Michael Gove blamed the EU for "holding up talks" with its "ideological approach." What could this mean? The EU's position is guided by high-minded and airy-fairy principles? No. The government have published 13 documents comprising a series of separate agreements that tie together as an overall deal. The EU reject this "copy and paste" approach based on past deals and want something different. So, yes. Um, very ideological. This was underpinned by a sharply worded letter to Barnier from Frost in which he moaned about the unprecedented expectations the EU was placing on the UK, which amounted to no quid pro quo. I.e. The idea the EU has access to some UK resource, like fisheries, without some reciprocal arrangement elsewhere. You can't simply have cake and eat cake, as David Davis's briefing notes once eloquently put it. What does the EU have to say?

Well, we read from Barnier's Friday communique that negotiations were partially hampered because the UK hadn't yet published its legal documentation. For clarity, the EU published theirs in March. Also, far from the EU refusing to play the reciprocity game it is the UK who did not want to "engage in real discussion." For instance, on the single governance framework for adjudicating disputes in the putative common trading area, it reported no progress. It's one thing to moan about how the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice shouldn't apply to Britain under the new deal without bothering to talk about an alternative. Furthermore, the UK are refusing to provide any guarantees on human rights matters - refusing to abide by agreements made in October, and is asking the EU to dump its rules on data protection for a lower threshold - which seems to be one of the UK's vaunted divergences from the EU mainstream.

What is striking about the Barnier note is how on Friday it replies to the arguments made by Gove this Tuesday. The EU's ambition is a no-tariff deal, which would be the first in its history with a non-member precisely because of the UK's special status as an ex-member. Therefore the past deals the Tories hark back to with other countries are not appropriate to the current situation. And, contrary to what Gove and Frost are saying, it is the UK who are insisting on access to European markets while keeping bits of the UK closed to EU business. It is almost as if the Tories have pored over Barnier's document, assumed all of his positions as the UK's and repackaged them for a domestic audience to make the EU look unreasonable. For instance, of the thorny fishing issue Barnier writes, "Why would we seek to give favourable market access conditions to certain British professionals when our European fishermen would be excluded from British waters and risk losing their livelihoods?" Quite.

Naturally, Barnier is not acting out of charitable motives. He wants a good deal for the EU and is hard-headed about getting one. 45 years of economic integration has closely bound together markets across the channel. In the best of times, EU businesses would therefore be damaged in the event of a no deal exit at the end of this year. Under the catastrophic impact of coronavirus, the wreckage is set to be even more extensive. To use the old language, he's looking out for the interests of capital in France, Germany and the Low Countries by ensuring as little disruption and the continuance of as many existing relationships as practicable. In contrast, none of this is focusing the UK's mind. Instead the Tories now think the covid downturn can mask the fall out of no deal, which in turn means they're not approaching these negotiations at all seriously. Unfortunately, they have the precedent of last Autumn to fall back on where the UK went in to crunch talks with the same light minded approach and came out with a new deal. Which, of course, bore a resemblance most uncanny to Theresa May's thrice-damned deal. With the June deadline and nothing happening, the Tories are hoping the EU will blink first. That's not going to happen.

What is the point of all this, then? When it comes down to it, the only bourgeois interest the Tories have consistently supported are those of the City. Or, to be more accurate, have done what they think are best for its collective health. And right now they are aligned with that section which sees its future working as a global hub for brokerage, trading, and hot money. The model is not Singapore, but the City of London as it has been for centuries. The Tories also believe they have leverage, because the EU is also dependent on its markets for raising capital and selling bonds, despite the conscious effort to develop alternatives in Frankfurt and, to a lesser extent, Paris. That the City is in a co-dependent relationship with the EU thanks to the volumes of trade EU customers bring into the square mile is overlooked. So what if some firms take a hit, their destruction will be more than compensated by the creation of new markets and new business flowing into a City free from the EU's stringent regulations. This is the vision that has captivated the big capital interests who have and continue to pour money into the Tories. And this, ultimately, is why they can live with no deal and are content to play games with Barnier's team. The City will out, come what may, and all the rest be damned. And if coronavirus expedites this bleak conclusion to the Brexit saga, so be it.

Image Credit


Jim Denham said...

A good analysis, very much in line with what Prof Chris Grey says on his Brexit Blog:

"David Frost, the UK’s Chief Negotiator, has reportedly briefed the cabinet to the effect that the EU are still refusing to grant the same deals that it has done with other independent countries. In other words, the flawed logic of ‘sovereign equals’ discussed in my recent post continues to guide the UK’s approach. As noted there, it is an approach that almost guarantees that the negotiations will fail. Next month, when the transition period extension decision deadline looms, is likely to be crucial as it also marks the point when, in the past, the government has said that it might simply end negotiations if there is no deal in prospect.

"As always it’s worth recalling, as the 2016 Referendum retreats into history, that the current situation grows organically out of the fact that the Brexiters never had an agreed plan for how Brexit should be done, despite the fact that they had spent years scheming and dreaming for it to happen. Since then, at every stage, the hardest of Brexiters have driven the meaning of Brexit in an ever-harder direction. Thus we have arrived at the present point when virtually any kind of deal is ruled out by red lines that have now turned the deepest crimson."

Disappointing that Starmer is not even demanding an extension, let alone the cancellation of the entire crazy Brexit project.

Boffy said...

You shouldn't confuse the Austrian School/Libertarian elements whose views abound in the City - Rees-Mogg's father, for example, was Editor of the Fleet Street Letter, part of the Agora Publishing Empire that promotes Libertarian Misean views - with the interests of the actual big private capitalists, i.e. the large-scale shareholders. The latter depend on the profits of the large multinational companies they own shares in continuing to rise, and that depends upon the continued growth of the social-democratic state, and its international extension via supra-state bodies like the EU. The former, consistent with their Misean/Libertarian views, see that large-scale capital as iniquitous, and almost the equivalent of Socialism, they describe the US as socialist, because of the domination of big capital.

Its no surprise that Hayek lauded the work of James Burnham, who in his book the Managerial Revolution, promoted this idea that not only Stalinism and fascism were twins, but that the managerial elite that now dominated the large companies of the West was simply equivalent to the same kind of bureaucracy in Russia, signifying that a new form of class state, a bureaucratic collectivist state now stalked the Earth. Burnham was, of course, the ideologist of the petty-bourgeois Third Camp, that organisations such as the SWP and AWL now trace their ideological lineage to. Hayek's protege, at the LSE, Ralf Dahrendorf later put forward his own "post-capitalist" thesis along these lines, a good rebuttal of which can be found from Robin Blackburn and J.H. Westergaard in Blackburn's "Ideology In Social Science".

The interests of the Libertarians like Rees-Mogg are aligned not with big socialised capital, or with the shareholders in that big socialised capital, but with the small private capitalists that the Libertarians see as the back bone of the economy, the basis of the kind of 18th/19th century model of Classical Liberalism and red in tooth and claw competition they want to return to. On a more mercenary basis, those City traders make money from instability, from arbitrage, from the existence of different currency regimes, and so on. All of those things are anathema to actual big capital because they represent frictions, additional costs that hit its profits, and are thereby anathema to the big private capitalists who hold shares in those companies, and depend on rising profits and stability to ensure the continuation of those rising profits, as the basis of their dividends, and thereby the rising share prices they now depend on for capital gains.

At the end of the day, its the interests of big capital, real capital, and of the shareholders that depend on it that will be determinate not the views of reactionary Libertarians who have a loud voice in the City, or their allies amongst the petty-bourgeoisie that will be determinate. The interests of that big capital continues to be to remain in the EU, for its further development, and one way or another that is what will determine the policy of the British state.

Phil said...

There is no straightforwardly determinist relationship between big capital and the government. If there were we wouldn't have had a referendum in the first place. Nor is big capital a cohesive and united body. Nor is big capital omniscient - it is quite capable of making mistaken decisions.

BCFG said...

It is of course the fascists (Trump, Bolsanaro), far right movements, those 5 million small business owners and their families (I think that is how Boffy characterised them) and of course dumb fucks like Boffy himself who are most opposed to any form of lockdown and believe economics, that pseudo science on stilts, should lead the way and real science should simply take a back seat!

I had always tagged Boffy as an extreme rightist and it is nice to have it all confirmed. I knew he would find his way among this company sooner or later!

Of course what big capital demands at the imperialist core is very different from what it demands in the periphery. It was Marx who said the bourgeois show their true barbarity in its relation with its colonies. Boffy is this barbarity personified.

Dialectician1 said...

Looks like the Conservative Party finances are in a spin.

See today's FT, ‘UK Conservatives eyeing staffing cuts at HQ’.

Apparently, CCHQ is really struggling for cash “....they’re looking at making lots of people redundant not even furloughing them" Tory officials think October’s conference will be cancelled, which will exacerbate funding issues. They are considering freezing all campaigning and re-engaging for the May 2021 elections, starting sometime in September.

Boffy said...

"There is no straightforwardly determinist relationship between big capital and the government. If there were we wouldn't have had a referendum in the first place. Nor is big capital a cohesive and united body. Nor is big capital omniscient - it is quite capable of making mistaken decisions."

I didn't say "government", I said "state" they are two completely different things. Russia, under Tsarism had a Tsarist government, based upon Semi-Asiatic despotism, but from the latter part of the 19th century, as Lenin describes, it had a capitalist state. And, for the reasons that marx and Lenin describe, yes there is a determinist relationship between the ruling class and the state, that is the basis of their analysis of the state as a class state!

The decision to hold the referendum was a decision of a government not of the state, and once the referendum came down in the way it did, the state tried to frustrate it, and has continued to do so, and will continue to do so, because it is inimical to the interests of the dominant section of capital, i.e. large-scale socialised capital, and multinational capital, and is thereby inimical to the interests of the state itself.

Big capital is cohesive and unified when it comes to defending its class interests as a whole, and membership of he EU is one such common interest. If you want to say otherwise, you should provide the evidence. Similarly, Big capital may not be omniscient, but it knows clearly enough where its class interests lie, and if you think that Big Capital has not acted in its own interests, you should say how and why.

Blissex said...

«Disappointing that Starmer is not even demanding an extension, let alone the cancellation of the entire crazy Brexit project.»

As someone else obliquely noted, the whole "anti-semitism" outrage has disappeared once Corbyn was eliminated, and similarly all ultra-Remainers (like Starmer, one of the architects of the 2019 electoral defeat) have stopped mentioning "2nd referendum" and any other anti-brexit related matter once Corbyn was eliminated.

As the latter story I have good credentials: as an europhile (like Corbyn) my argument was that the 2016 referendum had to be accepted, and that pushing for soft exit followed in 10-15 years by a campaign for re-entry were the more realistic options; to this the anti-Corbyn ultra-Remainers kept telling me that campaign to undo brexit should continue forever by any means; but they stopped even talking about it once Corbyn was eliminated.

Jim Denham said...

Blissex: not all of us have "stopped talking about it". And while I can agree that some in the Remain camp put getting rid of Corbyn at least as high in their priorities as stopping Brexit, I suspect the reason the anti-Brexit movement has gone quiet is much more to do with the election result and the public's evident "Brexit fatigue" which propelled Johnson into office. It may be that there was nothing Labour could have done in the face of this, but the official position gave us the worst of all worlds and satisfied no-one.

Boffy said...

Actually, there is no evidence that those who oppose Brexit in the electorate are any less opposed to it now than they were before the election.

Starmer must know that the battle in the coming weeks and months will be inside the Tory Party. Big Capital will continue to oppose Brexit, and that will be reflected in the state apparatus, as well as in financial markets. Johnson never did intend to crash out, and that was shown by his failure to die in a ditch. He knows a no deal will be disastrous, but can't say so, because he has no consolidated his position in the Party, for which he will have to further isolate the Moggites, and real reactionaries/Libertarians, as well as probably having a purge of local Tory associations. I suspect that the representatives of Big Capital will be beavering away inside those local associations as we speak ready for when all the UKIP/BP elements get the chop. Anyone whose seen the witchhunts in the LP over the years will not be surprised by what happens, only that the Tories are more ruthless, and able to do it given the undemocratic nature of their party structure.

Johnson will have to go for an extension, and the EU will push for two years. Otherwise, Johnson will have to again capitulate to the EU, and agree a deal that essentially means staying in but without a vote. The Liberals will have an obvious ploy of arguing for rejoining as their platform in the next election. Labour will have to join them, because otherwise it will lose too many Remainer votes, on top of all the Remainer votes in Scotland and Wales it will lose to the SNP and Plaid that it could have no chance of winning.

Labour ought to realise that now, and start raising the demand for rejoining so as to take the ground from beneath the Liberals, Greens and Plaid, and if possible the SNP.

DFTM said...

There is no progressive movement from capitalism to communism, other than from a technological point of view. Communism is a complete break from capitalism, and requires revolutionary change. Progressives are simply capitalists with bullshit.

Having said that, while there is no progressive position in relation to capitalism, there is a reactionary position. The reactionary position being anyone who believes capitalism should not be eradicated as a matter of urgency.

Capitalism is a system that struggles to reproduce itself and this has always been the case. This struggle is becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

Capitalism requires huge state intervention in order to facilitate the reproduction of the system, and it requires staggering levels of violence and control. One simple measure the world could announce tomorrow is that it is now law that anyone who can work from home will. But in a system where workers need to be controlled by their managerial puppet masters it is likely that they will drag everyone back into work, even though they can do the job at home, which reduces travel and its costs and frees up time for the worker and is a real benefit to dealing with a pandemic.

In a pandemic the reproduction of capitalism becomes impossible. Capitalism simply cannot reproduce itself during a crisis and therefore the cry of worst section of the ruling class, the economists and degenerate anti science fanatics like Boffy is we must end the lockdown and everyone must get back shopping.

This reveals that economics is a pseudo science. In fact the economists believe in a monolithic economy, and this economy, this monotheistic entity must be preserved above everything else. The economy becomes god.

What the economists should be tasked with is creating an economy that is capable of sustaining a lockdown but all the priests of economy can come up with is we must end the lockdown and get back shopping. What a failure!

Because to these fanatics, there is the one and only true economy and that must function at all times and in all circumstances.

Anonymous said...


That's a lot of speculation based on what you think Boris Johnson is thinking. What if Johnson isn't engaged in some elaborate ploy, but actually is who he appears to be? IE: a careless opportunist who doesn't really care about the consequences?

This is a guy who, over two months into a pandemic, was wandering round a hospital shaking hands with everyone. That is not the behaviour of a person who is particularly bright or cautious.

George Carty said...

DTFM, the lockdown doesn't prevent people from shopping online. Surely the greatest damage from lockdown (particularly the very harsh type of lockdown used for example in Italy) is non-economic – no sport, no communal religious worship, no sex unless you already cohabit with a partner, no socialising more generally?

If Boffy is such an apologist for consumerism, then why did he write the following back in 2013?

"I don't lament the death of the High Street. Over the last 30 years or so we have been duped into a culture summed up by the inane concept of 'Retail Therapy'. Its not so much that I need therapy for the trauma of having to open my wallet, but simply that I hate the act of shopping - except perhaps food shopping - and see nothing therapeutic in spending money you have worked hard to earn, to buy things you really don't need!"

"The kind of mindset typified by the idea of 'Retail Therapy' is of course one that Capital needed workers to absorb during that period, because as manufacturing industry disappeared, the economy became based on retail jobs, and services selling products actually made in China, and bought on credit, as people used bubbled up house prices to get themselves deeper and deeper into debt."

"The government talk about a rebalancing of the economy, but in reality are doing everything to hinder it. They are propping up the bubbled up house prices, through various scams and unsustainable interest rates. They are propping up inefficient capital with low interest rates and low wages, and then moan about Capital moving out of the High Street, where far too much of it has been accumulated."

Boffy said...


It isn't speculation that Johnson didn't die in a ditch, but sent the letter requesting an extension of Article 50. Its not speculation that Johnson capitulated entirely to the EU in January, and accepted the deal he had opposed and that Theresa May had had to row back from under DUP pressure that outs a border down the Irish Sea, and keeps NI in the effectively EU indefinitely.

Its not speculation that in kicking out a large number of his MP's and turning himself into a minority government, Johnson also overnight scrapped the power of the DUP and ERG, because they could no longer guarantee him a majority and so lost their leverage.

Its not speculation that Britain depend upon its large scale socialised industrial capital for its future, and that capital needs Britain to be in the EU, and will do everything required to ensure that is the case either by Britain, like NI, being essentially in the EU/EEA, but simply without a vote, or else is in the EU by the transition period being delayed, until we are close enough to an election as to enable reentry to be back on the table - a reentry that itself won't be a reentry, because the EU in its normal manner of fudge will say, you never left the terms of entry, because you were in transition.

Johnson whatever else knows a) that Britain's future depends on that big capital that depends on being in the EU, 2) that a crash out Brexit would be even more disastrous than the disaster they have created with the lockdown, and so would spell death to him and his government. That will be increasingly the case as pressure is applied by the representatives of that big capital in coming months.

Johnson has neutralised the DUP and ERG, the argument over Cummings coming from Baker et al, is a continuation of that faction fight. Johnson will continue to marginalise them. If he doesn't agree to an extension in June, it will mean he has to capitulate to the EU closer to the end of the year, threatening the disaster of a no deal if they don't.

But, if Johnson isn't up to it, Big capital will simply find someone else to carry its flag, either from inside the Tory Party, or from outside it. Either way, the issue of Brexit certainly is not going away.

Anonymous said...


If 'big capital' was so united in opposition to Brexit as you suggest we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. Rupert Murdoch or Viscount Rothermere, for example, aren't 'big capital' or in any way representative of its interests, in your opinion?

Both Leave and Remain were led and dominated by the ruling class, and there was never anything meaningfully 'progressive' about either; merely a choice between the 2016 status quo and something worse. That's why the issue is such a disaster for the left, especially when nuance is treated as treachery.

Anonymous said...

Jim Denham,

I think what Corbyn tried to do was the best option available to the left. Obviously it didn't work, but the alternatives were no better. The Lib Dems went ultra-Remain at all costs, and a lot of good it did them. Lexit, meanwhile, is a fantasy about an alternate reality.

Boffy said...


Pointing to two newspaper owners who had specific reasons for pushing a particular line - their readers are overwhelingly Tory brexiters - is no evidence against the fact that a) Brexit is fundamentally inimical to the interests of big capital, which requires a large social-democratic state, and requires a large single market, with the least possible frictions, b) is, thereby also inimimical to the interests of shareholders in that big capital, who depend on the continued increasing profits from to pay their interest and dividends, c) big capital, and those owners of fictitious capital (shareholders) are massively opposed to Brexit.

That you can find the odd maverick, often very odd, shows nothing.

In fact, it shows why Corbyn's position was so disastrous. This was an issue in which the interests of the working-class aligned with the interests of not only big capital, but also with the owners of fictitious capital, i.e. shareholders, against the interests of reactionary forms of capital, aligned with the libertarian wing of the Tory party and UKIP/BP.

It should have been a slam dunk for Labour, but Corbyn still trying to cling to his own reactionary nationalist views, and thereby pandering to the reactionaries with his unprincipled, idiotic policy of "respecting" the reactionary Brexit vote bollocksed the whole thing up, derailed himself and the rest of the Left in Labour, wasting the best opportunity we have had in decades if not in a century!

Boffy said...


"Both Leave and Remain were led and dominated by the ruling class, and there was never anything meaningfully 'progressive' about either; merely a choice between the 2016 status quo and something worse. That's why the issue is such a disaster for the left, especially when nuance is treated as treachery."

That is true, and the media made it difficult for labour to present a nuanced view. But the media always makes life difficult for Labour. Corbyn had the opportunity to have organised mass rallies every week, bringing in EU trades unions, bringing in the leaders of Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc and so on, but failed to do so. Instead, he put Alan Johnson in charge of the campaign - WHY?

Labour could have organised a mass campaign to argue for Remain on the basis of fighting for a Workers Europe, but didn't. But, its not true to say that the Remain campaign was not progressive. Progressive and reactionary are always relative terms. Compared to a campaign for a Workers Europe, you are right the actual Remain campaign was not progressive, but compared to the leave campaign, it most certainly was progressive.

The EU is probably the most progressive thing that has been achieved in world history. It has brought together 500 million people into a political and economic union by peaceful means. defending that historic achievement against attempts to break it apart by reactionaries is in itself a progressive venture. That does not mean there was no reason not to go beyond that ambition.