Bonnie Greer: Beware the cabal filling Brexit's void
PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 September 2017
Spare a thought for the good people of Staines-upon-Thames.
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They have revealed recently, in a newspaper profile of the town, that they are restless and impatient for Brexit.
Some expected it to come as an early Christmas present, shortly after the referendum, wrapped in a bow and ready for celebration. Others waited for an immediate lowering of immigration, that font, to them, of low wages and pressure on social services.
In the piece in the Financial Times, a few others named freedom from the European Court Of Justice as something that they had thought would be done quickly. The subject of paying money to the EU had come as a complete shock. Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and others had led them to believe that money would be saved, not spent, as a result of voting Leave.
Some could accept a small figure to settle the so-called divorce bill; while others were adamant that the nation must pay nothing. Or, if payment must be made, a figure had be set that was not punitive.
David Cameron’s name was evoked a few times for what was perceived as his rather cavalier attitude regarding the preparations for the referendum and its immediate aftermath. Other complaints were that Theresa May’s government was simply too weak; there was no outlet for Leave complaint and grievance; no one knew who was really in charge, and it was all boring.
Many admitted that they had not known how complex the entire process would be; or who to believe about it. Trade deals, the complexity of financial passports for the City of London, pension funds, the depreciation of Sterling, tariffs, Ireland, all of this and more made them wonder what the referendum had been really about.
The twin narratives of Disaster and Betrayal, woven like broken melodies by the right-wing tabloids, were failing to hit their targets. The people of Staines-upon-Thames simply want the powers-that-be to get on with it.
Whatever it is.
The biggest discovery that everyone, Leave and Remain, has made since the vote is this: Brexit comes in all shapes, sizes, tastes and ownerships. No wonder Staines Leavers are frustrated.
For now, exiting the EU is largely in the hands of a small group of people, following the June 2016 referendum that one EU diplomat recently described as: “something you do to choose a prom queen. Not make constitutional change.”
This group consists of Prime Minister Theresa May and the people she called “My Team” during the snap general election. Brexit is, in reality, being driven by their philosophies, predilections, tastes, education, or lack of, prejudices and personal crusades.
It is the PM and her Cabinet who are the so-called ‘Henry VIII-government’, named after the king who hated Parliament and who accrued as much power as he could to himself.
This approach to defining, shaping and the running of Brexit is as top down as can be without a real monarch in charge. Details, plans, and trajectory are as secretive as the Vatican.
The ‘face’ of Brexit is sunny David “Don’t Worry Because I’ve Got This” Davis, who is conducting negotiations in Brussels. Waiting for him to finish so that he can begin the deal-making is Dr Liam Fox, Secretary Of State For International Trade.
They are Janus, facing in essentially opposite directions.
Davis is turned east to Europe. Fox is facing the other way. Because he is a passionate Atlanticist.
This makes his recent outburst, in which he accused the EU of “blackmail”, seem not as casual and off the cuff as it first appeared.
Brexit, the void into which anything can be poured as long as it is anti-EU, is poised to be filled with Fox’s enthusiastic belief in the Western Alliance and in America as leader of the free world.
A branch of US Atlanticism is the Donald Trump Insurgency, a coalition of the centre and far right. They have a pathological hatred of Washington and Washington bureaucracy.
They see DC and its so-called ‘Beltway’ culture as infested with The Enemy: everyone else.
Other US Atlanticists are Second Amendment evangelists who believe in the right to bear arms. Not only “right” as in legality. But “right” as bestowed by the Almighty. Some are also constitutional fundamentalists who consider the Constitution to be not simply an interpretive instrument. It is Holy Writ. Each line is held in the same reverence as if brought down from on high at the same time as the Ten Commandments. They consider the US Constitution to be a “revealed” text. Like the Bible or the Koran. Many will say that the Founding Fathers were “given” the text from on high.
Most US Atlanticists are appalled by all this. But their unshaken belief in the Atlantic Partnership as the font of liberty and hope puts them on the same side as their more extreme co-adherents. Never mind that they meet in the boardrooms of corporate America, the quiet of East and West Coast men’s clubs or on the links of exclusive golf clubs. They share the same belief as Joe Bloggs-Sitting-At-The-End-of-The-Bar: The Atlantic Alliance is the best and capitalism is a religion.
The most extreme believers in anglophone Atlanticism revel in an imaginary Anglosphere blessed with all the virtues denied to the duplicitous French, the evil Germans and the nations they call the PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.
US Atlanticists see themselves as the heirs of the 19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny. This holds that the US is meant to be the leader of its hemisphere; of the world. This could cause the UK, through association, to regress to the Age of Empire. To go backwards.
But there is another problem: the Special Relationship might not be what it used to be.
Barack Obama wanted to pivot the US toward the Pacific Region. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was a trade agreement aimed towards linking America with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore. Obama was planning a twin agreement with the EU. He considered Germany America’s strategic partner and created a firestorm when he said that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” in any post-EU trade deals.
Although the Prime Minister scurried off to Washington as soon after the Presidential election as possible, Trump has only made perfunctory noises. The UK to him is England, and England is the land of Downton Abbey, with his golf business in Scotland attached. He wants the gold carriage ride down The Mall, even though he knows that a figure of two million is on the low side of the estimate for the number of people who would turn out to protest.
The Liam Fox Brexit could cause this nation to stumble into a kind of UK version of Trump America. Britain could develop a fashion for the invocation of the names of generals ranging from the Second World War: Slim and Montgomery; to the Napoleonic Wars: Wellington and Nelson, and all the way back to Marlborough and the Battle of Blenheim.
It all sounds improbable. But so did the election of Donald Trump.
The US is becoming more and more part fortress, part reality TV show, part civil war, part journey through the psyche of one deeply mediocre man. A nation fighting for its very soul.
Out of all of the Brexits on show, Liam Fox‘s Brexit could make this nation America’s satellite. Orwell’s Airstrip One or rather Trump Strip One could become a reality.
But one thing is certain: the Leavers of Staines-upon-Thames did not vote for that.
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter