Little Britain

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The Guardian carries an article this morning on what might happen if the UK leaves the EU on 23rd June.  It is interesting, but misses the fundamental point  by concentrating largely on process.

I happen to think the article is right when suggesting that over all that process will be slow and deeply revealing  of the error that Brexit will represent.  There are, however, two fundamental points of difference that I have with the analysis.

First, I think it quite wrong to assume that if Brexit  happens there will be a smooth transition to a Boris Johnson  premiership.  I cannot see some in the Conservative party accepting that.  I cannot see many in the nation being willing to accept that. And Michael Gove  would just make things worse. To be very clear, I cannot see a Tory majority based on the 2015 mandate  surviving in the House of Commons.  In that case the assumption that it will be Johnson negotiating our new relationship with Europe is, I think, dependent upon his prospect of winning a general election, and that I doubt. The Tories  are at war,  far more than Labour could manage,  and the electorate do not  vote for parties at war.

Second,  the assumption that a referendum would lead to us leaving the EU  may, again, be misplaced.  I do not dispute that it might lead to the commencement of a negotiation process,  but as the reality of leaving becomes apparent I think that the government elected  late in 2016 without a strong commitment to leaving could wisely, and appropriately, suggest that the actual terms put on the table by the EU should be the subject of a second referendum,  and I very strongly suspect that such a vote would go in favour of staying.

The interesting questions in that case are  whether or not Labour could lead such a process ( which I leave to others to discuss)  and what the consequences of it might be.

The first consequence will be the diminishment of Britain. The last  vestige of the idea that we are somehow 'Great'  will fall away.  Our special relationship with the USA will be at an end.  So too, pragmatically, will be our EU rebate  if we are to stay:  that will be the price that will be extracted.

Second, the Union may end.  I have little doubt that a Brexit  vote will encourage the Scots to  explore independence again,  and this time successfully.  I suspect that they will have a remarkably smooth transition to EU membership. Questions on much more marked  devolution to Wales and Northern Ireland will follow.

Third, England  will suffer a period of significant self-doubt as a consequence of this process.  This will be extremely stressful and will expose the massive challenges that hosting the world's biggest tax haven  financial centre creates  for us as a society. The prospect of London separatism  should not be ignored,  but will have to be strongly resisted.

And in amongst all this there will, also, be real prospect for beneficial change. I do believe  neoliberalism is dying. It is good to note Aditya Chakrabortty's article on the same theme in the Guardian.  I am increasingly  believing that a vote for Brexit will not mean that we leave the EU. And I do think the EU will vote to keep us even if we vote to leave precisely because the turmoil within the UK that a Brexit vote will create will  crush the hopes of those parties opposing the EU in so many other countries. No one else will be foo, enough to replicate our experience.

But, more importantly, out of the turmoil a vote for Brexit will create  I do see some prospects for hope. Those  promoting Brexit  as a political cause are doing so from a fundamentally right-wing,  small-minded, neoliberal perspective. There is no  real spirit of emancipation in what they're doing:  the aim is to capture the UK as a bastion for  fundamental market freedoms that are not in the best interests of most people in this country. If this  becomes apparent then another nail in the coffin of neoliberalism will have been delivered.  And, whilst the  City will not go down without a fight,  the idea that its view of unfettered  capitalism should prevail would have been lost,  with the result that whatever outcome arises,  even within the Little Britain that England will then represent,  there will be better prospect for achieving the appropriate checks and balances that are necessary to create the better structured society that this country really needs.

This does not change my view that voting Remain is the right thing to do.  It does make me think that there is life beyond Brexit.

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