Little England trumped
Here we have a glimpse of reality, entirely absent from the Tory referendum. The iconic picture of Trump with Farage reveals a certain truth about Brexit. We can invent our own dialogue. Farage says “Donald I am handing you the UK on a plate”. Trump, thumbs up, replies “thanks, I’ll take Scotland as my golf course, the NHS, and more tax breaks for American multinationals. I want free trade deals to benefit America and no more wind farms”.
The decision to leave the EU did not take place in isolation from real economic forces. In 2015 China became the world’s largest economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measured at $19.5 trillion. The EU was not far behind with $19.1 trillion, followed by the United States with $17.9 trillion. The UK is integrated with and dependent on both the US and the EU economies, not least through the close relations between Wall Street and the City.
Exit from the EU therefore leaves the UK more dependent on the US. There is no future for the UK as an independent imperialist power. Only fantasists like UKIP and Tory free marketers seem to think so. The UK is not about to conquer the world by imposing ‘free trade’ deals on Europe, China and America with our nineteen frigates. So Farage has arrived where Brexit was always taking us.
After meeting Trump, the UKIP leader said we should “be in no doubt” that Trump was a supporter of the UK and willing to be “very close partners.” There was a “real opportunity” for “Brexit Britain” to have improved UK trade with the US. He claimed that Trump would be a much more accommodating partner than Obama who he suggested had “damaged” the relationship between both countries.
So in reality England and Wales voted to leave the EU for a new Atlantic partnership with the USA. The picture portrays the reality of ‘partnership’. It provides a cold shower of realism and a metaphor for America and England. On one side is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world and on the other a powerless Little Englander pumped up by his own hubris.
This was not the story presented in the referendum. Brexit was an ideological campaign around the values of British nationalism. Britain would become a free and independent nation once again. There would be “British jobs for British workers” as Gordon Brown promised. Great Britannia would again rule the waves striking deals hither and thither, as the vanguard of renewed free market globalisation, innovation and trade.
Of course Obama wanted the UK to remain in the EU to protect US interests by advancing the neo-liberal ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model of capitalism. Voting to leave was a rejection of advice from Washington in a way which would leave British business more dependent on the US than ever.
It is an opportunity that a business man like Trump is ready to exploit to the full. Farage explained “Not only President-elect Trump, but his whole team is Anglophile. They like our country, they recognise what we’ve done together in the past, and they’re coming into this with an incredibly positive view. We need to seize the day.”
So little England has taken to hanging around the new King of America’s golden palace hoping for a few favours. Trump duly obliged. He told the world that Farage was his preferred British ambassador. The Tories were embarrassed. Her Majesty was not amused. It is her job to appoint ambassadors and she does not take kindly to somebody interfering with her prerogative powers. Yet in the new post Brexit world all the Tories can do is grin and bear it.
The divisions of class and nation are at the heart of the problems socialists have to overcome. Scratch British nationalism and behind it is the monster of Great English chauvinism. The referendum showed deep divisions in the country. Ireland, north and south, wants to remain in the EU. Scotland voted to stay not least because Scottish nationalism looks across the North Sea to a more European social democratic future like Norway or Denmark.
The Tory referendum highlighted divisions within the working class. Many working class people in England and Wales voted out, rejecting the urging of the ruling class and the Westminster establishment. Combine anger, frustration, poverty and an absence of class organisation with patriotic appeals, love of country, resentment of foreigners and we have a dangerous brew.
Most organised workers and Labour Party members did not fall for this British independence bullshit. Yet what is really revealed is confusion about what to do next. The socialist movement has not recognised the danger of Great English chauvinism and has no progressive policy for confronting it other than moral condemnation.
Leaving the EU frying pan means jumping more firmly into the US fire. So now we have to deal urgently with England’s relationship with itself, with Europe, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The future of Corbyn’s Labour Party and Left Unity depends on this. Let us begin by finding and taking the democratic exit from this nightmare