It’s not about the economy, stupid! What really lies behind the Cosmopolitan Left’s love affair with the EU?
By Dr. Gregory Slysz
Ever since the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced the ‘once in a generation’ -‘leave means leave’, ‘your voice will be respected’, ‘your decision, not politicians, not lobby groups, not parliaments’, ‘no re-negotiation’, ‘no second referendum’- referendum, remainers have been waxing lyrical about the perils of Brexit and have burst blood vessels to try to reverse it. During the referendum campaign, the Chancellor, George Osborne, foretold of a prolonged recession in the event of a Leave vote that would cost up to 820,000 jobs and a huge dip in growth. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, predicted that a vote to leave the EU could provoke a recession. In September 2018 Christine Lagarde, the chief of the IMF issued her latest dire warnings of the ‘costs’ of a disorderly departure from the EU which arch remainer Chancellor Philip Hammond used to paint his own apocalyptic scenarios. In January 2019 the Director General of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn noted that a no deal Brexit was undesirable and could not be managed.
The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has relentlessly called for a reprise of the referendum, repeatedly pronouncing with characteristic arrogance that ‘the British people didn’t vote to crashing out of the EU without a deal’. He was joined in his quest by a host of others who cited a range of spurious reasons justifying the reversal of Brexit. Blair’s one-time chief fixer, Peter Mandelson claimed that Brexit endangered the status of Northern Ireland. Blair’s arch spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, hailed ‘the single market [as …] a fundamental part of our economic future’ and urged the Prime Minister, Theresa May to ‘fight for us to stay in’. Lord Andrew Adonis and leftist writer, Will Hutton equated Brexit to chasing ‘economic moonbeams’ that would ground aircraft, compromise academic research and destroy the car industry and former Conservative deputy Prime minister, Michael Heseltine forewarned of mass revolt among the youth who would ‘never forgive us’ unless it was given a chance to reverse Brexit. In an indiscrete attempt to legitimise such claims, a succession of apocalyptic ‘risk assessments’ from the Civil Service, the latest issued just as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was looming large, no less from the cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, warned of widespread shortages of food, medicine and fuel, of a breakdown of law and order, troops on the streets and impending recession. In short, the self-appointed guardians of our liberties, were warning of impending Armageddon together with ‘whirring sirens’ as Britain stepped ever closer towards a ‘cliff edge’ and economic ruin.
Yet notwithstanding what the Right Honourable member for North East Somerset, Jacob Rees- Mogg, styled as ‘project fear on speed’, we have heard something similar before, and from the same political and business quarters, whose track record in economic forecasting has been risible, to say the least. In 2002, in the wake of the official adoption of the single currency by its initial member states, Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, declared in a Newsnight interview, that he would gladly be remembered as the man who pressed the British people to join the euro and that it would be ‘crazy’ not to do so. A year later, Peter Mandelson stressed for the need for Britain to join the Single currency by 2007 while the BBC suspended all pretense to political impartiality with a litany of hyperbolic elation at the currency’s launch, with the Today Programme presenter, Jim Naughie speaking of the Euro’s launch in biblical language as a symbol ‘now made flesh’.
Michael Heseltine was similarly strident in his commitment to the Single Currency, declaring in 2011 that ‘I think we will join the euro’, given, what he claimed, was the ‘coherence’ that France and Germany have created in Europe. Pinning their colours to EU masts alongside the politicians was a host of experts who recommended with one voice the benefits of monetary union. In 1998, the Director General of the CBI, Adair Turner told business leaders not to be influenced by ‘ill-informed scare stories’ and to consider the benefits of the European Monetary Union, notably its ‘stimulus to competition and productivity growth across Europe’ with the organisation’s president, Sir Clive Thompson, expressing ‘disappointment’ a couple of years later with the then Labour government’s procrastination over joining. In April 1999, The Economist reported that out of the 164 top academic economists that it surveyed, two thirds of them agreed that the UK should join the euro. In May 2003 it concluded that all things considered, ‘the economic benefits of Britain's adopting the euro would most likely outweigh the economic drawbacks’. In 2008 regular contributor to The Financial Times, and professor of European Political Economy at the LSE, Willem Buiter, wrote that ‘The case for the UK shedding sterling and adopting the euro has never been clearer’. Even as late as 2009, amidst the mounting debt crisis in southern Europe, the IMF was counselling newly acceded Eastern European states to join the euro as a mechanism of ‘removing uncertainty and restoring confidence’.
Territory well-trodden indeed. But just as the economic apocalypse failed to materialise after the UK’s rejection of the euro, which averted the kind of catastrophe witnessed across the eurozone, so have all the portents of doom failed to appear in the wake of the referendum result. In fact unemployment and income inequality are lower than they have been for decades, GDP is up, albeit modestly while exports continue to grow rapidly; and mainly to non-EU countries, where, even by the EU Commission’s own admission, economic growth is set to continue to outstrip that in the EU. In fact, despite the continuous alarmism from the now familiar coterie of remainer nay-sayers, a post Brexit Britain has the potential to harbour considerable economic opportunities, especially for small and medium businesses, (SMEs) that account for 60% of all private sector employment and 47% of private sector turnover.
The prospects, for instance, for Tech start-ups look particularly rosy, being as they are very attractive to non-EU investment, especially from the US and China. A similar scenario arises with Britain’s Medical Technology sector which overwhelmingly consists of small companies, which currently confront a highly conservative drugs approval regime ‘that favours big European incumbents and stifles innovation’. The weaker pound has been an additional boon for exporters to non-EU countries, giving them a competitive advantage over their EU counterparts in the expanding markets in South East Asia where demand for British quality products remains strong and where growth is set to be exponentially higher over the foreseeable future than in the EU. With a highly regulatory business climate that frequently impedes competition and awards big business with sweeping legal and political powers, not to mention the huge benefits from a cheap workforce associated with the free movement of labour, it is not at all surprising that there is a huge discrepancy in support for EU membership between Big business and SMEs with 93% of the former and only 47% of the latter favouring remain.
But the opportunities of Brexit are universal under appropriate conditions, and that includes the misleadingly termed ‘no-deal’ option, so named by the remain lobby to give the impression of impending doom. In reality, an exit on these terms would represent an interim stage between the date of departure and the negotiation of a trade agreement, allowing Britain in the meantime to trade under WTO rules, setting its own tariffs which would ultimately mean lower prices for consumers. Notwithstanding the complexities of international trade law, it would be highly unlikely, under WTO ‘statute’, for any obstacles to arise to the continuation of mutually beneficial tariff free trade between the EU and the UK, good-will permitting on both sides, while existing arrangements concerning crucial areas such as air traffic and road transit would minimize inconvenience. The provisions of Article 24 would allow for up to ten years for the negotiation of a permanent trade agreement, though on past experience with EU trade deals this should take no longer than two years. Far from the disaster claimed by remainers.
When Greg Clark, the Trade Minister, declared in February 2019, in the wake of Honda’s decision to close its Swindon plant, that ‘To leave on WTO terms would be a hammer blow to a foundational industry in this country,’ he typified the disingenuous approach of the remain lobby, given that Honda’s decision, by the admission of its European operations vice-president, was overwhelmingly attributable to changes in global trade patterns and not to Brexit. And though Clark’s claim that ‘months of uncertainty’ will damage manufacturing was more valid, its fundamental premise, however, that Brexit was the cause of this was equally flawed being more to do with what Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England noted, the government’s failure to adopt ‘a credible bargaining position’ than to ‘whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad’.
An excess of hyperbolic jargon laced with ad hominin abuse is always indicative of either an absence of rational argument or of a disguise of a duplicitous direction. Scratch the surface of remainer concerns for the economy and this is precisely what you get. Given the fatal flaws of the groupthink catastrophizing of remain ‘experts’, which in itself, according to the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, has led to a ‘crisis’ of economic forecasting, the ratcheting up of Project Fear on all matters EU is motivated by an altogether different cause. Beyond their patriotic posturing lies a collective ideological loyalty towards an integrationist project that is readily prepared to forego the economic opportunities of Brexit in the cause of feel-good cosmopolitanism. When UN migration guru, Peter Sutherland urged the EU ‘to do its best’ to ‘undermine’ the ‘homogeneity’ of its member states, in his address to the House of Lords committee on migration in June 2012, it was palpably evident that the Blair government had already obliged with Blair’s chief advisor Andrew Neather declaring a year later that the annual quadrupling of net migration to 200,000 was a deliberate ploy to ‘make the UK truly multicultural’. Anything else, Adonis and Hutton concluded would be ‘To cower behind borders that shut out the rest of our continent [and] to seek to resurrect an unachievable island sovereignty… [that will] jeopardise further ‘the values we prize’. Opposition to these, of course, can only be rooted, according to Guardian columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, in ‘bigotry’ or in the opinion of London Labour MP, David Lamy, Nazism. What a shock then, for Channel 4’s seasoned leftist presenter, John Snow, to be forced to witness the ‘extraordinary sight’, of ‘so many white people in one place’ in his now infamous report on a pro-Brexit rally in Westminster on 30 March 2019, the day after Britain was supposed to have left the EU.
When James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, declared that the 1992 presidential election would be fought primarily on ‘the economy, stupid’, he coined a phrase that not only convinced voters to turn against the incumbent, George H. W. Bush, but also created a policy objective on which elections would hinge for years to come. This trend, however, appears to be waning, certainly among cosmopolitan Leftists, the vanguard of the remain lobby, who view ideological issues in their cultural war with social conservatism, as considerably more significant than economic concerns, from which they are protected by their privileged status. There is little evidence that Brexit will pose a threat Britain’s economy, other than cause minor short-term disruptions.
It does, however, threaten the European value system that they so cherish, the claims that borders are wrong, that national heritage is discriminatory and that political action is best served by supranational bodies to which democratic processes and national particularism should contribute as little as possible. In this system the role of individual states is only to coercively enforce conformity based on a set of increasingly extreme leftist philosophies in which individual liberties have been replaced by an ever expanding panoply of group rights reinforced by a concomitantly expanding array of hate crimes. This system accommodates room for mere token resistance, which if breached with anything more meaningful is duly confronted with threats of legal sanction and financial penalties. If Poland and Hungary warrant condemnation for their assertion of their national identities then why not brexiteers for doing the same. Without the EU to ultimately underwrite its value-system through its treaties, its universality perishes together with the self-appropriated privileges of the leftist elites who prop it up.
Given the stakes, the efforts of the remain lobby to reverse the Referendum result should not surprise. Immediately gaining traction after the vote was a campaign to convince leavers that they got it wrong, ‘hoodwinked’ as they were, ‘by the shiny, xenophobic demagoguery of the likes of Nigel Farage’. Or that the referendum question had been insufficiently specific, despite politicians of all hues making repeated and unequivocal statements during the campaign that departure from the EU would denote the end of membership of the Single Market, of EU jurisdiction and of free movement of people. Brexit, the line was, was the refuge of the ignorant plebs, seduced by menacing Little Englander ideologues with racist underpinnings who were on the wrong side of history. Legal obstacles and parliamentary meaningful votes were engineered in the name of Parliamentary sovereignty. The Russian collusion ruse was unleashed to de-legitimise the vote and every effort was made by a remain supporting Prime Minister and an overwhelmingly remain Parliament to stall the Leave process in the hope of a Brexit in name only or of a stitched up second referendum called for by the disingenuously named and immensely well-funded, ‘People’s Vote’ campaign led by cosmopolitan politicians and celebrity leftists.
Three years after the Referendum, which delivered the largest democratic mandate in British political history, Britain remains in the EU. Little wonder that Britain’s political establishment is so far removed from the less privileged ordinary folk, who are unfamiliar with the leftist delusions of university lecture halls, and for whom engagement in the political process is more to do with putting food on the table than with the pursuit of quixotic progressive agenda.
Dr. Gregory Slysz writes on History and current affairs. He read History and Politics at Oxford and London universities.