There is madness, stupidity, destruction and bloody-mindedness all around us. Brexit itself almost amounts to a crime against the British people (West England Bylines Issue 6), if you include in all the associated losses and pain, which the new hard right wing Conservative Party are responsible for.
The latest news is that Johnson is preparing to walk away from the talks with the EU, thereby enforcing a No-Deal outcome, unless the Government gets its own way on being able to apply the more lax World Trade Organisation terms for giving state aid rather than the EU rules, so that Cummings can splash taxpayer cash in the direction of his favoured Hi-Tech firms and cronies. This despite the fact that both France and Germany currently give twice the state aid under EU rules that the UK does, and despite the fact that, as recently clarified by Sir Vince Cable, Business Minister in 2015, there is ample scope under EU rules to give much more state aid to UK companies than is being given at present. Which begs the question, just how much state aid is Cummings contemplating? State Aid seems a very flimsy basis on which to drive the UK into a No Deal outcome. So why do it?
The answer is because the Government, mainly run now it seems by the Maoist Senior Adviser Cummings and the ex-Communist Chair of the Cabinet Office Policy Unit Munira Mirza , would now prefer a No Deal outcome, as this would be more revolutionary and more destructive, which is their standard prescription for any existing institution. So this looks like a negotiation-wrecking tactic, leaving Johnson able to blame the EU for not being flexible enough on their approach to state aid. State aid is not mentioned as an issue in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court from 2012 to 2017, described the law-breaking Brexit Bill, the Internal Market Bill, as “quite extraordinary and worrying” in an online meeting with Britain’s top lawyers, and ‘taking the UK down a very slippery slope’.
The rest of the world, apart from Putin and Trump, look on in pity and bemusement as Britain self-harms, disintegrates and implodes. Even Europe’s Populist parties are losing political support over it. And even the Brexiteers have stopped saying what a grand thing Brexit is (how long is it since we heard from Lawson, Howard, Duncan-Smith, Redwood, Cash, Martin, Rees-Mogg et al?).They now limit themselves solely to repeating the mantra that ‘the people voted for Brexit’, even though many of those people now wish they hadn’t. Prime Minister Johnson appears to have U-turned on his belief (belief?) that there are sunny uplands ahead, but Liz Truss continues to smile her way through the American Trade negotiations.
To take just a few examples of what is being wantonly, needlessly, pointlessly thrown away: security cooperation, passport arrangements so that the City of London banks can operate equally in Europe, European Space Agency, Galileo, Euratom, European Medicines Agency, Erasmus, Europol, Airbus, European Health Insurance Card, reduced phone roaming charges scheme for European travel, rights to live, work and travel freely within Europe, tariff-free trade with the whole of Europe and all those countries which have trade deals with Europe, health, food, medical, agricultural, environmental standards etc. etc.
What sort of a Deal were we promised?
To quote from HM Government’s revised Political Declaration:
‘The deal that the Prime Minister promised the British people at the time of the 2019 election pledged:
- “an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership”;
- “no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”;
- “[safeguard] workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”;
- “broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership.”’
That was not a proposal or a wish list, but an agreement, one that was ready to sign off. In the Prime Minister’s words:
- “We’ve got a deal that’s oven-ready. We’ve just got to put it in at gas mark four, give it 20 minutes and Bob’s your uncle.”
Originally, he said that it would be done by July, despite the pandemic Then, forgetting his words, he said it would be done by September. That deadline came and went too, so he set a new ultimatum of mid-October, which he then dropped after his conversation with the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.
As a number of MPs have said, businesses need clarity. The Government are providing confusion. The same incompetence that we have seen in the handling of the pandemic is now threatening jobs and the security of our country through the handling of these negotiations’. See Paul Bloomfield MP in the 5 October 2020 debate on e-petitions.
The Government (Johnson, Raab and Gove) are now blaming the EU for being intransigent. They claim that No Deal, or an Australian style deal, would be a good outcome, or very acceptable. The Internal Market Bill, which includes clauses which will override parts of the EU Withdrawal Act, is being passed by the Conservative Party MPs in Parliament.
If all this is not divisive politics and a betrayal of the people of Britain, I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile in the USA:
But it’s not just in the UK. There is the madness of the Trump presidency in the USA. The disgraceful, unconstitutional, hypocritical, lying and insolent behaviour of the President shames a once great nation. This is shown nightly on the broadcast news and is supported by his immediate entourage, senior government officials and their advisers as well as the Republican Party. The rest of the world looks on with utter dismay as good public servants are fired on a whim, opponents are insulted, international treaties are abandoned, election processes are deliberately perverted and Putin is rewarded.
How and why is all this happening?
This will take future historians some time to fully understand and explain.
For now, I concentrate on one aspect. Deliberate divisiveness by means of populism, polarisation and “oppositionalism”. There is a lot of it about. It is a reflection at a national level of what can be prevalent at a personal level. Any therapist will tell you that extreme jealousy, resentment, blaming and scapegoating, and the associated anger, are relationship killers. At a national level, the appeal is to kill the relationship and bring about disunity, which can be exploited by the unscrupulous to win power. An extreme position is taken up, and the population is divided into those who support it and those who don’t. Anyone who doesn’t is the enemy. If you are part of the enemy, you can be brought into the fold in various ways, by fear, by inducement, by bribes, by force, by taunting and lies, or by false accusations of treason, treachery, lack of enthusiasm, or lack of patriotism. We saw all of that in Russia during and after the Bolshevik Revolution, and in German Nazism in the 1930s. If you refuse or are unable to come into the fold, you are forever tarred with the brush of lack of patriotism, an all-embracing term of abuse which justifies any type of action against you.
We are witnessing much of this now in the USA. Only the Republican Party under Donald Trump can Make America Great again. How can you not support that? You lack patriotism if you don’t. Any criticism of the Trump Administration can be condemned as un-American. This is divisive in the extreme. There is in fact a very great deal which needs to be criticised within the Trump Presidency. But the President demonises all nay-sayers and critics harshly, including the regular use of lies, sneers, personal insults, and racist tropes against Sleepy Joe, Crooked Hillary, BAME legislators, demonstrators, Black Lives Matter protesters, environment protesters, opponents of tough immigration laws, supporters of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), supporters of abortion and supporters of gun control. The blame game. Denigrate your opponents to enhance your own standing. The politics of the playground. But it works at a national level, the ends justify the means, with the ends being power for the President and the Republican Party and the outcome is upending respect for the constitution, upending respect for democracy, upending respect for the law, and upending the trust that Americans have in their Government.
Back to the UK >>>
We have been witnessing this at a lesser level in the UK. The politics of Brexit is the politics of division within Europe and the UK. We no longer want to cooperate with you lot across the Channel in Europe. You just cause us a load of trouble like interfering with our laws, stealing our fish, costing us a lot of money, forcing us to have loads of regulations and rights we don’t necessarily want which is stopping us from being competitive in the world economy, and forcing us to accept a load of immigrants we don’t want. We can manage much better on our own thank you. We want to take back control of our laws and borders. Anyone not supporting this agenda is deemed a “Remainiac”, unpatriotic and lacking belief in Britain. Or a ‘shameless opportunist’.
One of the biggest unintended consequences of this extremism and divisiveness in recklessly pursuing a hard or No-Deal Brexit and refusing the unifying policy of a soft Brexit, is the breakup of the United Kingdom, as Scotland and Northern Ireland reject the divisive and centralising policies of the Westminster Government. It surely won’t be long before those two members of the Union seek to decouple themselves from it. But the Conservative Party, members, MPs and Government, appear fully accepting of this ultimate act of division. The destruction they have imposed takes precedence (for them) over any sense of national unity. So much for the One Nation Conservatism proudly paraded in the Conservative Party Manifesto. False promises, disinformation, lies. You can’t have unity when you are implementing division. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
If the Labour Party in December 2019 had simply said that they would negotiate a soft Brexit, including membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, honour would have been satisfied all round to some extent and they might have won the election.
The day-to-day practical politics of the two-Party system of Government, the first-past-the-post electoral system and the deterioration in the integrity of the Conservative Party (see previous West England Bylines articles) all allowed this hard Brexit to happen. Of course, there are reasonable explanations for the large (anti-establishment) Brexit vote in the Referendum, mainly related to frustration at the worsening inequality in the UK, decline in public services and a decade of austerity. Voters did not vote for division, though they are misguided if they think the current Conservative Party will remedy these problems.
But stoking division works. Trump won the 2016 election. Trump has a huge and loyal fan base and, after a tumultuous and horrendous four years, is in with a chance to win again in 2020. In the UK Johnson won big in December on a programme of getting Brexit done. However nothing in his speeches then or his party’s manifesto said that the Brexit he would deliver would be the hardest, most damaging, most divisive possible; quite the reverse.
Division or Cooperation?
This whole approach to national politics which the Conservative Party is now attached to completely ignores the alternative to division, which is cooperation and consensus. The ability to “cooperate” or be “cooperative” has allowed mankind to develop. Early man formed into bands to improve their chances of a successful hunt. Agricultural man formed into groups to pool their knowhow, labour and equipment to harvest better and defend their houses, barns, families and fields. European countries formed alliances to improve and protect their interests and trading opportunities. Of course, this was not the whole story. Division is always a possibility, and often prevailed. The Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the First World War, are all examples where a cooperative approach could and should have been taken, but was not, with horrendous consequences for millions of entirely innocent people, soldiers or otherwise. The League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Union, are all successful recent examples of attempts at avoiding division and employing cooperation. Now, in the UK, we desperately need a Government of National Unity (see previous West England Bylines article). But this Conservative Government is more interested in itself than furthering the best interests of the country.
Joe Biden has appealed for national unity from the civil war battlefield of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, rejecting “anger and hate and division” and casting the election as a “battle for the soul of the nation”. “Today, once again we are a house divided. But that, my friend, can no longer be. We are facing too many crises. We have too much work to do.” (Guardian 7 October 2020)
An overwhelming majority of Europeans (but not unfortunately in the UK) said in a recent survey they now want “more Europe”, more cohesion and more EU cooperation. Why is that? The answer isn’t an expression of solidarity or a wish for federalism. It’s about anxiety levels and it’s “Fear”. We’ve had a shocking reminder that the world is full of threats, including deadly viruses. Beyond Europe the globalised world order is in trouble and the US is not a reliable friend.
As we progress through the nightmares of the pandemic and the hard Brexit that is coming, cooperation within our geographical region is the best way to stay safe. This may look like narrow self-preservation, but it’s also an entirely sane response.
Margaret Thatcher famously said, ‘Where there is discord, we will bring harmony’. Unfortunately her deeds did not match her words, and her Government brought in many divisive measures, though no-one regarded her as a liar. We now have another extreme right wing Government bringing in very divisive measures, led by a regular liar. Tough to take. Let us hope we don’t have thirteen years of this to endure.