So soon after the previous post that I have barely taken breath I offer a partial answer to my earlier question: what is British Capitalism Playing At? Reporting over the weekend 13th/14th Jan) puts the smart money on soft Brexit. If Nigel Farage wants a second referendum it is because he fears that Parliament will refuse a clean break with Europe, reject the deal offered by May and demand some kind of soft Brexit that maintains Britain’s economic links with Europe while cutting the political ties. This is no kind of independence, he would argue. It leaves Britain on the margins of Europe, conforming to the rules, including those established by the European Court of Justice, without any input of its own. And in this, Farage is absolutely right.
Maybe British business is recovering from Brexit shock and trying to reclaim some control of its own. They won’t care too much if ‘Britain’ is subsequently excluded from political circles in Europe. Many of them are international businesses that exercise sway elsewhere. In any case, money always talks.
The rest of us should be alarmed. Remaining in the single market and customs union, perhaps as a member of the European Free Trade Area, has to be the worst possible outcome. Whatever economic advantages it brings, the UK surrenders political voice completely. For an electorate that voted to ‘take back control’ this would be a gratuitous insult. Put this argument in context. The problem with Europe is that economics was prioritised over politics; the Euro which was to drive economic integration has actually driven countries apart; national resentment is a growing force across Europe, strong in France and getting stronger in Germany. Europe is a failed project unless it creates a popular European culture and politics to fix the dysfunctional economics. At this point the soft-Brexiteers offer economic conformity and a neutered politics. I cannot think of anything more calculated to restore the flagging fortunes of the Brexit brigade than this.
Remainers are repeating the mistakes of the referendum campaign on a grand scale. The SNP have even issued an estimate, as George Osborne did, of the cost per head of leaving the single market. It wasn’t the economics stupid (to paraphrase Clinton), it was the politics. The second mistake on an equally heroic scale is to imagine that the decision is all about Britain, and nothing else. The remain campaign lost because it didn’t have anything to say about Europe. What have Britain’s politicians got to say about Macron’s desire for deeper political integration and a multi-speed Europe; a Euro finance minister, complete banking union, and a European Monetary Fund? And if not Macron’s ideas, what are the alternatives? Do we want to revive Margaret Thatcher’s (and De Gaulle’s) idea of a ‘Europe of Nations’, or take baby steps rather than strides to a United States of Europe? On Europe’s free trade periphery Britain will be excluded from all of these decisions but deeply affected by every one of them.
Finally, some remainers think that staying in the single market on the periphery of Europe will facilitate easier re-entry later. It might but I doubt it. Britain negotiated a short-lived European Free Trade Area agreement outside the EU in 1960 but abandoned it a year later to apply for EU membership. History will not simply repeat itself. Some in the EU must surely think of Britain as an unreliable, unstable and disruptive force. Once outside Europe, re-entry will not be simple.