The entire Brexit process continues to be precisely the mess it was bound to be. It is simply not possible to embark on such a complex and problematic process as extricating the UK from the EU with no preparation, no plan, no leadership and no unity of purpose without ending up in just the hopeless muddle we now see.
It was always the case that, in the circumstances, it would be the EU which would decide the terms of the new settlement with the UK. All that was left for Theresa May and what I suppose we must refer to as her administration, was to maintain the appearance of meaningful negotiation whilst gravitating towards the ‘deal’ that was going to be imposed on the UK regardless of anything notionally agreed by her cabinet.
There was never any question of a good ‘deal’. There was never a choice between a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit. Such notions only take on a deceptive semblance of sense when set alongside the irredeemable inanity of Corbyn’s vacuous sloganeering. ‘Brexit for Jobs’ may not be the most grotesque gobbet of political jingoism ever coined. But, given that ‘War is Peace’ was already taken, it’s not a bad effort.
To the extent that the British political elite’s efforts have been bent to securing the best Brexit deal, ‘best’ is only and exclusively defined in terms of what serves the interests of the British political elite. The overarching imperative has been, not to repair, but to fix. Not to find solutions, but to conceal the dearth of them. Not to mitigate the impact on the UK of a majestically bad choice, but to minimise the damage to the Conservative Party and the British establishment – which, for most purposes, may be regarded as the same thing.
It is all about power, of course. It’s always about power. But the contest is not between the UK and the EU. The power struggle is internal to the British state. The EU is merely a proxy in a fight for preeminence among various factions within the British ruling class. What is, perhaps, slightly curious is that there is little or nothing to differentiate these competing cliques. There aren’t even discrete groups. There are no fixed loyalties, either to personalities or principles. There is only a loose mesh of constantly shifting alliances. A roiling sub-Machiavellian broth of intrigue and counter-intrigue.
There is barely any longer even the pretence of politics as a contest of ideas. This is politics stripped of all the particulars of policy positions and the trappings of parliamentary protocol and the performance of public engagement. British politics is moving away at an accelerating pace from orbit around the question of how we are governed and coming to revolve entirely around the matter of who rules.
To properly understand what is happening in the realm of politics it is necessary first to identify the imperatives which drive the various actors in the process. There never was an imperative to take the UK out of the EU. The European Union, for all it’s undoubted faults and failings, has provided the context for an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity on our continent. Whatever it’s deficiencies and defects as a human-contrived institution, as an experiment in post-imperial international association, the EU has been an outstanding success. It is often found wanting. But it works. It works about as well as we might reasonably hope.
Brexit makes no sense. There is neither need nor justification for taking the UK out of the EU. Brexit cannot possibly improve the UK’s political or economic relations with the rest of Europe. The UK already had the best ‘deal’ it could possibly get. The EU had already made all the concessions and accommodations that could possibly be made. Which is why the UK Government now finds itself forced to seek a Brexit ‘deal’ which is as close as it can get to the pre-Brexit position whilst retaining the ability to pretend that they’ve achieved both ‘real Brexit’ and the better arrangement that was promised. A feat well beyond the meagre capacities of Theresa May and her administration.
Brexit only makes sense in terms of what some have referred to as a right-wing coup. Although the ‘right-wing’ bit may suggest a degree of ideological refinement for which little evidence can be discerned. There is nothing sophisticated about this coup. There is no ideal at its heart. Only a raw, visceral, opportunistic lust for power.
That this coup, and the squabble over its ownership, will result in serious casualties is not in doubt. The economy will suffer. Democracy will suffer. People will suffer. But the prize that those involved crave is the kind of power that need not ever concern itself with such suffering.
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