For the few – not the rest of us

Boris Johnson basks in the “glory” of having achieved a, very thin, EU/UK Trade Deal. In fact, as Martin Fletcher has set out in The New Statesman, it falls far short of what the Brexiteers promised, writes Vanessa Glynn.

Rather than ensuring “frictionless trade” and “the exact same benefits” of European Union membership, it will erect barriers that did not exist before. It will require the employment of more customs agents than all of Brussels’ reviled “Eurocrats” combined. It will do little for the service industries that comprise 80 per cent of our economy, and are vital to Scotland, not just the City. It will lose the UK money, and certainly not generate a £350m-a-week bonus for the NHS. It is infinitely worse than the arrangements we enjoyed as a member state. 

It will not deliver the promised bonanza to Scotland’s fishing industry. Andrew Locker, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, has said:

We are absolutely worse off. When we were within the EU we used to trade fish with the EU. We used to swap things we didn’t use with fish that they didn’t use and that enabled us to put together an annual fishing plan. What we have got now is a fraction of what we were promised through Brexit. We are going to really, really struggle this year.

Andrew Locker

Our rights as EU citizens have been torn from us – diminishing our lives and opportunities, from the right to live, work and study across our continent to causing delays at passport control and making private travel and health insurance insurance necessary. We lose the vibrancy and tax contributions of new citizens from EU countries  choosing to live in our country.

Further losses

The deal has wrenched us out of the wonderful Erasmus scheme for our students and appfrentiuces, has limited UK opportunities under the Horizon research project and made us less safe by barring our police and security services from access to key databases. We have lost our seat on Europol and can no longer make use of the efficient European Arrest Warrant. 

From a leading EU member, engaged democratically in shaping every EU decision, the UK has now “… abrogated our leadership role, having voluntarily relegated ourselves to the margins of the international stage, we are a much diminished nation with no clear role in the world.”

With no sign of the massive new trade deals promised by the Leave regime – just rolled-over EU agreements with some countries – we are still looking in vain for the alleged upside from the unnecessary expense, dislocation and profound tangible and emotional losses of Brexit. 

Fooling the people

But then, despite all the rhetoric about “levelling up,” Brexit is not designed to improve the lot of the many who voted for it hoping it would address their feelings of abandonment, their genuine deprivation from the decline of traditional industry and the years of Tory austerity. Their votes, and those of the Tory-leaning south, were necessary to deliver Brexit and they were bought by provoking and exploiting feelings that Britain should be top dog again “like when we had the Empire”, and that immigrants and bossy Germans were to blame for UK woes. 

The truth is that those most in need have been conned into voting for the very conditions designed to make their lives worse. As the Guardian has recently explained, the gap between rich and poor in the UK is at least as high today as it was just before the start of the second world war. This is largely because the British state that once mediated the struggle between labour and capital has been taken over by rentiers who make money by owning or managing assets. Privatisations and PFI deals have tended to increase monopoly control of assets and boosted the returns for investors and middle men. Monopoly allows vested interests to limit the ability of workers, consumers and regulators to influence the markup of selling prices over costs and to defend the share of wages in output.

The EU is keen to rein in this form of monopoly capitalism, to promote member state manufacturing and productivity and to prevent worsening inequality. In making trade deals it is determined that regulation can’t be traded away for frictionless market access. If we had stayed in the EU, the UK’s ability to concentrate profits for monopolists would have been stymied in future trade deals negotiated by Brussels and open to MEPs’ scrutiny.

Outside the EU, Johnson can barter away such regulations – without parliamentary oversight – and scrap safeguards in new technology for higher monopoly profits. This is why billionaires – oligarchs with UK interests – have poured so much cash and propaganda into putting their creature Johnson in place and securing a hard Brexit. 

Brett Christophers has written brilliantly about this. His insight is that the Tories under Johnson are a party of – and for – rentiers, much more than the interests of productive capital. This explains why the Tory party elected in 2019 has embraced this hard Brexit and shrugged off manufacturers’ concerns about leaving the EU. 

The thin deal, like Brexit itself, is rotten. It is economically and culturally against Scotland’s interests. A key part of delivering the monopoly capitalism in which Brexit is rooted is total centralised control. Hence the attack in the Internal Market Bill on devolved powers. No other seat of decision-making, be that the ECJ or the Scottish Parliament, can be permitted to limit the freedom of the rentiers to asset- and rights-strip the UK. 

Vanessa Glynn is a former convenor of EMiS and current committee member. She writes here in a personal capacity.

For more on how the deal affects fisheries please read this excellent primer from Dr Bryce Stewart