Brexit is a strange, dreary spectacle: a grand political project floundering in a world empty of political imagination

5 Mar

Britain is taking back its national sovereignty without a vision of what national sovereignty is for. At the referendum the British people demanded their sovereignty, but in a time when their political and intellectual leaders have been talking down the idea of popular sovereignty for decades. The Mother of Parliaments is taking back its sovereignty, but the Mother of Parliaments is full of Remainer politicians who would have preferred that Brussels kept that responsibility instead.

And in amongst this is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opposition, which has just proposed ‘a new comprehensive customs union’ with the EU after Brexit.

This may pay off for Corbyn as an opportunistic manoeuvre at home: a gesture to differentiate more clearly the opposition from the government on Brexit, a gesture to attract Remainer support, a gesture of ‘moderation’ in anticipation of office, and a gesture to Tory Remainer rebels to undermine Mrs May.

But it is hardly the kind of political vision that Brexit Britain needs. Taken as a vision of the future, Britain outside the EU but in a customs union with it seems the worst of both worlds: lacking both EU membership and sovereign independence – dictated to by the EU, but without the say in EU decision-making it would have had as an EU member. Who would choose such an option, unless forced to do so by the political failure to achieve anything better?

Some Brexiteers have denounced Corbyn’s betrayal of Brexit and of working-class Brexit voters. They have a point. It is worth sparing a moment to appreciate how Corbyn – supposedly the spin-less ’conviction politician’ – has so coldly treated his own Bennite Euro-sceptic convictions. See also the veteran leftie protester being applauded by representatives of Britain’s decrepit bourgeoisie for selling out popular sovereignty in the name of economic caution, and for being a better conservative than the Conservatives. But then, arguably, why should we expect any better from a minor Bennite fossil leading a half-dead Blairite party reliant on an excruciating alliance with the left-overs of the twentieth-century Left, who have already cravenly surrendered the responsibility of sovereign democracy with the absurd excuse that Brexit is somehow intrinsically fascist?

But Brexiteers’ snarling tone suggests their own insecurity on the subject of Brexit. For the real ‘betrayal’ of Brexit was months ago.

Brexit had historic promise to be the beginning of a revival of sovereign representative democracy in Britain by breaking with the condition of EU member-statehood. That revival should have begun with the Brexit process itself. A UK government which had taken the time and effort to trust democracy and unite a majority of voters behind a vision of Brexit would have been much stronger entering the negotiating room with the EU. It might even have had the democratic support and political will to threaten to walk away from a harmful deal dictated by the EU, which is so necessary in such negotiations.

But, as The Current Moment argued all along, Brexiteers made the mistake of failing to trust representative democracy, and instead rushed to trigger Article 50 and marched unprepared straight into the EU’s favoured terrain: meeting-rooms safely closed off from democracy where they may bully smaller negotiating partners.

Instead of an open democratic Brexit, Britain has this mess. Instead of a democratic debate from the beginning about what to take into negotiations, the British people get this opportunistic manoeuvre by the opposition with the two-year negotiation period already half run. If Labour gains from this manoeuvre, it will only be because it, as the opposition, can profit from dissatisfaction with the failures of the government and the Brexiteers who have so badly bungled the task of leading a democratic Brexit.

Without political ideas that are up to the challenge of sovereignty and a break with member-statehood, this kind of opportunistic party manoeuvring within a decaying democracy is the future of Brexit Britain. Brexit is a beginning rather than the end of the break with member-statehood and the revival of representative democracy in Britain. Following Mr Corbyn’s path may very well lead Britain to end up maintaining the conditions of member-statehood outside EU membership. And that should be an especially pressing concern for the followers of Mr Corbyn, since the condition of member-statehood proves to be a singularly toxic environment for social-democratic parties like Labour.

James Aber

 

 

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2 Responses to “Brexit is a strange, dreary spectacle: a grand political project floundering in a world empty of political imagination”

  1. paris1cie April 14, 2018 at 7:36 am #

    This assumes that some sort of coherent post-Brexit society which is distinctly different from current Britian – and its main EU partners – exists, is relatively easy to identify and then move towards.

    If the negotiations are now bogged down in “meeting rooms safely closed off from democracy”, then it is because much of material is complex, given the complex socities in which we live.

    “Brexitland” of free-born EnglishMEN (?) taking back control and building a new (global?) Britain from scratch sounds nice but just doesn’t exist.

    • paris1cie April 14, 2018 at 7:37 am #

      PS to my comment.
      Nicholas Sowels
      Maître de conférences en anglais économique
      Université Paris 1

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