Those of us old enough to remember the punk era have always had a soft spot for anarchy in the UK. “We wanna destroy the passerby” as the Sex Pistols eloquently put it in 1977. But most of us grew out of childish destructivism. The true descendants of punk are to be found in the very party that seemed so utterly opposed to anarchy forty years ago: the British Conservative Party.
I’m not joking. These guys are revolutionaries. The Moggs and Redwoods, Johnsons and Goves dislike British society so much they’re prepared to destroy it in order to save it. Hence the enthusiasm for a cliff edge Brexit. It’s not a cliff, they say, its a launch pad. We don’t need any “transition period” under which we linger under the heel of the European Court of Justice. Let Brussels sing for their “divorce bill”. We need a clean break, and to hell with the consequences for trade, citizenship rights, financial services and the environment. To make an omelette you have to break a few eggs.
The Tories are supposed to be the party of big business, of capital – but capitalists have been queuing up to warn them that a chaotic departure from the European Union will destroy much of the British economy. Not even the Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party in the 1970s were so reckless as to propose ruining trade with Britain’s biggest trading partner. The 1980s Bennites wanted to protect and build British industry, not expose it to ruinous competition from semi-developed countries where workers are disposable elements of production.
No matter, say the Brexit punks. Out of the ashes, something new will arise: a thrusting, aggressive, deregulated Britain, in which the lower orders will have to find their natural place in the untrammelled market. There will be no more nonsense about green energy and climate change. Chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef? Bring it on. Health and safety is just a device to keep Britain in European shackles. How dare they tell British workers that they can’t work more than 48 hours?
Tory MPs like Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson think Theresa May has already conceded too much to the Eurocrats and should use the current stalemate in the negotiations with Michel Barnier to kick the table over and walk away. They subscribe to the ideas of Economists for Free Trade, a hard Brexit think tank led by unreconstructed Thatcherites like Professors Patrick Minford and Tim Congdon. Once we’ve washed our hands with Brussels, these economists say, Britain should register with the World Trade Organisation as a Unilateral Free Trade nation (UFT). Britain doesn’t have to adhere to the WTO’s default “most favoured nation” status, which involves tariffs of 10% on cars and 20-40% on agricultural products. Let’s just bin the lot – announce that we are to be totally free. Throw Britain onto the mercies of the world market.
And if other countries inconveniently insist on keeping their tariffs, as do the vast majority, well – so what? The unilateralists believe we’ll still undercut them because Britain will be so dynamic and efficient that we’ll be unbeatable. The macho mercantilists think this cold bath of competition will force British workers into realising they are no longer up against the feather-bedded proletariats of Germany or France, but the teeming masses of Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam. The trade off is that food and clothing prices will be much cheaper as we import stuff from these countries rather than the old protectionist world of the EU.
We’ll be able to set an example to the world of the benefits of Unilateral Free Trade just as we did by abolishing the Corn Laws in 1846. (Yes, they really say this). The new businesses of post-Brexit Britain will be lean and hungry and will storm the world – including the sclerotic European Union – with new goods and services, just as we did after the industrial revolution.
Officials in Liam Fox’s Department of International Trade are reportedly already fashioning a hard Brexit, no deal scenario, called “Plan B” which is much along the lines of UFT. Britain will announce a unilateral ten year zero tariff regime and tell the EU to take a running jump. Of course, a lot of British firms will go out of business, not least because they can’t sell their goods to their old markets. Supply chains will be broken (parts for cars often criss cross national boundaries a dozen times before the finished vehicle is ready for sale). Financial services companies will leave Britain because they need to adhere to EU regulations (passporting rights) in order to do business in the single market. Many Britons abroad will find themselves without security and there could be lorry chaos at ports like Dover. British planes may be grounded, anti-terrorist co-operation might end, the transport of nuclear waste might cease. But if there’s no pain there’s no gain, say the Tory revolutionaries. A bit of creative destruction is exactly what Britain needs.
This is about more than just economics. The unilateral Brexiteers regard Britain as a debased and decadent land, dominated by foreign bureaucrats who’ve made us morally weak and enfeebled by welfare. They look around and see “snowflake” millennials whining about transgender toilets; women giving up traditional roles; Muslims setting their own sharia laws; foreign courts bossing us about diesel emissions; the British race being diluted by mass immigration. Britain needs shaking up to revive the “animal spirits” of enterprise. Brexit is an attempt to recreate the climate of war without any actual fighting. It is a revolutionary right wing project for achieving national renewal through a contrived crisis. Europe is the enemy without, the evil empire, the foreign devil. The Brexit negotiations are our economic Dunkirk – a necessary disruption which will wake Britain up.
A “no deal” Britain would be a low regulation, small state country like Hong Kong or Singapore, where people don’t have pensions and welfare and the only social security is the family. This will help restore the domestic institutions of patriarchal power that have been so eroded by feminism and liberalism. University students, burdened by debt and mortgages, will be forced out of their safe spaces and into the real world. Brexit will also put an end to separatist tendencies in Scotland and Wales.
A by-product of the European Withdrawal Bill is a recreation of a centralised UK state, with power back where it belongs: in Westminster and not in devolved assemblies. The Scottish Nationalists will have nowhere to go as Scotland is bound in the straight-jacket of a new UK single market. Scots will have to learn to live without their free services because the state will be slashed and the money will dry up, just like the oil. There will be no more indyrefs because, in the post-Brexit unitary state envisaged by the Great Repeal Bill, secession may be deemed illegal, as it is in Spain. Resistance will be futile.
This unilateralist project is of course complete madness – a romantic, neo-imperialist fantasy. The infantile delusion of reactionaries who can’t come to terms with the real world of rules-based international relations. But the clock is ticking, and who’s to say they won’t achieve their Johnny Rotten goal of anarchy in the UK.