The United Kingdom at the crossroads

The British writers and historians Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper in 1994 co-authored a richly detailed history and narrative of Paris after the liberation 1944-1949 (London: Penguin Books revised edition, 2004) In the preface to the book they make a haunting statement applicable to the past but also to the immediate present and future. They argue that despite the heady growth of post war internationalism and globalist sensibility as well as the rise of great global institutions of governance and democratic order, nationalism is not yet and will not be banished. It is, according to Jean Monnet a founder of the European Union a ‘ recurring fever‘. Despite all the multilateral and internationalist institutions nationalist passions have not faded away. .‘‘ if anything , one finds in our increasingly fragmented world that many people terrified of drowning in anonymity, seize hold of tribal or national banners even more firmly.‘‘ (p.ix) Nowhere has this been truer in contemporary Europe and in particular in the United Kingdom, It is at the very centre of the debate over Brexit.

On Tuesday the UK parliament voted by a wide margin 391 to 242 votes to reject the Brexit deal that the Theresa May Conservative Government had negotiated with the EU to leave the European Union.75 conservatives and the DUP, the SNP and the Lib Dems voted with Labour to defeat the May government‘s proposed deal. So now parliament will vote on a no deal Brexit option and if that is rejected(which it was) there will have to be a deal which is premised on extending article 50 by provided the EU agrees (and that is somewhat uncertain) or calling off Brexit with possibly a new election.(Parliament has now passed by 413 to 202 votes the government‘s resolution calling for an extension of article 50 until June 30, assuming that the EU 27 agree .) The situation remains somewhat unclear until the EU responds.

But overall what this situation reveals is the damage that can arise out of poor decision making based on  inadequate study of the implications of a victory for the leave side and also the instabilities which xenophobia and nationalism born out of economic insecurity and austerity can create.Have a look at the excellent Tory politician Kenneth Clarke‘s contribution to the debate on no deal this Wednesday afternoon for an excellent analysis of the failure of the referendum to properly explore all the grave implications of the leave position and the appalling extent to which people were misled about the consequences of Brexit and the nature of contemporary international trade.There is also an excellent article by the British Canadian based writer Adam Foulds in the opinion section of the Saturday March 16 th Globe and Mail .

It is not just the UK which is plagued by the problem.  We can find evidence of similar pathologies in other modern western style societies like the U.S. , in past times in Canada, in Western and Eastern Europe as well as in parts of Asia ,Africa and Latin America. It is a complex reality that progressive policy theorists and government actors have now to deal with.The accelerated globalization of the past few decades created many winners but also many losers. It is the latter who can drive contemporary politics and development strategies in disturbing directions.

No democratic inclined politician or analyst can afford to ignore this fact.Where the UK ends up after the dust is cleared will be unclear for some time to come. The political and economic fallout is likely to be large and last for a number of years.

Earlier last week the UK House of Commons passed an amended motion to rule out leaving without a deal. The vote was decisively a rejection of the May government‘s strategy by 321 to 278 votes despite a three line whip pressuring their members to vote against the amended motion. The amendment which clearly stated that there would not be a no deal crashing out of the UK from the EU was sponsored by Yvette Cooper of the Labour Party.  The Government seems very divided as another cabinet minister has resigned and the group of dissenting Tory MPs has grown in number. The House then considered the resolution around asking for an extension to article 50 by which the UK had given notice of its determination to leave the EU by March 29, 2019. Some members who are mostly remainers have suggested that if the EU doesn’t‘ grant the extension which must be agreed to by all member states, the UK could and should revoke article 50 . Future debate will very interesting, indeed.

Today Monday March 18th the UK speaker of the House, John Bercow has thrown a major monkey wrench into the strategy of Theresa May by ruling that the Government cannot reintroduce for the third time after twice been rejected the same resolution involving the BREXIT deal that May has negotiated with the EU without significant changes in its substance. May had patently planned to reintroduce her negotiated and twice rejected deal a third time in the hope that the urgency of the hour would cause enough opponents to relent and pass the deal finally. This greatly increases the pressure on May to find the necessary concession from the EU or to ask for a longer extension of article 50 than she had planned thereby displeasing many of the more frantic Brexiteers.

Today Wednesday March 20th The UK Prime minister has requested a delay and an extension of article 50 until June 30th. But the EU has stated that it would only accept this if the UK parliament approves the existing withdrawal agreement that they have twice rejected. Otherwise the options are crashing out without a deal on March 29th -an option parliament had rejected by a vote of 321 to 278- or withdrawing article 50 altogether. So the choice for parliamentarians is quite stark a no deal crash out or accepting a withdrawal deal they have already rejected twice by a large margin. Perhaps the EU is bluffing and with a change in Prime Minister the UK can get a better deal or set of options but that is far from clear. No one except the radical Tory Brexiteers wants a no deal crash out . But that is now certainly a real possibility given the large margin by which the withdrawal agreement negotiated by May was rejected by Parliament.Its a sub optimal outcome but one whose probability has just increased.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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