Sunday 2 February 2020

Margaret Thatcher's Brexit

Fans of Newsnight's new policy editor Lewis Goodall might be interested in this Twitter thread of his. It's his take on the politics and the history of Brexit:

  1. Brexit has been a story where years seem to have happened in weeks. Covering all the daily twists and turns, it’s been easy to lose sight of the big picture. But now the dust is settling, we can see that the history of these years has really been that of two major battles.
  2. The first was one within the Tory Party. Contrary to what was often claimed by some, most of the Conservative Party accepted Brexit. The real internal fight was about the vision and the terms.
  3. On one side were those who worried that we were too immeshed in the single market to break cleanly. This was Theresa May and (loosely) her allies. They tried to fashion a Brexit which basically protected our supply chains. That is why she said the word “frictionless” so much.
  4. That is what Chequers was all about. That’s what the election was all about. On the other was a part of the Tory Party which was far less concerned about those things and/or thought business could adapt. What mattered to them was maximal freedom for regulatory change(more later).
  5. As we know, the latter won that battle. The real story of yesterday was PM in cabinets confirming we are heading for Canada style Brexit. That wasn’t enough for May - she was deeply worried about what it might mean for Britain’s manufacturing (and implications for Ireland).
  6. Her loss and Johnson’s victory mean the UK and its citizens are heading for a formal economic relationship with the EU more intense than Belarus but less intense than Ukraine or Turkey.
  7. The second battle was a broader one between Conservative and Labour visions of political economy.
  8. One of the major push factors of a Brexit was Margaret Thatcher. She summed it up herself in Bruges in 1988 - she thought the EU risked recreating the barriers to the successful free market economy she wanted.
  9. Fundamentally from the late 80s on Europe became a question in Britain of market liberalism vs social democracy. After profound political failure from the late 70s, to some extent Europe became Labour’s answer and salvation.
  10. They could protect elements of social democracy in Britain from any future Tory govt.
  11. For elements of the Tory Party, “sovereignty” essentially became a synonym for economic liberalism. Hence the language around “global Britain”, working time directive etc. Thatcher’s successors took her lead - Europe was holding them back from creating the economy they wanted.
  12. Brexit is therefore a huge victory for that bit of the right and a body blow for the left. It represents an opportunity to reimagine Britain’s political economy and shift our whole regulatory model. I don’t think the left have even begun to internalise the enormity of it yet.
  13. Their social democratic safety net, is gone.
  14. Of course that isn’t to say EU was purely social democratic or wasn’t neoliberal. It was a mix of things. But to some extent at least it was about a “social Europe” and marshalling collective economic power against bigger economic forces. That’s now gone.
  15. It also meant a certain “level playing field” (a phrase we’re going to hear a lot about in the months to come). Made it hard for a state to make fundamental shifts in its economic model that were too deregulatory etc. That is likely to go too.
  16. So although this might look like an ending, the PM is right, it’s very much a beginning. These tremendous political victories mean the pieces of our politics and economy really are up in the air.
  17. If you think the last few years have been interesting politically - I have a feeling you ain’t seen nothing yet. And the changes to come might be more profound than anything we’ve seen recently.

1 comment:

  1. 1. Lewis the Seer and Sage of All Sages seems to have forgotten that the whole of the Corbynite Left was anti-EU and pro-Brexit. No one was convinced Corbyn had changed his mind on that.

    2. Had the Corbynite Left been as rabidly Remainiac as Lew would have liked, there would have been no Brexit and we would now be in GNU and Rigged Second Referendum territory.

    3. Stop with the numbers!

    4. Are you going to go one all night trying to convince yourself that you are right?

    5. Seems like you will.

    6. Oh dear.

    7. Good night!


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