Henry McLeish: Brexit is the poll tax of foreign policy

Written by Henry McLeish on 8 September 2017 in Comment

Brexit is all about the failure of the Tory Party leadership to deal with the ideologues on the right of the party

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, debated in the House of Commons last week, is another powerful illustration of the futility of Brexit and a timely reminder of how a reckless act of national self-harm is pushing Britain towards a political, constitutional, and economic crisis.

Brexit, the poll tax of foreign policy, is unravelling. We are in a mess of our own making. There was never a case for Brexit.

To date, the delusional, fanatical and extreme right-wing leadership of the Conservative Party and UKIP, have been unable to identify any practical benefits from leaving the EU.

For them the mere fact of leaving the EU will “make Britain great again” and once free, transform this country into the envy of the modern world.

For us it will mean an endless exercise in crisis management.

Why is such dangerous nonsense being accepted as a credible strategy? The EU referendum and its poisonous aftermath have very little to do with the EU or our membership of it.

Instead this is all about the state of a declining and divided Britain in the 21st century and the failure of the Tory party leadership, in the post Thatcher era, to deal with the ideologues on the right of the party, their obsession with sentiment and nostalgia, and their pathological hatred of the EU.  


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The public mood is changing. The shambolic Brexit negotiations are demoralising the traditional business allies of the Tories. David Davis is in an impossible position.

There is no clear strategy to pursue as his party, cabinet and government remain bitterly divided and unsure of any way forward.

Trade secretary Liam Fox, the chief ideologue, is in foreign capitals rubbishing his chief negotiator and cabinet colleagues. What chaos!

For the Tories, the public interest is of secondary importance to the main ideological and political battle currently consuming them. Lies, distortion, fake news and alternative facts still dominate much of the press and help mask the serious threats to Britain of this pointless, “home alone” exercise.

Labour has wisely decided to reconsider their EU policy and confront this Brexit madness.

This change of heart is long overdue but none the less welcome and timely as Theresa May seems content to parrot her hard, “out of the single market and customs union” rhetoric with the constant assaults on the European Court of Justice: Trump type demagoguery, economic nationalism and isolationism are hard work!  

The spectacle of the PM desperately seeking a trade deal with Japan on her recent visit, at the same time as the EU is about to finalise a new trade deal, speaks volumes for the absurdity of Britain’s diminishing role in the world and the failure of the Tories to be team players.

Labour is in a strong position as the Tory crisis deepens and Theresa May’s tenure in number 10 looks increasingly limited.

This is a battle for Britain that Labour, working with other progressive parties, the people, and some Tory MPs, could win.

Europe is our future and winning back the EU for Britain is the right thing to do.

Labour's new strategy could result in Britain remaining in the EU and forcing an early general election in which the British people could make their views known about a party that has lost its way both domestically and internationally and has failed to deal with the cheap patriots within its own party.

The politics of nostalgia, sentiment, and an overblown sense of British history-some would say English history-have dominated Brexit in the absence of any serious debate about the present or the future. Britain today is locked into the past with far more memories than dreams.

Trump and Brexit have a great deal in common. The similarities are worrying, but should also act as a wake-up call.

Economic nationalism, populism, nostalgia and sentiment, fake news, rust belt legacies, fear and anxiety, xenophobia, intolerance, delusional politics, authoritarianism, isolationism and austerity and neo liberalism dominate the politics of the US and Britain.

Add excessive inequality into the mix and you have a powerful set of issues upon which to create a fake result. In both campaigns promises were made that will not be delivered but worse than that, those who voted for Trump and Brexit will benefit least, if at all, from their victories.

There is nothing inevitable in politics. There is no reason to sit back and allow Brexit to proceed.

Respect for Brexit voters doesn’t mean we must agree or accept the outcome. What’s the matter with Britain is the most important question.

Derailing, dismantling and eventually defeating Brexit is the strategy, but this must be accompanied by a politically strategy that starts to address the real concerns of the millions of Brexit voters, which have little to do with the EU. 

People were led to believe that all their problems were made in Brussels not London. This was the great deceit.

There are no benefits from Brexit, but people having problems with the present and unable to see improved prospects in the future were invited to escape back to the past for comfort and to find a scapegoat for why these glory days had gone.  

Britain is being destroyed at home and diminished overseas. Pride in Britain is being tarnished by the ideological drive of the Tory right and by the failure of the leadership of the party to deal with their excesses. The Tory party has no sense of national purpose or ethical leadership.

The campaign against Brexit must be stepped up. There are countless opportunities for a progressive alliance to keep Britain in the EU.

Between now and March 2019, seven bills will be voted on in the House of Commons.

The Westminster Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final package. The “empty box” vote of 2016 could be the subject of a new referendum.

In addition, the Holyrood parliament and the assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast should use every political and legislative means to defeat Brexit.

In Britain, the progressive parties must engage the public in a new campaign to keep Britain in the EU and, create a new era of positive engagement and reform of the EU.

While Westminster can nuance, massage, and finesse their tactics and messaging over the next few months, the end game is to remain in the EU.

This must be payback time for the Tories, Britain remains in the EU and Britain removes the Tories from Office.

Labour’s role in all of this will be vital. The Labour leader and his shadow chancellor must enthusiastically embrace the EU at the heart of our internationalism.

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