Theresa May has said that “Brexit means Brexit” which is delightfully insightful, but all the Tory Brexit fever has built up Britain’s position in the world to an delusional level. Figures like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox have argued that the EU will have to treat Britain favorably because it is in their economic interest to do so, however I believe that the current stand-off between Britain and the rest of the EU is illustrative of an impasse they didn’t count upon. The EU will not allow Britain to have a good deal because this would galvanise Eurosceptic movements in other member states. Britain needs to change the dynamic by doing something much more radical.
The Tories are seeking to reconcile two positions that I do not believe can be reconciled. On the one hand they are unflinching capitalists that seek to have free trading relationships with many entities around the world, including the EU. On the other hand they claim to value democratic accountability and national sovereignty, both of which are undercut by laissez-faire capitalism. They want the free movement of capital without the free movement of labour, which even free traders recognize is ludicrous.
The EU needs to maintain its position as one of the largest markets in the world, and in order to do this it cannot allow countries to leave. The motivation for the EU is not a harmonious relationship with Britain, a country whose top politicians tripped over one another to insult Brussels, but self-preservation. If the EU allows Britain to have its cake and eat it by ending free movement of people whilst allowing membership of the single market, more countries will opt for withdrawal. The EU, therefore, needs to inflict punitive measures onto Britain so that other countries are deterred from leaving.
EU policy-makers would be foolish to allow Britain to dictate terms because this creates a power dynamic the favours the secessionist country. This has already been evidenced by the decision by EU leaders to choose Guy Verhofstadt, a liberal federalist and former Prime Minister of Belgium, as the EU’s lead negotiator. Verhofstadt’s ideological convictions would necessitate the continuation of the EU, and therefore it is highly likely that he shall adopt the stance I outlined above.
So what should Britain’s response to this position? The Brexit referendum was largely about free movement, and if it continues many people in Britain who voted Leave will feel betrayed. My suggestion is to not seek free market membership at all. Instead, Britain should take this opportunity to rebalance its economy towards domestic consumption and transition towards sustainable economic activity. If perpetual consumption was rejected as a fundamental principle, workers would have more free time and the quality of life would increase. Capitalism requires never-ending consumption despite the fact we know that resources are finite. Changing the equation to one that focuses on internal markets is the way forward and subsequently building socialism is the way forward.
The EU will act in a way that protects its existence just as it has done in the past. When Greece elected SYRIZA in response to the Eurozone’s crippling austerity programme, EU leaders acting brutally to put an end to speculation of Greek withdrawal from the single currency. The Brexit vote presents a similar situation. If Britain is left economically better off by leaving the EU the writing will be on the wall. Britain has an historic opportunity to transform its economy away from the perpetual consumption of natural resources. Embracing socialism at this time is the way to bring stability and will inspire other such movements across the world.