Monday, October 16, 2017

"Hard Brexit": why a "no deal" scenario is a descent to madness

In a previous posting, the author looked at the potentially-sinister motivations that some high-placed figures may have for leaving the EU without a deal (and no transition). This leans towards being a "conspiracy theory", and the reality is more complex, as explained in the article. However, it's also evident that one of the key reasons that a "Hard Brexit" is being seriously considered is because decision-makers in government have been persuaded that the effect will be minimal on the British economy. In other words, a "Hard Brexit" could happen simply because people in government don't understand what they're doing.
So let's have a reminder of what the situation truly is, and what would happen automatically if Britain has a "no deal" situation with the EU by 30 March 2019.

Into a hurricane without as much as an umbrella?

As mentioned in the highlighted article, Britain has been a part of the EU for forty-odd years, and in that time, almost every aspect of the British economy (and life in general) has become intertwined with the EU. In this respect, Eurosceptics' original complaint that Britain has over this time lost its sovereignty hold some water, at least at a technical level: one of the key principles is about transfers of powers. But the trade-off in "losing sovereignty" is the vast opportunities gained for wealth creation across the open borders.
The EU is a single market, but can also be called a "single economy", given how inter-connected the methods are. Companies across Europe rely on its seamless nature: products sold across the EU are made of constituents across various countries, for example. The same is true of British companies, whose companies sell products made of ingredients purchased across the various open borders. To have a "Hard Brexit" means to sever contact with that "single economy".
Leaving the EU means to null and void not only Britain's frictionless border with the EU, but also reverting to WTO conditions would automatically apply large tariffs on a whole slew of products sold to and bought from the EU. To not do this under WTO terms would result in legal consequences for Britain, making it effectively a trade law pariah to the rest of the world. These tariffs would result in large cost increases to all British companies that trade with the EU, meaning either much higher prices or these companies soon going bust. Due to the differing tariffs, some sectors would be hit much harder (and thus much more quickly) than others. And apart from that, there are the checks that the EU would automatically impose on all such products entering the EU from Britain as a "third country". This is where the talk of huge lorry parks in Dover and miles of tailbacks of trucks in Kent comes from, as all transit from outside the EU must be checked as standard, adding time and an administrative headache to the process of entering the EU, which is currently minimal. Again, these are further costs that would have to be factored in by British companies. Put in this way, it's easy to make the case that the British economy could quickly cease to function in the sense we understand today.

Apart from all this, talk of easily setting up trade with the rest of the world is also pie-in-the-sky thinking. Again, as Britain's relations with Europe are intertwined with the EU, so are many of Britain's foreign trade agreements across the world. Many of our foreign trade treaties are courtesy of our place in the EU trading bloc. Once we leave that, we also would revert to WTO rules with all those other nations in the world that had treaties with the EU (i.e. all the important ones).
There is also the problem of the "intellectual shortage" on trade. A recent story of when Liam Fox went to discuss trade with the USA highlighted how the trade negotiators that went with him had little real experience of trade negotiations. As these had all been done as part of the EU, Britain's people took a back seat, with little of a hands-on role. Again, this is due to Britain's role as part of the EU. As we had no need for a large number of trade negotiators when in the EU, it means we have very few now. So this means the government are looking to start trade talks with all the major economies in the world, with few properly-qualified trade negotiators of their own. This is like going to war without even checking that you have a functional army. This is just one example of many demonstrating how unprepared government is for the reality of a "no deal" Brexit, due to not appreciating how much British life has become reliant on our position within the EU.
The basic point is that, if we leave the EU without a deal, many of the treaties and agreements that Britain has signed with the EU and much of the rest of the world over the last forty-odd years will simply no longer apply to Britain. On a "no deal" Brexit, Britain, from a legalistic point of view, would have unilaterally decided to null and void its part in those agreements. Without anything else in their place, Britain would be starting from scratch its relations with not only the EU, but with much of the world. While it's possible that some of these could be restarted quickly, others might take much longer. And Britain doesn't even have that many qualified negotiators.

"The ends justify the means"

Apart from those who see this all as a prime opportunity to make money, there are those that see this in more esoteric terms: as a way to psychologically "reshape" the country.
There is a school of thought, in particular from some of the older generation, that life in the EU has somehow made younger Brits "soft". This thinking harks back to the "Dunkirk Spirit" and hardships endured during the Second World War. This accepts that a "no deal" Brexit would be very difficult on the country for a period of time, but this would also act as a motivation to transform for the better the nation in the long-run, by bringing people together in a better sense of community through adversity.
This is really just another angle on the same agenda as the vulture capitalists, but seen from a social, rather than economic, perspective.
This kind of nonsense thinking is dangerous to the debate over Brexit, as it confuses the motivations of those behind it. It makes Brexit seem as a method to socially transform Britain (i.e. social engineering), and that "the means justify the ends". The advocates of this kind of social aspect to Brexit seem to argue that destroying the economy will be good for society in the long run. It's hard to know what to call this line of thought rationally, except for something dangerously-akin to Fascism. It suggests a radical "purge" of society's indolent and inefficient elements, to something more streamlined.

As a reminder of why this could be called "Fascism" by another name, let's think back to the methods and justifications used by authoritarian regimes. The rationalism for many authoritarian regimes' policies was the ultimate idea that it was for the betterment of society. Yes, they said, some people would suffer, but it would work out better for everyone: no pain, no gain. In a different manner, the neo-liberals in the Conservative Party who support Brexit, also see it in esoteric terms: to transform the nation through tumultuous revolution and return to its lost roots. It will be hard on their countrymen, but they have their best interests at heart! This logic they gained from Ayn Rand and her praise of the "Social Darwinism" of the pure free market. The methods they are using to reach their goal, however, are ultimately anti-democratic: it is the subversion of the democratic process to achieve their own radical vision of society. This manipulation of the institutions of government is what makes them akin to authoritarians; their use of esoteric language in describing their aims is what makes their rhetoric so worryingly-similar to Fascism.
In the present day, no-one in politics uses the word "Fascism" to describe what they are doing, for obvious reasons; this is why the use of euphemisms and esoteric language come in to play instead. But the end result may well be the same.

This is the "descent to madness" that we are seeing at the highest levels of government. Rationalism  has been replaced by esoteric thinking. When people in government can say "we've had enough with experts" the only logical destination to this is government ran on emotions and prejudice rather than judgement and facts. This is the real descent to madness.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Brexit: The "Disaster Capitalism" Theory

People inclined towards conspiracy theories seem to have more and more evidence each week that the Brexit negotiations appear to heading to an ultimate breakdown and a "Hard Brexit", with the primary beneficiaries of this situation being vulture capitalists. However, the term "vulture capitalists" would be misleading here, as conventional "vulture capitalism" is about making money from an unforeseeable traumatic event, such as the sudden collapse of an economy; when the "traumatic event" (e.g. "Hard Brexit") is helped along by the actions of the "vulture capitalists" themselves, it becomes something far darker - deliberate chaos.

"The name's Barnier, Michel Barnier..."

In this narrative, "Brexit" would more closely resemble the nefarious plot of a James Bond film: where a shadowy group of powerful interests plot to destroy Britain's economy in order to become rich from its carcass (anyone familiar with the recent Bond films might see an eerie parallel in the premise behind "Quantum Of Solace", for example). Taking this narrative further, these same "powerful interests" would be conspiring with others - "useful idiots" - who would act as unwitting accomplices and enablers to bring about the desired outcome. People in the West who are apologists for people like Vladimir Putin, for example, are certainly acting as "useful idiots" in trying to excuse Russia's self-interested actions (such as over Crimea and Ukraine). Similarly, those who try to make moralizing excuses for "The Brexit Agenda" are simply embarrassing their own reputations. These people are simply deluding themselves into thinking that brazenly amoral, opportunistic actions are somehow something more benign.

Continuing the earlier James Bond theme, as a fan of Bond films in general, it's interesting to consider where people like Fleming and other writers drew their inspiration. While the quality of the films is highly-variable, some of the most engaging plots are those that are believable (or fool you into thinking they are). All art is based, in part, on real life, and the James Bond series is no exception.
For instance, it's impossible not to watch some of the films and be shocked at the sociopathic cunning behind it all: like eponymous Auric Goldfinger and his plan to get rich by irradiating the USA's gold supply at Fort Knox; Max Zorin's utterly amoral plot (in "View To A Kill") to gain a monopoly on the silicon chip market by causing an earthquake that would destroy Silicon Valley; Renard's plan in "The World is Not Enough" to cause a spike in the oil price by targeting Istanbul; Le Chiffre's plan in "Casino Royale" to blow up a plane to make money on the stock market seems tame by comparison to earlier plot lines, but this made it seem all the more believable in the unpredictability of a post 9/11 world. These plots and these "evil masterminds" are all deliberate exaggerations of anything possible in real life, but what makes it all so watchable is how easy it makes it to suspend disbelief. That being said, 9/11 proved to all of us that a seemingly unthinkable nightmare only remains so until someone crazy enough actually thinks about doing it. Going back to Russia, the idea of Crimea being "taken back" by Moscow also seemed an idea for the fruitcakes, until it actually happened. Ditto with Brexit. Like conspiracy theorists, it's easy to suspend disbelief when reality itself seems so unbelievable.

The author doesn't share the dark, paranoiac vision of the conspiracy theorists on Brexit: this isn't some kind of James Bond plot line come to life. The UK government hasn't been infiltrated by agents of the Kremlin; Michel Barnier isn't a "secret agent" out to sabotage Britain's future outside the EU. However, there is always a chink of the light of truth in some aspects of any conspiracy theory: the idea has to come from somewhere, after all.

When the vultures circle

The premise of "disaster capitalism" was thought up by Naomi Klein. On the Brexit negotiations, there is now a mood in the government that leaving the EU at the end of March 2019 with no deal is actually a goer. In other words, to leave the EU without any agreements in place would be fine, as they think any disruption to the economy would be considered minor, or at the very worst, worth it in the long-run.
Setting aside the suspension of disbelief needed to take this view seriously, it's worth looking at where there are comparable examples in modern times of such a situation. What is being seriously considered in government is an effective "reset" of the British economy to before it joined the EEC and EFTA, more than fifty years ago, and for this to occur overnight on 30 March 2019. The government are saying they are willing to completely change the rules and framework that has guided the British economy, from one system to another, without a transition. This is what "Hard Brexit" means.

It's hard to find an exact comparison to this situation; the closest we can get is finding when another large, developed nation changed the structure of its economy overnight. One modern example that comes to mind is Russia.
Naomi Klein cited the example of Russia's post-Communist economy when talking about "disaster capitalism". Russia's economy had been Communist for seventy years. It changed to an unregulated free market economy overnight. What this meant in reality was that a small number of individuals ("oligarchs") took advantage of the chaotic situation and its lack of enforceable "rules" to buy control of sectors of the economy. Corruption became the way to do business; meanwhile, the day-to-day economy tanked. It took ten years and a currency crisis for the country to get back on its feet. The end result, when things recovered, was that corruption became a way of life and the country's tentative attempt at democracy ending in the quasi-authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin. This regime was then supported through the politics of nationalism.
This is one example of what happens when "disaster capitalism" takes control of the economy. It is the economic equivalent of "shock therapy". Other nations have also been guided to a similar course; after an economic crisis, the IMF's solution has been the same kind of "shock therapy" that results in years of turbulence. And this moment, when the economy is so vulnerable, is when the "vultures" descend.

It is in this kind of "turbulence" that the vultures see opportunities for rich pickings. The UK leaving the EU without any kind of transition and without any agreements is the same kind of environment that would attract these vultures. While the government is in denial about the turbulence that would be created as a result of a "Hard Brexit", those that see rich pickings in this environment would only encourage it.
"Hard Brexit" Britain would not be Post-Communist Russia, of course, but because the British economy and its intellectual manpower has become so enmeshed with the EU over the last forty-odd years, it simply has no means to easily adapt without it. Short-term chaos, at the very least, is inevitable without long-term planning: this would be Britain's version of "shock therapy". The question of the extent and duration of the chaos depends on the government. The fact that the government are a large part in denial about it simply makes the chaos more likely.

In this sense, the "disaster capitalists" are also agents of chaos, which makes the idea of there being some kind of nefarious plot so easy for conspiracy theorists to believe. The reality is more complicated. Brexit was once only an obsession of a few marginal figures, that had the implicit support of some elements of the media. It was a confluence of different factors - the same factors that saw the rise of UKIP - that got us where we are today. The same is true of the government's lurch towards "Hard Brexit": while this may be supported by a small number in government for their own ideological (or amoral) reasons, the government as a whole - and Theresa May in particular - seem to be sliding towards it almost by accident. As mentioned elsewhere, the government seems intent on a "wrecking ball" strategy in the negotiations. Whether this is a deliberate ploy to attain a "Hard Brexit" (given they think it will have little negative effect on Britain's economy), or simply a bone-headed negotiating tactic (as a facile attempt at "brinksmanship" for the EU to grant concessions) is irrelevant, as the end result will be the same: chaos of some description to Britain's economy.

So Britain's "Hard Brexit" may not be the result of any conspiracy at all, but more likely because of the sheer incompetence and stupidity that guides those in government; and these frightening levels of incompetence make Britain's future all the more uncertain. It is also this incompetence at the heart of government that makes Britain a ripe target for the vultures; like sharks, they smell blood. Like hyenas, they can smell the rotten state of affairs.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Legatum, Brexit, and the privatisation of the British government

It's common knowledge that "think tanks" play a part in forming government policy, but how large a part wasn't clear until recently.

There was a time when "think tanks" were seen as a useful method of exploring ideas and "out of the box" thinking. This was when they were still in their relative infancy (such as forty or fifty years ago), and their influence was slight. As they were, by their nature, peripheral bodies, they could easily be ignored. Think tanks were a "safe space" to explore unconventional ideas, where they would do no harm if they were shown to be mistaken. The lessons that were learned were learned in private and behind closed doors.
It could be said this changed when one think tank in particular, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), began to seriously influence the thinking of the Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher. Its thinking then went on guide large areas of her government's policy. It was not that the IEA controlled government policy, but Thatcher's thinking and its thinking overlapped to a large degree. The problem was that these ideas became self-reinforcing, and this thinking also led to massive structural change of Britain. Some of its "Libertarian" ideas were put into practice on the British population, in the form of deregulating and privatising large sections of the economy, as well as guiding some changes to social policy.

As "think tanks" are essentially used as vehicles of political agendas, its important to recognise that these institutions are, almost by definition, working to undermine the democratic process. At the very least, we can say that "think tanks" act to manipulate the political process in a way that in opaque and beyond the public eye. Whereas at one time they were seen as useful "intellectual laboratories" for political nerds, these days they have turned into an industry in their own right, thanks to the support of wealthy donors.
Where the likes of the IEA began, others have followed over the years. There is now a plethora of "think tanks" that seem to have some form of influence on the Conservative Party and its government; perhaps the most influential, thanks to Brexit, is the Legatum Institute.

An excellent analysis of this "think tank" looks into the people involved, their backgrounds, and their motivations. The government seems to have given this "think tank" the role of doing large areas of the government's thinking on Brexit for it. In large areas of policy regarding Brexit, the government seems to have deferred judgement to the Legatum Institute. In a sense, we can call this the "privatisation of government": in this case, it is government policy itself that looks to have been privatised.

A logical conclusion?

This is a logical conclusion of the "Libertarian" school of thinking that came from Thatcherism. After privatising industries and services, it then led to the selling-off of government services themselves. The IEA had a large influence behind the scenes as it mirrored Thatcher's own thinking, thus reinforcing her own prejudices. By the time David Cameron came to power, there was a "second wind" of Libertarian thinking: under the auspices of the austerity program, there were further roll-outs of contracts for government services to the private sector.
Here we see how any event is used as an excuse to further advance the Libertarian agenda. Back in the '70s, it was used as the answer to the economic problems of the times. By the '80s, they had successfully changed the structure of the economy through deregulation, which ultimately led to the financial crisis of 2008; the answer to this (self-inflicted) problem was even more of the same agenda, now under the excuse of "austerity".
The "Brexit Agenda" was yet another furthering of the same cause: by freeing Britain of the "shackles" of the EU, it would solve the problem of "austerity". All the money that was wasted on the EU could be re-channeled to Britain. The use of the "Brexit Agenda" to dominate the political narrative was even more brazen than its earlier Libertarian incarnations, as it came about through the use of an outside force (UKIP) that didn't even have any serious representation in parliament. In earlier times, events were used as an excuse to further their agenda; nowadays, the events themselves are brazenly manipulated to further their agenda, regardless of how this demeans the democratic process. Brexit didn't come about through a "popular uprising", but through the insidious seeping of an agenda into the political mainstream.

The Legatum Institute fits into this "agenda" neatly, as it espouses the same aim using the same fallacies: that the EU was the cause of Britain's problems, and deregulation from the EU's constraints would allow Britain to thrive. Of course, this narrative all suits the agenda of those espousing the narrative: the agenda, as some of its advocates have argued, is to turn Britain into an economy like Singapore's.

The situation we are at is where the agenda that serves a narrow segment of society also serves to "privatize" government itself: with the ultimate aim being where the private sector can effectively make government policy, beyond the public eye and without proper transparency. While this idea is nothing new, as "lobbying" has been a part of politics for an eternity, its logical conclusion is the "Brexit Agenda": where the private sector runs the government, in the manner of a hierarchical company where Britain's citizens are its "worker bees".

Where a properly-functional democracy is meant to fit into this, is unclear.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Theresa May's Florence Speech and UK Brexit strategy: An abusive relationship, or a wrecking-ball?

The author had a "lightbulb" moment when thinking about a suitable analogy that sums up the psychology behind Brexit and where it comes from.
Britain has been in the EU for over forty years, during which time its relationship with Europe has been about promoting what can most kindly be described as "British exceptionalism": finding ways to have "opt-outs" on EU policy and strategy, with what can also be described as a "having a cake and eating it" approach. This led to Britain opting out of Schengen, the "Social Chapter", and the Euro, to name just three major examples. By the time  This finally led to Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, deciding the best way for his party to resolve its psychological "culture wars" over Europe was for the country to have a referendum about it. And now that Britain voted to leave, the government's strategy seems to be to continue this psychology of "having its cake and eating it".

Britain's "mid-life crisis"

The analogy that came to my mind was this: the mid-life crisis.
Britain is like the long-married husband with the wife and two kids that suddenly, when he reaches middle-age, decided he needs "freedom".
Britain's "exceptional" relationship with the EU has been like the over-bearing husband that is continually bridling against his loyal wife's wishes for them to spend more quality time together, rather than him going to the pub with his mates every other night. His relationship with his children (read as Britain's relationship with EU citizens) at turns fluctuates from loving to resentful. Agreed, his wife can seem too smothering at times (EU regulations!), but she also provides a stability to the man's innately unsettled psyche.
Until, suddenly, the man declares he needs "freedom", and walks out on his wife and children, leaving the question of their combined financial commitments hanging in the air. Will the man continue to contribute to the mortgage? Unclear. Will the man agree to take care of the kids? Unclear. The husband, after then walking out, incredibly claims his wife ought to helping him to sort out the mess he's caused, because "this affects all of the family"; implying the kids's future is at stake, so his wife ought to be as accommodating as possible. In other words, using emotional blackmail to get what he wants. The husband, after all this, still claims to "deep down" love his wife, and wants to have a close and cordial relationship with her; he simply wants his "freedom" to play the field and no longer be tied to their marriage. Yet he still wants her to do everything he asks.

This, at heart, feels a good an analogy for Britain's relationship with the EU. Britain has been the "abusive husband" of the EU; now Britain wants out of the relationship, but, as Theresa May's speech implies, thinks that it is the long-suffering wife (The EU) who should still bend to her husband's (Britain's) abusive demands even after separation. This is government policy masking a psychological "mid-life crisis" of Britain's identity. There is no reason for - and plenty of reasons against - the EU submitting to these demands. Nobody with an ounce of self-respect would do so; indeed, Michel Barnier has already said as much. For the EU to agree to such demands would be to break EU law and its own principles. Yet this is what the British government expects the EU to do.

An abusive relationship

After fifteen months of government dithering and chaos over its Brexit strategy, Boris Johnson preempted May's advertised Florence speech strategy by publishing his own. This then led to the hastily-arranged cabinet meeting the day before the speech, seemingly to try and find some kind of middle ground between the Brexit hard-liners and the moderates, led by Hammond.
So the Florence speech is, by definition, some kind of fudge. It was always bound to be, as Brexit was always about doing what was best for the Conservative Party, rather than what was best for Britain. Cameron's own career was defined and destroyed by that same pathology. In the same way that the EU referendum was just a strategy to keep the party united, the same goes for May's Brexit strategy. It was never about Britain's relationship with Europe; it was about the best interests of the Conservative Party. It might seem odd to understand Britain's biggest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War as an act of Tory navel-gazing, but that's the reality. This Tory navel-gazing, and the myopic misunderstanding of the EU's stance, also explains why the negotiations are more likely to fail than succeed (more on that later).
As we now know, May has managed to (on paper) find a strategy that seems to appease both sides, the moderates and the "Hard Brexiteers": the offer of a two-year transition where things remained pretty much the same, except for formally leaving the EU, followed by a Brexit that leaves the UK outside the single market and customs union, in what appears to be the "hardest" Brexit possible.
Except that this all forgets the details, and the questions over the details are what will prompt a thousand and one questions from the EU. Because May has said, like in the "abusive husband" analogy, that she wants some kind of "bespoke" relationship, unlike anything the EU has currently with a non-member. The UK wants to acts like the "mid-life crisis" husband that wants a divorce, but still wants to share the same house as his ex-wife, able to bring home whoever he likes, and expects to not have to pay towards their shared financial obligations once legally divorced. And expects his ex-wife to help think up "creative" solutions to the many obvious practical problems this entails.

So this is the form of "abusive relationship" that Britain's government hopes to achieve with the EU: one where the EU does all the hard lifting to get the divorce terms the divorcee wants - a divorce that Britain instigated because it demanded its "freedom".

A wrecking-ball strategy?

The negotiation process has been referred to as "stalled", and the strategy that May put out offered no real solutions to the causes of the "stall" - over money, citizens rights and Ireland. In some ways, they represent a "Gordian knot" of epic proportions; no doubt part of the reason the exit terms were written the way they were in the Lisbon Treaty, because no-one would want to leave under such terms. The "Gordian knot" appearance to the negotiations was also written in as part of the terms in the Lisbon Treaty; the EU is simply following its own manual, as previously set out. But before the referendum, the "Brexiteers" were blithely dismissive of such issues, and never mentioned Ireland's complex situation at all.

For all of Theresa May's words in Florence, and how she thinks this strategy offers a fine compromise for Britain, this is irrelevant if the EU simply says "no". And there's plenty of reasons to think they will. This is a negotiation, not simply about Britain saying "this is what we will do". If it expects to be able to do that, then Britain will leave the EU in 2019 with no deal at all, and no transition.
Firstly, this strategy offers no solutions to, for example, Ireland. Britain expects the EU to help to come up with a solution. In fact (and this is where it gets really hilarious) the EU did offer a solution: for Northern Ireland to stay separately in the single market. But the DUP would oppose anything that suggested a difference from the rest of the UK, and because the government needs DUP support to stay in power, the government must say no. This is another example of the "Gordian knot".
Apart from the unresolved questions over other payments (not those that May mentioned), is the sticky issue of citizens' rights. We should remember that in order for negotiations to continue to the next stage (to discuss the future "bespoke" trade relationship), these three issues must first be adequately resolved. And the clock is ticking, as the EU likes to remind Britain. In reality, the more time there is stuck on these three issues, the less time there is to talk about trade. But as Ireland's future trade status is also tied in with its citizens' rights, here we have yet another "Gordian knot": you can't really discuss one without the resolving other, and vice versa.

The clock is still ticking. According to the EU, it would take six months to ratify these terms (more on that in a moment), so the cut-off date to conclude negotiations is in around a year's time. First of all, Britain is expecting the EU to agree to some kind of as-yet unspecified "bespoke" deal in whatever time they have left before this time next year, once they have somehow resolved the three issues mentioned earlier. Britain has offered no solutions to at least one of the three issues (Ireland), and the other two are unclear.
Assuming that - somehow - the complex "bespoke" deal Britain calls for is agreed by this time next year, and the EU is - unbelievably - fine with this, we then have ratification. And this is where it might get really interesting, because all 27 countries have to agree, including the EU parliament. Individual countries could then, quite legitimately, raise all kinds of concerns. Indeed, some already have. Apart from Ireland, there is Spain, who may well wish to raise all kinds of hell with Gibraltar. So it's quite possible that any deal would be vetoed at some point in the ratification process. The word "clusterfuck" comes to mind.

Theresa May's call for a transition might be useful, but this does nothing for the negotiations. A two-year transition does not mean we will have two more years to negotiate our future trade deal. Whatever deal Britain wants must be agreed with the EU by this time next year, or there will be no transition at all, and no deal at all. Any potential extension to negotiations could only be agreed after a consultation, which would require the agreement of all concerned parties. Again, this seems like cloud cuckoo thinking if Britain thinks this is likely.
Theresa May also persisted with the idea that "no deal was better than a bad deal". This implies that the British government seems to think they have the upper hand. She would be willing to leave in 2019 without agreeing terms if she didn't like what the EU offered in return, and thus (it is implied) "call their bluff". But this has the logic the wrong way around. The EU has the upper hand in the negotiations, as it can simply turn down any proposal that doesn't fit to its wishes. It is up to Britain to provide a deal agreeable with the EU, not vice versa. After invoking Article 40, Britain had a two-year time frame to a make a deal with the EU. But Britain seems intent on looking for a deal that the EU would find it impossible to accept. So at this rate, the failure of the talks in the short time frame given seems guaranteed.
Besides, the UK government seems to have put in its excuses early: by asking for the EU's flexibility and creativity over Britain's impossible demands, the government can then blame the EU's "intransigence" over a failure of the talks. But as mentioned earlier, the whole "Europe debate" in the Conservative Party was always about managing how things were at home: as long as the British electorate could be fooled into thinking everything was all Europe's fault, then any problems that occurred post-Brexit would never fall at the government's door.

This is what has this writer thinking that the more intelligent "Brexiteers" have already figured all this out: any "bespoke" deal is practically impossible in the time frame given by the Lisbon Treaty. They are putting forward a negotiation strategy that they know will fail as they want Britain to leave the EU in 2019 with no deal. They want a "Hard Brexit" as soon as possible, and are happy to use a "wrecking-ball" negotiation strategy to get it. May's Florence speech said very little of substance beyond meaningless platitudes. What little substance there was said nothing that was not already known or could not have been easily guessed. On the details, there was almost nothing. On the final status, there was nothing but an unfathomable "Gordian knot" that would set up more negotiation problems for the future, on top of the lack of solutions for the current problems still unresolved.

The odd thing is that some Brexit supporters are currently panicking that Theresa May has "sold out" with her Florence speech. Some have called her position "surrender", or even compared it to "appeasement" by Neville Chamberlain. This is hyperbolic nonsense. On the contrary; while the offering of a transition period pacifies the moderates, in reality the overall strategy seems to make a "Hard Brexit" in 2019 all the more likely, given the complexities of the situation as explained above. If there is any "appeasement" on May's part, it is towards those that favour a "Hard Brexit". And if the "Brexiteers" are incensed by even the thought of a transitional phase, then their pernicious influence on the government will surely ensure that the negotiations fail. And they are bound to provide further caveats and conditions to their support for any EU deal between now and the end of the negotiations, putting Britain's government in an even more impossible position.

What are the "Brexiteers" worried about? Their "Brexit Agenda" seems well on track. It's everyone else that needs to worry.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Brexit, British identity and English Nationalism: a short history

The author was reading an excellent article about the "Gordian Knot" of the Irish Question and Brexit, and how the issue of Northern Ireland became lost in the EU referendum last year. This article also reminds us that Brexit was, at its heart, about English nationalism.

As I've said elsewhere, the reasons for Brexit are complex and multi-faceted, but one undeniable factor is the emotional and insidious draw of English nationalism. Part of this is due to the idiosyncratic nature of Britain and its history. By its nature, Britain is a multi-national state, yet dominated by England's size and much larger population.

A history of "Britishness"

The term "Britain" only really became to have proper political meaning when James I of Scotland became joint ruler of England and Scotland at the turn of the 17th century, uniting "Britain" under one crown for the first real time, and with a shared flag,  the "Union Jack". While England had dominated Britain and the Isles through its political might, Scotland (in alliance with France) had always resisted. British identity became something more formal under James I, even if Scotland formally retained its independence from England for another hundred years. The Civil War in the middle of the 17th century was as much a "British Civil War", as it affected all nations of the land with waves of anarchy and uprisings.
Britain's status became formalised with the legal union of Scotland with England in 1707; but unlike how Wales had been conquered by England centuries earlier, Scotland's union with England was consensual - a treaty more like a "contract between nations". It was only after an economic crisis that Scotland decided to submit powers to Westminster for equal access to its economic might, seeing in this "contract" its own self-interest.

This formal union coincided with the beginning of the Golden Age of Britain's colonial expansion. With Scotland now tied in with England, both kingdoms enjoyed the fruits of Empire; from Colonial North America to the burgeoning interests developing in India. Scotland began to thrive from this new relationship, and from an English point of view it began to feel the case that England was Britain and Britain was England. The terms seem to become interchangeable. North of the border, this sense of "Britishness" overcoming national identity became so strong that some Scots even referred to themselves as "North British" and their homeland as "North Britain".
In this way, "Britishness" came to be tied inextricably with the British Empire; and as England was its power base, English identity became merged with that of the British Empire, and English self-esteem became sub-consciously tied with the fate of the British Empire.

From the British Empire's point of view, its peak of power was arguably at the end of the Nineteenth Century; implicitly, this was also the peak of British (and thus English) self-esteem. Up to this point, after the trauma of losing the rump of Colonial North America, Britain had thrived, going from one success to another: settling Canada and Australasia, making India its "jewel in the crown" of its Empire, and later on expanding into Africa in the 1880s. Meanwhile, Britain had punctuated this with smaller strategic prizes, from Malta to Cyprus and Suez to Aden.
From the end of the Nineteenth Century, however, there would only be a series of events that would gradually punctuate its decline. This began with the Boer War which, while ending ultimately in victory, was a precursor to the kind of troubles that lay ahead. How close this came home (literally) was shown with the "Easter Rising" in 1916, in the middle of the First World War. When this led to Irish independence several years later, it was a sign that "Britishness" and the integrity of the British Empire was much more fragile than its English advocates thought. It was a combination of arrogance, intransigence and complacency on behalf of some English nationalists that had fuelled the Irish crisis: a mood that would punctuate the rest of the British Empire's life, contributing to its loss of most of its colonies little more than forty years after Irish independence.
Gaining the Middle East "mandates" for the British Empire was a pyrrhic victory, for Britain was incapable of ruling them effectively. This was a trend that spread across all its colonies after the First World War, in India most of all. Once the colonies began to be lost to the Anti-Colonial movement after the Second World War, the question for Britain became: what next?

"What next?"

Like some other European powers, Britain held on to some of its colonies into the 1970s (and a few - such as Belize - into the 1980s). What remains today - officially called the "British Overseas Territory" - is the last shadow of the Empire. This has resulted in a few idiosyncratic entities, such as a segment of Cyprus remaining British for military purposes. Gibraltar is another legacy of England's earlier foraying into European politics.
The "what next?" question was answered, as we know, by Europe. In the same way that Scotland joined England through a combination of political expediency and financial self-interest, Britain joined the EEC for similar reasons. In short, it was a way to make money, with the minimum of trade-offs.

At the same time that Britain was joining the EEC, Scottish nationalism was on the rise north of the border. Again, this was partly about money and self-interest: oil discovered in Scottish waters in the North Sea. The chance for Scotland and Wales to gain some autonomy was lost at the end of the 1970s, and for a time Scottish nationalism seemed little more than a temporary fad tied with gaining control of Scotland's oil. The moment passed with the the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher's administration, as English reactionaries in the governing Conservative Party killed the idea of devolution and any possible risk of ceding control away from London.
As the government in London centralised authority further in the 1980s, Thatcher also bridled at the realisation that the deal to join the EEC was beginning to involve granting more powers to Brussels. This was the time when "Euroscepticism" began to become a real force within the Conservative Party. This movement was also indistinguishable from what some would nowadays recognise as "English Nationalism".

Euroscepticism or "English Nationalism"?

The term "English Nationalism" is problematic as it was for so long associated with the far right and hate groups. The term began its gradual "rehabilitiation" by the onset of the 1990s, when the "Eurosceptics" that had initially lost their focus with the forced resignation of their idol, Margaret Thatcher, only to quickly rediscover their sense of purpose with their opposition to the Maastricht Treaty. Apart from the "bastards" that were causing Thatcher's (more moderate) successor, John Major such worry in parliament, Maastricht's effect was to create UKIP.
UKIP have also been called the "English Nationalist Party", and with good reason. While the party itself might not think of itself as intrinsically Anglo-centric or innately nationalistic, its support base certainly is. UKIP's support base has always been at by far its strongest in the English shires and parts of the deindustrialised North of England.

UKIP's rise, and the more general rise of English Nationalism in the last twenty years, can be lined up with several historical "punctuation marks". UKIP first came on the radar in the 1999 European Elections, gaining more than 6% of the vote and its first three MEPs. Tellingly, this coincided with the devolution process by the Labour government in the Scotland and Wales (whose nationalist parties also gained MEPs). In the European Elections five years later, UKIP's MEP representation had leaped to 11. By this point, devolution in Scotland and Wales was a fact of life, and there was another important point: a number of East European countries had joined the EU not long before, and their people were give open access to live and work in Britain. Added to this the financial crisis of 2008, and "English Nationalism" was given even more fuel to add to its fire. In the 2009 European elections, UKIP had gained more MEPs, and even the BNP - an avowed Fascist party - had a presence in Brussels. In this way, "English Nationalism" had become almost a fashionable form of protest in some parts of the country.

From this point onward, the story is familiar: the issue went mainstream after the combined factors of the lingering effects of the financial crisis and the (seemingly highly-visible) increase of European immigration. On the back of this, UKIP became the largest British party in the European Parliament in 2014. The unofficial "English Nationalist Party" had taken control of the agenda, and we know the result of that: Britain is leaving the EU.
UKIP started out a little more than a single-issue party; a fringe group that acted as a maverick entity of the "Eurosceptic" element of the Conservative Party. Over time, their agenda evolved and crystallised into something more structured. While this was a chaotic process, the end result was a Libertarian agenda that sees Thatcherism taken to its logical conclusion. The "English Nationalist" aspect of the agenda seems to have been a by-product of the nature of its support base; while this might be shared by only some of those in the hierarchy, all of those at the top can see its ultimate use as a platform.
All the talk of leaving the EU in order to restore connections with former colonies is innately nationalistic in tone, as it harks back to a time when England, though Britain, controlled a quarter of the globe. Seen in another light, even when part of the EU, it seems that many people saw it merely as another projection of Britain's footprint abroad. The EU acted as a psychological substitute for the Empire; using the continent as an excuse for cheaper holidays and sunshine. Psychologically, it was treated as no different from going to Australia, except that it was only a hop across the Channel. This less about engagement with Europe as a cultural trashing of it. After years of this arrogant attitude becoming ingrained within a segment of the population, it's difficult to be nationalistic without being Anti-European. So we can call the EU referendum result also a victory for English Nationalism, as well as a result of English Nationalism.

While there is a lot of talk of reshaping Britain to make it more equitable, the actions so far are all autocratic and centralising in nature: about the government (i.e. London) acting as the sole arbiter of Britain's fate, with little sign of dialogue with Scotland or Wales (let alone the thoughts of England's regions).
The schizophrenic part to this is (as mentioned the initial linked article at the start) London is probably is the least nationalistic and least Euro-sceptic part of the UK; the government's agenda is that of "England-outside-London". Put like this, the "Brexit government" feels like an occupying power in the capital. It would be more fitting if they moved the "capital" back to Winchester, say, to have a "real" Anglo-Saxon hub; or one of the "Brexit bastions", such as Peterborough.

Such talk is as fantastical as it is nonsensical, but it is little more than what we've come to expect from the people running the government, or those that have the government's ear. But such talk is what you get when you let nationalism set the agenda.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Brexit psychology and Theresa May's government: The lunatics running the asylum

An article recently published by Boris Johnson lays out a "ten point plan" for Brexit. Timed for the weekend before Theresa May's heavily-advertised speech in Florence, it provides a large insight into the thinking of one of Brexit's main campaigners.
The timing of this "plan" being presented has been criticized by some as the prelude to a leadership bid. The Tory conference being also just around the corner adds to this suggestion. However, the consensus view in the party is that May will stay in place as a "caretaker" until Brexit is achieved in March 2019, so that she is clear to leave that summer. The idea that there is an imminent danger of a leadership challenge seems fanciful, given that May is doing the job that few others want at present. Even Boris' well-known ambitions can't have become so deluded to think there is an appetite for a change of leadership in the near future.
The publication of this "plan" might more realistically be borne out of personal and strategic frustration: from the abject lack of clarity that has come from the government on its Brexit policy and strategy, as well as the side-lining of Boris' role in government. The fact that the "plan" hasn't been rapidly shot down by Downing Street also implies that it may well be privately endorsed by Theresa May herself, or at least tolerated. May's position on Brexit is much closer to her Foreign Secretary's than her Chancellor's, for example. The Prime Minister is neither a strong speaker nor a famed writer: it may be an attempt by Boris at seizing hold of the strategic reins, and prevent more muddle. The florid words of the Foreign Secretary are, in his own way, imposing order after months of "organised chaos", more likely a lucid antidote to the disparate, unfocused nature of the government's Brexit strategy.

The "ten point plan"

In a sense, the presentation of this "plan" does provide some clarity to the government's position. Unfortunately, it also clarifies the perception that the people running the government have no idea what they are talking about.

The "plan" is a masterclass in fantastical thinking, misdirection and deceit. Harking back to some of the "blue sky thinking" that we found during the referendum campaign, we see the "£350 million to the NHS" claim re-heated for the first real time since the referendum.
This reference in itself is an disingenuous as the rest of the "plan", for Johnson then immediately equivocates by saying "if would be a fine thing if a lot of that money went to the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and use new technology". The use of indeterminate language ("it would be a fine thing if....") is as close to saying the famed £350 million claim is just a vague idea, that is subject to the conditions being right (with the excuses at the ready when they never are). This is followed by two equivocations: that only "a lot of the money" would be given to the NHS, and then it would only be used to "modernise" the system; this is often code for that often-hated term, "reform". So, in other words, the idea is that the fabled money may well be used to privatise the NHS even further.

The fantastical thinking runs through many of the plan's points: from not paying for access to the single market, claiming that the door wouldn't be slammed on immigrants, tax reform, free trade deals with the former Commonwealth, to investment in infrastructure. None of these ideas are remotely realistic in the way they are explained. The EU has already explained how the rules on the single market work: it's up to the UK to follow them. If they don't, it's the UK's problem to sort out their own mess. It's clear that immigrants will face a hostile environment from the government, as has been demonstrated time and time again, in spite of words to the contrary.
Talk about tax reform is simply a red herring; the EU has never prevented this before, in the same way that talk of the "tampon tax" is ridiculous. These are things that the UK had always been able to change itself; it simply never had the will, and blaming the EU is just dishonest. Likewise, talk of preventing homes from being sold to foreigners is another example: the homes in question are bought by wealthy Chinese, Arabs and Russians, not Europeans. And talk of free trade deals with the Commonwealth is fantastical as well as dishonest: any deals that are made are likely to be highly-complex and time-consuming, with no guarantee at all that they would be on better terms that Britain already had while part of the EU. This also taps into an emotional nostalgia for the bygone times of the British Empire.

This "ten point plan" looks almost indistinguishable from what UKIP proposed in the 2015 election. So we in actuality have a government carrying out UKIP policy: what can also be called the "Brexit Agenda".

The lunatics running the asylum

The "Brexit Agenda" is headed by Theresa May, though she is really acting as just the spokesperson and enabler for the rest of the "Brexiteers" in government; the main channel for their energies. Due to the disparate and often contradictory ideas found among leading "Brexiteers", May (and the Downing Street office) seem to have played the often fruitless role of "mediator", trying to bring together their many chaotic ideas into some kind of coherent message. The "ten point plan" can be seen as a way to provide an attempt to gain the initiative. For practical (if not ideological) purposes, these people can be broadly split into two main camps of influence: foreign and domestic.

The main personalities effectively running the "Brexit Agenda" in foreign policy are the "quad" of the Foreign Secretary (Johnson), the Brexit Secretary (Davis), the International Trade Secretary (Fox), and the International Development Secretary (Patel); there are other minor "Brexiteer" ministers at these departments, but these four are the ones that matter.
The foreign policy "triumvirate" of  Boris Johnson (Foreign), David Davis (Brexit) and Liam Fox (International Trade) seems a bizarre psycho-drama all of its own. The set-up itself was, of course, Theresa May's invention. Using Brexit as an excuse, she created two new departments, and thus siphoned off some of the roles formerly given to the powerful FCO to these two other departments. By then giving these three roles to three of the most vocal "Brexiteers", it appeared that she was playing a clever strategic game - "You Broke It, You Own It". However, if that was indeed the intention (which was never really proven), it hasn't worked.
If anything, the "triumvirate" (who could be more unkindly called "The Three Stooges") have had more influence on the Prime Minister than vice versa. Assuming her intention was a strategic ploy, by effectively handing over Brexit to the "Brexiteers", she made the same kind of mistake that Von Papen made in 1933 in making Hitler Chancellor of Germany - it handed over the initiative, which they would never get back. However, this "strategic ploy" argument seems to have been disproven by May's stance since then: for it became increasingly clear from after the Tory Party conference last year that, if anything, May is a solid supporter of the "Brexit Agenda", and not its hostage at all. In this sense, while there may have been an element of strategy to placing these three personalities in charge of Brexit, it may only have been for the narrow political purpose of firming her own position as leader. As we have already mentioned, it has been clear ever since that May has struggled to keep control of the various whims and obsessions that some of the "Brexiteers" indulge; hence her scheduled Florence speech and now Boris' own preemptive retort.

The "triumvirate psycho-drama" reads a lot like some of the famous rivalries that have gone on in the dysfunctional governments that pepper world history. Governments are collections of individuals, and when those individuals have their own dysfunctional traits, the result in government is dysfunction and chaos.
While this is no means a comparison (!), reading accounts of Hitler's government reads like a exemplar in collective dysfunction and institutional chaos. His own personal office, for example, had several aides whose roles were (deliberately) poorly-defined, which thus led to petty arguments with potentially very dark outcomes, given the dangerously-unpredictable nature of the government. Aside from its sociopathic ideology, the government of Nazi Germany was littered with characters that were both as colourful as they were sadistic, as insane as they were incompetent, as lazy as they were mercurial. As a government of psychological misfits, they were the benchmark for craziness.

At a more mundane level, Britain's foreign policy seems to be ran with a level of dysfunction and chaos never before seen in modern times. May's division of powers, and the choice of who those powers have been given to, seems to have created a "perfect storm". With the governing styles of the three foreign policy heads vacillating between recklessness, incompetence, arrogance and intransigence, it is no wonder that no-one is clear what government policy is from one day to the next. It is also no wonder that no-one outside of government, both in Britain and abroad, can make any sense of the government's strategy.

Apart from foreign policy, the "Brexit Agenda" also has its campaigners at several "domestic" portfolios.
In no particular order, these include Michael Gove (DEFRA), Michael Fallon (Defence), Sajid Javid (Local Government), Chris Grayling (Transport), and Andrea Leadsome (Leader Of The House Of Commons). These are arguably the most influential "Brexiteers" outside of the foreign policy remit.
Most recently, Leadsome revealed the anti-democratic forces behind the "Brexit Agenda" with her comments in parliament, and the government's plan to take autocratic control over EU legislation, and effectively bypassing parliament. Like many of the "Brexiteers", she is ambitious and authoritarian in nature, in many ways like Theresa May herself, but with less of a strategic brain. Chris Grayling, who has been called Theresa May's "right hand man", has a long history of reactionary authoritarianism with his role as Justice Minister, and seems a kindred spirit to the kind of petty-minded thinking that May herself possessed as Home Secretary.
Michael Gove's role as a "Brexiteer" is well-known. Of those on the domestic side of the policy, Gove's status as the "thinker-in-chief" seems well-established, after his long and controversial role implementing "reforms" when Education Secretary.
Michael Fallon and Sajid Javid's roles as "Brexiteers" seem a little more ambiguous, as they were not advocates for leaving the EU during the referendum campaign, either staying quietly loyal to Cameron, or not entirely clear in their allegiances. However, since then, their allegiances have firmly shifted to pursuing the "Brexit Agenda"; like May herself, they seem to have undergone a strange conversion to the faith, with a fanaticism that at times exceeds even the purists. And besides, the "Brexit Agenda", as said in my previous article, is about far more than just "Brexit": it is a social agenda that seeks to create a kind of "Libertarian dystopia" that rolls back the state to a puny size, not seen since before the Great Depression. Many of the Rand-supporting Libertarians in the Conservative Party are also Brexit supporters for that same reason: it helps to achieve their aim.

The author once said that David Cameron's government appeared to be the most incompetent in living memory. It is now clear that Theresa May's government have far exceeded that measure. With the "Brexit Agenda" now the guiding principle that seems to lead almost every aspect of policy, rationalism has gone out of the window. The moderates in the Conservative Party and in government, led by the Chancellor, have been side-lined, with their concerns dismissed. They are in government, but only for cosmetic purposes. Likewise, with parliament; it is there, but only for cosmetic purposes.

Brexit has achieved a momentum all of its own, snowballing over all other areas of government, and over all other concerns: it is the unspoken "revolution" that has consumed the country, with its most ardent supporters acting as if on a heaven-sent mission, ordained by the popular will.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The "Brexit Agenda": Immigration, the economy and the "small state"

A reminder of what Brexit really means for Britain is demonstrated in an article looking at the sharp rise in immigrant deportations.  The intent by Theresa May to create a "really hostile environment" for illegal migrants has now spilled over to mean all migrants, including those from the EU. Another article highlights how this "really hostile environment" has now seeped through to employers and landlords, with some jumping the gun on the issue (or, looking at it more charitably, creating certainty for themselves on the issue when there is none from the government). The facile response from the government to this alarming trend tells us how, deep down, many of them see this as a "win-win" situation.

While whose that voted to leave the EU may applaud this, it would also be useful to think about what it means to prospective foreign workers. Simply, they will be strongly discouraged from wanting to come.
Again, those that voted to leave the EU may applaud this too: more jobs for British workers, supposedly. So let's look at the "Brexit Agenda", and what the "Brexiteers" ultimately aim to achieve.

In my last article we looked at what is happening to British politics: in truth, the hijacking of the political agenda by a small group of extremists. We looked at "how"; now, let's look at "why".

Turning back the clock

In the previous article, I mentioned EFTA, which Britain joined in 1961, about ten years before we joined the then EEC. With the government making clear its intent to leave the EFTA as well, we can literally say that the government wishes to turn back the clock on Britain's relations with Europe; more exactly, we can say it wants Britain's trading relationship to be as it was during the days of the 1950s, when Britain had the Empire.
Since winning the referendum last year, the hard-line "Brexiteers" (perhaps better called "Brextremists") have done everything they can to take the lead on setting the agenda, not only on the terms of "Brexit" itself, but also trying to seep their ideology into other facets of political discourse. This was why what is happening could be called a kind of "soft coup" or "coup by stealth". This can be especially seen in how they have been keen to press on with their agenda in spite of the government losing its majority since the June election. In spite of being a small faction of a party without a majority in parliament, they are acting as though they have untrammeled power and a huge popular mandate.

But back to the main point. What do they want to achieve?
By turning back the clock on Britain's relations with Europe (and by implication of this new immigration regime, the world), it is about "British jobs for British workers". On the face of it, it is a harmless-sounding (even laudable) idea, until you look into the detail of what that really means.
Britain's job market is currently already running at close to "natural" levels of full employment, which, obviously, includes British workers. In other words, there is no problem with British workers finding a job. And if that is true, then it can't be true that immigrants are taking away jobs from British workers.
So this straightaway destroys the fallacy of foreign migrants taking away jobs from natives. And if this is the case, then what is the point of making it much more difficult for foreigners to live and work in Britain?
If there is no real economic case for this agenda, then it must be something else. And here we are in danger of "over-intellectualizing" a fundamentally-unintellectual agenda. Brexit was never really about economics; it couldn't be, when almost everybody who understood the economics couldn't understand the logic of leaving the EU. Brexit was about power.

One of the main reasons for leaving the EU was to "take back control". While this was said to mean returning powers from Brussels to the Westminster parliament, as mentioned in my previous article, it is clear that it is really about a government power grab. And again, this is a "power grab" by a faction of the governing party that supports UKIP's agenda. 
So while this faction is doing its best to gain quasi-autocratic control over vast areas of law previously ran by the EU, their agenda on immigration is really a red herring. Whether or not this faction really believe in their own rhetoric about immigration being the bane of the British worker's life is hard to tell. If they do believe it, then it is a sign that they are dangerously deluded; if they don't, then then are truly callous in their attitude to the fate of the British economy. The evidence points to it being a mixture of the two, with some "Brextremists" being bonkers in their "vision" for Britain, while others are simply sociopathic in their outlook. Theresa May seems to exhibit a little of both.
In this way, it becomes clear that "taking back control" was really about the "Brextremists" taking autocratic control of Britain. They were horrified of the idea that the EU could dictate law to the UK, regardless of the fact that those laws were designed to improve many aspects of life in the UK, as the UK was part of the EU. While the EU, as in any huge bureaucracy, has its problems, the benefits for most people clearly out-weigh the drawbacks. The problem for the "Brextremists" was about feeling powerless. As with any Populist movement, Brexit was driven on the idea of the "losers" of the current status quo rising up against a distant, uncaring elite. However, we have seen how this lie can be used by the real, home-grown elite that supports a return to to earlier age when they ruled the country in a much more autocratic fashion. The "Brextremists" of today are simply using time-honored strategies to turn the clock back to a time they look back on with wistful nostalgia: the Britain of the British Empire, before its disintegration, when the establishment ruled with an invisible hand.
Put in this context, the idea of turning Britain into a place hostile to immigrants may then serve a double purpose. First of all, it gives the "losers" who voted for Brexit a real sense of there being an identifiable change to the make-up of the country; of the country becoming more visibly "British". In this way, it makes them feel as though their vote truly "made a difference", and thus cements their connection (i.e. loyalty) to their "Brexiteer" rulers. This manipulative use of "culture war" then gives greater leeway for them to take their agenda to its conclusion (see below). 

If the economy thrives or fails as a result of this strategy is not a real concern for this "Brexit elite". In any case, they wouldn't be the ones that suffered. As we have already seen, some that voted for Brexit believe that an economic downturn is a price worth paying if they "take back control" (regardless of how horribly deluded they are in this). This mentality of "groupthink" makes it even easier for the "Brextremists" to charge ahead with their autocratic agenda.
Those that do suffer from any self-inflicted economic mess will be given the sinister, outside forces of "Europe" to blame. Like with the dog-whistle use of immigration, the scapegoating of "foreign powers" that don't want to see Britain succeed would be the next part of the plan. As with the earlier example of employers nowadays that are "jumping the gun" on immigration, this is a "win-win" situation for those in charge. This is simply another version of the strategy of "divide and rule". 

"A bonfire of red tape"

The other main reason given for leaving the EU was due to the stranglehold that European "red tape" was apparently having on business. Regardless of the fact that few people who supported Brexit could actually point to any particular regulations they found so onerous, the "red tape" was there to improve the conditions of life in Britain, as a member of the EU. Of course, some of the regulations led to absurdities, but the vast majority left people's lives better, such as through safer products they used or safer living and working conditions. 
The "Brextremists" resented these regulations as they reduced the amount of power they had. Using accusations of the "nanny state" is as old as the hills, and this loss of power to the EU ties in with the theme of "taking back control" that we looked at earlier. Again, the motivation of the "Brexit Agenda" is to have fewer controls on business, giving them greater powers to exploit their workers and reduce costs (such as by relaxing safety standards). In this way, "Brexit Britain" will more closely resemble the working conditions found in developing countries, with things like" Zero Hour Contracts" becoming ever more commonplace, and more and more companies compelling their workforce into being an army of the self-employed. Likewise, this "race to the bottom" would result in fewer protections for workers, leading to more and more unstable social conditions

This is the vision of the "small state", as the "Brextremists" see it: a kind of Libertarian dystopia. Apart from the "reforms" they would like to see to working conditions, there is the vision they have of the welfare system (and have already partially implemented thanks to Iain Duncan Smith). This is making "welfare" seem more like a punishment than a human right, where the individual is devalued and dehumanized at every opportunity, and a callous system that finds any small reason to withdraw its support, leaving them to fend for themselves. As the government only has respect for money and success, it follows that this philosophy makes the poor and the vulnerable feel like social failures. This is a system of "Social Darwinism" that punishes those on the lowest rungs of society, regardless of the reason. The government isn't there to help the weak, but to make them suffer for their weakness. The same strategy has already been applied to other areas of policy, such as immigration and the settling of the government's own subjects.

Is the ultimate aim here the destruction of social fabric of civilised society? Like with their vision for the economy post-Brexit, it is either bonkers or callously-brutal. It is like they literally do not care, or are so off-the-wall they cannot see how mad their ideas really are. Taken to its logical conclusion, such policies would result in chronic deprivation among the working class, like hasn't been seen since before the Great Depression. And with deprivation and gross inequality comes social breakdown and crime, providing the "Brexiteer" elite with yet another set of scapegoats to use. But as we have already seen, their agenda seems to be the restoration of the socio-economic order of Britain prior to 1945, regardless of its effect on society. 

Brexit is simply the way they seek to achieve it.