Contributed by Jim Hayes
It is only days before British Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation due on 7 June. We all know that this has been brought about by the complete mess made over Brexit. As the leader of the government, the sword falls on her head.
But this is not just the failure of a particular individual. There is a history to the association with the European Union, which includes old forces and new rising ones making their impact.
Consequences are going to be more profound than the scalp of a Prime Minister.
Although this is taking place on the other side of the planet, the outcome will unavoidably have its effects on Australia as well. More on this later.
Once upon a time, the United Kingdom was the planet’s preeminent superpower, lording it over a massive empire. It sucked up the world’s wealth, and it flowed into the bank accounts of the fleet Street knobs.
These days have well and truly gone. There is no empire to drive the British economy, and war racked up a massive war debt through the Twentieth Century. This was for paying out loans to Wall Street, to buy armaments use in two world wars.
Then the European Union project loomed. It was dominated by powerhouses on the Continent, rehabilitated Germany and France. This was to be their sphere of influence.
In Britain, the popular attitude was to remain out of the clutches of these powers and remain independent. This attitude crossed the political spectrum. Some saw independence as the best way to protect jobs, wages and working conditions. Others saw a threat to British business and profits.
The problem was that the nation had already lost its economic independence, when it was subject to massive foreign debt and British companies were popping out of existence and being replaced, by those whose owners lived overseas.
From this emerged a division within the circles of big business. One part shifted towards Europe and another towards closer integration with the United States. That which still strove for British independence weakened.
The situation began to change for working people as well. As work at home declined a considerable number found work in Continental Europe. This was enhanced with the arrival of the European passport system. This has its advantages.
Change within Britain meant that the European Union, especially after Margaret Thatcher entered the scene, came provide better protection of wages and conditions and a range of other social rights.
This is where Brexit came in.
Divisions that are obvious today are not new. They have been around for some time. All they needed was, a catalyst to bring them to the surface. Brexit was it, and from Day one, Theresa May didn’t stand a chance.
The public campaign to get out was headed by Rupert Murdoch, who happens to own the biggest potion of British media, and whose business interests are centred in the United States. This is where he has his most important connections and where the money made by
NewsCorp ends up.
It’s in Murdoch’s business interests to cement the economic integration of the two countries as much as possible, and Brexit is a vehicle to do this.
Using media and big business clout, historical antipathy towards Europe, pompous notions of British racial superiority, the insecurity caused by a sick economy, and distrust of the bean counters in Brussels, the forces to break away from the European Union got the upper hand. The Brexit referendum is now history.
After this, the forces for continuing in the European Union rallied and fought back.
An important section of British business stands to lose out, because it has become dependent on its connection to Europe and Brexit is a serious threat to its survival. It began to campaign to reverse the Brexit referendum result. The confederation of British industry removed its support for Theresa May’s Conservative Party.
A growing proportion of the British public is coming to see that there are certain advantages of remaining within Europe. More are starting to see that integration with the United States will bring about worse conditions for most people. The prospect is cuts to social welfare, lower wages, fewer rights, as the United Kingdom moves towards mirroring conditions of a dominant United States.
Brexit is not about British independence, but about which bigger power, the British economy and politics are going to be integrated into.
Then there is Scotland, moving towards achieving its independence from London, and Northern Ireland. Their interests and public opinion are more surely tied up with Europe.
This best explains why Donald Trump has come out to cheer for Brexit and is coming for a three-day state visit. With his traditional lack of diplomatic skills, Trump is helping to give a better understanding of what is going on.
What has this got to do with Australia? Quite a lot actually. The United States and the British are the most important investors in the Australian economy. The outcome of Brexit will have an impact on the pattern of this investment.
Shock waves will be imported. Investment will be displaced. The new pattern will bring greater integration of the Australian economy and politics into that of the United States or Europe.
Brexit is not in Australia’s interests, for it threatens the same downhill slide and economic disruption that Britain faces, even if not quite on the same scale.
Australia’s best interests lie in the diversification in our ties with the rest of the world, and achieving greater control over our national economy and politics.