NO, BRITAIN’S crisis isn’t the result of Trump’s recent and highly unpopular visit to that haywire country (with Newsweek reporting that ‘only 21 per cent of UK residents had a positive opinion of Trump, compared to Obama, who had a staggering 72 per cent favourable rating’). The crisis was avoidable and entirely self-made. It involves the feverish desire of many Britons to leave the 28-nation European Union and go it alone.
The movement is generally known as Brexit and the rallying cry of its leaders is the slogan ‘Let’s Take Back Control’ — meaning, in the words of The Atlantic magazine, they claim that by quitting Europe ‘they would be returning power from Brussels back to lawmakers in Westminster and, by extension, to the British people themselves.’ The ‘Vote Leave’ group declared ‘We’ve lost control of trade, human rights, and migration’ and there was an intensive and most misleading campaign waged to encourage the British people to believe that they had endured decades of unproductive cringing subservience to the EU.
A leading Brexiteer (and likely next prime minister), Boris Johnson, declared in 2017 that ‘The independence of this country is being seriously compromised. It is this fundamental democratic problem – this erosion of democracy — that brings me into this fight.’ The notion that British democracy is threatened by the European Union is ludicrous — but it continues to play well with voters.
Another front-running contender to be prime minister is Michael Gove, a curiously repellent individual, who declared in February 2016 that ‘your government is not, ultimately, in control in hundreds of areas that matter. But by leaving the EU we can take control.’
More objectively the Financial Times observed that ‘The EU has no significant influence over the UK’s spending on (or policies towards) health, education, housing, pensions, welfare, infrastructure, culture or, for that matter, defence and aid,’ but this doesn’t stop the likes of Gove and Johnson playing on the fears of citizens whose instinctive feelings include distrust and even detestation of foreigners.
One 2017 UK survey showed that ‘56 per cent of people felt local culture was threatened by ethnic minorities’ and another that ‘When split by opinion in the EU referendum, 34 per cent of Leave voters admitted holding racist attitudes compared to 18 per cent of Remain voters, and similar proportions were seen in Conservative and Labor supporters respectively.’ In 2019 a University of Manchester study found that ‘over 70 per cent of ethnic minority workers [said] they have experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years, and around 60 per cent [said] they have been subjected to unfair treatment by their employer because of their race.’
On the other hand, there are many sectors of the British economy in which foreign nationals are not harassed — because they own them. Hundreds of enterprises in Britain have been taken over by foreigners, but neither Gove nor Johnson, these Britain-first patriots, have said a word about how they would ‘take control’ of the former jewels in Britain’s commercial crown.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is owned by Germany’s BMW group, Jaguar Landrover by India’s Tata, and British Steel by Greybull Capital which was set up ‘by Marc and Nathaniel Meyohas, the sons of a French corporate lawyer.’ Take Control, anyone?
The UK’s largest airport, Heathrow, which has the most passenger traffic in Europe, is owned by an international consortium headed by Spain’s Ferrovial Group, and a 2018 analysis revealed that Britain’s major public utilities — energy, railways and water — ‘are all to a significant degree foreign owned and have been exceptionally poorly managed, while at the same time making large distributions of dividends to their owners.’ Ancient businesses such as the iconic toyshop, Hamleys (1760), Boots Chemists (1849), and Cadbury Chocolate (1831) are now owned by foreign firms whose tax payments to Britain are derisory. (For example, Mondelez, the owner of Cadbury ‘paid no corporation tax in Britain last year, despite reporting profit of more than £185 million.’)
It is ridiculous for ‘Vote Leave’ to claim ‘We’ve lost control of trade’ because of European Union rules and regulations. Britain has lost control of trade because governments have encouraged sinister foreign moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, a major Brexit propagandist and owner of The Times newspaper, to plunder Britain’s economy and influence its politics to an unsettling degree. The owners of the stridently pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph, the weird Barclay brothers, live in Monaco and the Channel Islands, which are not part of the United Kingdom, and don’t divulge their tax affairs. The equally shrill ant-Brexit organ, the Daily Mail is owned by the patriotic Lord Rothermere who, as reported in Private Eye, is a ‘non-dom’, which describes those who wangle offshore residence in order to avoid paying UK tax.
Britain has been split apart by the campaign to leave Europe, and the Brexit fanatics destroyed Prime Minister Theresa May who, no matter what one might think of her politics, tried her conscientious best to achieve some sort of deal with the EU. But there was no chance of that outcome, with such as Gove and Johnson desperate to get her job.
Johnson began his career as a journalist and was sacked by The Times newspaper for fabricating a quotation to back up a story. Then in 2004 he told an outrageous lie concerning his sex life. He has the morals of a downmarket alley cat, and had denied reports that ‘the mother of his alleged mistress, Petronella Wyatt, said her daughter had become pregnant by him and had an abortion last month. Johnson, who is married with four children, had categorically dismissed the allegations… as an ‘inverted pyramid of piffle’ — and, crucially, had assured Tory leader Michael Howard they were untrue.’ But they were true, and when he could no longer deny the truth he had to resign, but carried on up the political ladder, in spite of his glaring moral defects.
As noted by Foreign Policy, when President Obama said he thought Brexit was unwise, Johnson ‘dismissed the US president’s position as an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” derived from being “part-Kenyan”.’ He then declared that voting for the Conservative Party ‘will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW.’ Apparently he thought this was terribly funny, and given his attitude to Obama and female breasts it isn’t surprising Trump told the media he thinks Johnson is ‘a very good guy, a very talented person… I think Boris would do a very good job [as prime minister]. I think he would be excellent.’
Johnson’s main opponent in the leadership race, and former ally, Michael Gove, hasn’t arranged any abortions or insulted presidents or indulged in crass jokes. He has confined his dubious activities to ripping off British taxpayers.
Ten years ago the UK’s Daily Telegraph conducted an inquiry into the outrageous expenses claims made by British members of Parliament, and it’s rattling good reading. One of the main cheaters identified was Michael Gove (net worth three million pounds) who, among other things, spent many thousands of pound of taxpayer’s money when he ‘furnished his house in [an up-market London suburb]… [buying] a £331 Chinon armchair as well as a Manchu cabinet for £493 and a pair of elephant lamps for £134.0. He also claimed for a £750 Loire table — although the Commons’ authorities only allowed him to claim £600 — a birch Camargue chair worth £432 and a birdcage coffee table for £238.50.’ When he was found to have fiddled his expenses claims he paid back £7000, but nothing could be done about retrieving the cash he made by moving house when he ‘submitted a £13,259 bill for the cost of the move, including his local authority searches, fees and stamp duty. In between the house moves, he stayed [in a hotel], charging the taxpayer more than £500 for a single night’s stay.’
Johnson and Gove are Britain’s main contenders to become Britain’s prime minister. One is a lying libertine, a lecherous adulterer who has sneered at coloured people (‘piccaninnies’), and the other is a cheap trickster who has all the charm, attraction and talent of a sock full of wet spaghetti.
Britain’s crisis will continue, and if either of these twerps succeeds in becoming prime minister its downhill plunge, socially and economically, will gather speed.
Counterpunch.org, June 7. Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
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