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Salzburg Brexit summit – no more Mr Nice Guy

John Wight
John Wight
has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
Salzburg Brexit summit – no more Mr Nice Guy
Shakespeare in his pomp could not have woven a plot with the intrigue of Brexit.

In fact, more than intrigue, so tortuous and agonizing have negotiations between London and Brussels been it’s a fair bet that if Jesus Christ himself had been asked to come down off the cross to help resolve matters, he would have lasted about as long as it took to clamber back to the relative sanctuary and sanity of Calvary.

But now, after Theresa May’s failed attempt to persuade her counterparts at the Salzburg summit of the EU27 to support her so-called Chequers plan on the terms of the UK’s departure, the fog of obfuscation has lifted to reveal that the choice facing the UK could not be simpler. For the UK it is either a hard Brexit, involving a complete break with the EU, or no Brexit at all.

Between those diametrically opposite positions lies a spaghetti soup of issues that have proved impossible to untangle in round after round of negotiations, as the clock counts inexorably down towards the date of the UK’s formal exit from the EU on 29 March 2019.

Emerging as the EU's most recalcitrant opponent of budging an inch when it comes to Brexit is French President Emmanuel Macron – to all intents Tony Blair's successor as the epitome of the confected liberal whose every utterance should come with a public health warning attached. Like the French artillery at Waterloo, Macron has waded into the issue with such vituperation it will only have succeeded in comforting supporters of Brexit that their decision to vote to leave in 2016 was the right one.

At the close of the summit, Macron enunciated thus: "We all agreed on this today, the proposals [of Theresa May] in their current state are not acceptable, especially on the economic side of it. The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it."

Not satisfied with that he went further, urging his fellow EU heads of state to stick together and remain united when it comes to ensuring that the integrity of the bloc remains paramount, while also proclaiming that "Brexit shows us one thing: it's not that easy to exit the European Union, it's not without cost, it's not without consequences.''

In just this one sentence the French President revealed that when it comes to Brexit the emphasis of the EU must be to punish Britain for daring to exit, rather than attempt to arrive at a compromise agreement that squares the circle of respecting the result of the 2016 referendum, in which a slim majority of four per cent voted to Brexit, while ensuring Britain's departure is effected in such a way that economic and trade relations between both parties continue with the minimum of disruption.

Macron, it is clear, believes that if Britain's exit is allowed to proceed with little by way of cost, it will set a precedent that other EU member states may well decide to follow, at a time when the economic bloc has never appeared less stable or solid.

The French leader has good reason to believe this. Centrifugal forces across the EU have attracted unprecedented support in recent years. Moreover, the fact that said anti-EU centrifugal forces are dominated by anti-immigration right wing parties –reflected in the election of Viktor Orban as Prime Minister of Hungary and the rise to prominence in Italy of the League Party as part of a coalition government– throws up worrying comparisons with the 1930s, the last time Europe was so divided.

And yet Macron and his liberal fellow travellers have only themselves to blame for the ills that have befallen the EU. How can it be otherwise when the neoliberal economic model they hold so dear, and the very foundation upon which the bloc rests, has had such a corrosive impact on the lives of millions across Europe.

This impact is measured in more and more downward pressure on incomes, inflation, insecure employment, the spread of unemployment, and a lack of prospects for young people, thus murdering hope.

In truth, the entire premise of this neoliberal EU crashed on the rocks of the 2008 global economic crisis and resulting recession. Even worse, the dire consequences of such have been exacerbated by austerity, rolled out across the bloc in response in what has been tantamount to a mass experiment in human despair.

A race to the bottom for ordinary working people is the grim reality that has been wrought, forced as they have been to compete for ever more scarce crumbs from the neoliberal table with workers from other countries.

This has produced a concomitant rise in anti-migrant hostility and xenophobia, benefiting the fortunes of the anti-migrant right, previously mentioned. Add to the mix the worst and most far-reaching refugee crisis Europe has had to deal with since the Second World War, which in its magnitude stands as an indictment of the wreckage sown by a hegemonic foreign policy of regime change wars without end, and what's not to love about the EU?

Meanwhile, in London, Brexit has thrown up more problems than solutions, evidenced by a seemingly intractable imbroglio concerning the status of the Irish border, along with the strong possibility of another referendum on Scottish independence looming over the horizon, fuelled by the fact that 62 per cent of people in Scotland who cast a vote in the 2016 referendum on Britain's membership of the EU did so on the side of remain.

Bringing things down to brass tacks, it is only when people not only in Britain but also throughout Europe are provided with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the future of neoliberalism that fundamental change to the lives of ordinary people will be on the table.

Because whether under the flag of the EU or the British Union Jack, this anti-people economic model, so beloved by the financial industry, global corporations, and their political and mainstream media cohort, is the real monster than needs to slayed.

In the meantime, after Salzburg Theresa May's ability to hang on as prime minister now comes at the price of legitimacy. Indeed, it is only the British establishment's dread at the prospect of a Corbyn government that has allowed her to do so up until now.

Speaking of which, with Jeremy Corbyn lies the hope and prospect of the very break with neoliberalism that gets to the heart of the matter. Thus the next UK general election, which cannot now come soon enough, will carry with it historic import of a rare sort.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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