The realities of Brexit are beginning to crystallize. Amongst the casualties are EU safety standards around food; devolution in Northern Ireland; the Good Friday Agreement and a new war on “socialism” which looks to be a front for an intelligence war on ‘domestic subversion’. Brexit is essentially an attack on democracy on three fronts.
On food standards and regulations there’s a feeding frenzy of right-wing think-tanks queuing up to divvy-up your rights to good (or at least nominally safe) food. As the dearth of foreign workers leaves crops rotting in the ground the glee with which policy makers are eyeing up the potential profits of a free trade agreement is undeniable. Politically, for both the Trump administration and Theresa May’s beleaguered government this would be a rabbit out of the hat moment, a vindication of the Global Britain rhetoric for May and a clarion of American Means Business for Trump.
Unearthed have revealed the reality of the Anglo-American trade deal after a transatlantic network of conservative think tanks accidentally published its secret plans to influence US-UK trade negotiations.
They declare: “Documents outline plans to form an “unprecedented” coalition of hard-Brexit and libertarian think tanks, which will call for Britain to ditch strict EU safety standards – including rules on food and pharmaceuticals – in order to secure a sweeping US-UK trade deal.
The group will hold “shadow trade talks” in Washington and London to “hash out an ‘ideal’ US-UK free trade agreement (FTA).” It hopes this will form the “blueprint” for the real negotiations between the British and US governments.
The project plan – which was discovered by Unearthed – claimed the talks would be attended by an official from Fox’s Department for International Trade (DIT), with the aim of making sure the department feels “ownership” of the process. Trade secretary, Liam Fox, has previously told the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) – which is organising the talks – that his department is “a very, very willing partner in your great and wonderful quest.”
The plans have been removed from the Initiative for Free Trade website but Unearthed have published them here.
The plans would doubtless have consequences for Scotland’s fragile GM-free status.
“The IFT argues that, by recognising some US standards and dropping some restrictions on the import of US agricultural products, the UK can pivot away from the EU’s precautionary principle, saving consumers money through cheaper food imports.
It says a shift away from the EU’s approach would mean that “US exporters of agricultural produce – beef, for instance – would have a brand new market to sell to”. Imports of US beef are currently restricted by the EU because of a widespread use of growth hormones that the European Commission deems unsafe.”
We can now see the corporate vultures circling around the carcass of Brexit Britain.
If chlorinated chicken and other wonders await a deregulated food industry – remember that’s one that’s already served you up Horse – then the second attack on democracy that springs directly from Brexit is the collapse of devolved institutions.
“CURRY my yoghurt can coca coalyer” is the phrase uttered by a DUP MP in 2014, making fun of the Irish language phrase for “thank you Mr Speaker”.
It’s the thin end of the wedge of casual anti-Irish, anti-Gaelic bigotry that forms a good part of Unionist culture.
If you bristle at having to see a gaelic road signs or shudder when Bella or the National publishes in Scots, you’ll maybe take cheer that it’s this bigotry that has collapsed devolution in Northern Ireland.
The settlement has peeled apart on the altar of a fragile Britishness and a DUP leader who seems to prefer direct rule from London to language equality under the law.
As Iain Macwhirter at the Herald explains:
“For many in the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, being part of the EU meant that, to all intents and purposes, Ireland had been reunified. There was no border to worry about. Free movement was guaranteed. Joint membership of the European single market meant that the economies of the North and the South were becoming indistinguishable. The Irish question became an issue of culture and identity rather than nationhood and citizenship. Irish republicanism faded away, and loyalists, with their antique sectarian passions, lost the patience of their own people. The DUP and Sinn Fein entered government together. Brexit has blown this out of the water.
Nationalists now face the possibility of a hard border reappearing, losing their joint citizenship and the EU guarantees of their civil rights. The Protestant DUP has revived fears that Ulster will be incorporated by stealth. The Republic has secured a guarantee from the EU that there will be no hard border and there seems no obvious way of doing this without keeping the North in the single market. The idea of full regulatory alignment implies that the North will be in a different relationship to the EU than the rest of the UK. This could mean that the North ceases to be “as much a part of the UK as Finchley”, as Margaret Thatcher used to describe the constitutional relationship of Ulster to Britain. Direct rule is an attempt to forestall this.”
The British establishment are desperate and lashing out.
“From their attacks on the Good Friday Agreement to their spy smears against Corbyn, the Tory right are burning the bridges of bipartisanship within the parliamentary system. If they lose the next election, in addition to splitting, it is highly likely that the Tory right will attempt to portray a Labour government or Labour-led coalition as unconstitutional, and encourage extrajudicial action to undermine it. Its opening weeks would be met with constant destabilisation tactics by the press – the same kind of unsubstantiated stories as now but on steroids.”
These issues are joined, of course by the narrative about Corbyn being an IRA sympathiser and by the story the Tories are telling themselves and their tabloid readers about Britain.
Daniel Hannan tweets:
“1. Corbyn will side with any cause, however monstrous, provided it is anti-West 2. The Good Friday Agreement has failed 3. Don’t fall for the romantic myth of Jacobitism.”
But as Siobhan Fenton points out:
“Hannan’s argument is based on the factual inaccuracies that – the Good Friday Agreement was a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin – the DUP and Sinn Féin governed Northern Ireland from 1998 until now. The Good Friday Agreement was primarily the work of the SDLP and UUP- not hardliners at all but the moderate parties. The DUP opposed the GFA and walked out of talks, Sinn Féin were excluded from most of the negotiations due to ongoing IRA activity.”
But complete ignorance of Irish politics or culture is a source of pride for many Brexiteers who are using the crisis as a means to drive their own ideological agenda.
But is not just the High Tory Brexiteers that are operating to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
Labour’s Leave-backing Kate Hoey said today:
“I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement.
“Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.
The Belfast agreement has been changed slightly over the years with the St Andrew’s agreement. We need to face reality – Sinn Fein don’t particularly want a successful Northern Ireland. They want a united Ireland.”
This isn’t exactly a revelation but where is she going with this? Sinn Fein, more than most have changed and accommodated more than most.
Peter Hain responded angrily saying:
“The reckless slurs of Brextremists like Daniel Hannan, Owen Paterson and Kate Hoey against the Good Friday Agreement show they are willing to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit.
“Rather than engage with the inherent contradictions in their position of maintaining an open border in Ireland whilst also leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, fanatics like Hannan, Paterson and Hoey instead say we should tear up the agreement underpinning peace in Northern Ireland, just so they can have their way on Brexit.”
It’s difficult to see what possible point any of this has.
While ordinary people in Northern Ireland have benefited from peace from the Good Friday Agreement and that is under serious threat, it’s unclear how the wreckers reconcile – or benefit from their own madness. Whilst smearing the opposition leader or collapsing food regulations makes sense for political expediency or profiteering the policies towards Ireland seem to be just unhinged even in the world of the already crazy ideologue.