Andrew Adonis and Will Hutton’s tour de force makes the case for junking Brexit in order to deal with the problems that created it, finds Richard Angell
‘Per capita’, asserts Andrew Adonis and Will Hutton in their new book together, ‘incomes [would be] 24 per cent lower’ had the United Kingdom not been a member of the European Union (and its predecessors) for the last 40 years. Regardless, the authors hear the ‘cry of anger and despair’ from many who voted ‘Leave’ and seek to ‘appeal to the better angels and sinews of the English … who are not isolationist, xenophobic and selfish’. Unapologetically they ‘make the case for stakeholder capitalism’ and are damning about why New Labour failed to take it up in office. They argue ‘that [because] the opportunity was passed up does not make it any less urgent today’.
The book is a tour de force on why we find ourselves heading towards the catastrophe that is Brexit. They ably describe the ‘shit life syndrome’ that sees people in areas like Blackpool five times more likely to be on antidepressants and eight time more likely to suffer from liver disease. They conclude that ‘self-respect demands that they register their dissent’ for the status quo when the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership the EU comes about.
They document the rise of ‘Faragism’ – defined as ‘Thatcherism in one country’ – and spreading ‘Europhobia’ in the Tory party. Theresa May, they observe, may be prime minister, but Nigel Farage is leader of the Conservative party.
But in the latter chapters – the manifesto – there is both passion and a strong case made for junking Brexit to focus on the underlying reasons for it. Training, active regional policy, government investment and identity cards all feature.
I would suggest two shortcomings.
One, they highlight the ‘Brussels effect’ – that as the most robust ‘global standards setter’ the EU capital is ‘creating a dynamic of excellence’ as companies ‘choose to be EU-compliant because that will make them naturally compliant with laxer [United States, China and elsewhere] regulation’ – but do not demolish the idea an independent future is available to the UK. Just being surrounded by EU and European Economic Area countries means we are going to be passive recipients to regulations. It is Brexit that renders Britain a ‘vassal state’. The only alternatives are as full members of EU, in the EEA with ‘consultation rights’ or a bespoke EEA-type deal that looks more fanciful by the day.
Two, that its take on immigration is juxtaposed. It highlights the £15bn net contribution of Poles in the UK since 2004 but lays bare its criticisms of Tony Blair’s government for not implementing transition controls on EU-accession countries in the mid-noughties. They acknowledge the poisonous immigration debate and argue that ‘the immigration system lacks credible border controls because the government simply does not know who is in the country’. Regrettably, they dedicate just two of their two-hundred pages to pretty common-sense reforms to free movement all possible as members of the EU – and argued for in Progress’ March edition.
Even more than being a powerful case for why Brexit addresses the wrong problems, Adonis and Hutton demolish the case for Lexit – a so called leftwing exit. It is a must read for anyone who wants to fight austerity and the global – dare I say, neoliberal – race to the bottom.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell
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