Saving Britain, Will Hutton, Brexit Analysis

On Brexit, a major gripe of mine is the wasted brain power trying to resolve Brexit rather than concentrating on long term challenges such as health, social security, under-funded judiciary and R&D development, to name a few. I don’t have any Brexit solutions.  

But, Will Hutton and Andrew Adonis do have some possible solutions and an insightful analysis of the causes and situation in their recent book: Saving Britain (Amazon link here). In my reading, they come from a classic social democratic lens (which sits centre left) but with fresh thoughts from “stakeholder capitalism” which is a sustainable or purposeful capitalism (see work of the Purposeful Company which I have fed in to and is referenced in the book). 


Whether you sit left/right (and you could take this neutral political compass quiz to find out your position) or brexit/remain the analysis into the causes makes provoking reading and the possible future solutions are a different cry for change than you’re likely reading in the mainstream press.


From the Introduction:


“Brexit voters were right. The status quo is insupportable. But the solution is not to leave the European Union. Our problems are made in Britain; they can only be solved in Britain. Europe does not impede this mission; it is indispensable. We need to transform the way our country works. We need a new deal for a European Britain –more and better jobs, greater equality, high-quality public services, people of all backgrounds and localities treated with respect, given the opportunity and the power to thrive.


To rupture our trade and our place in the world chasing economic moonbeams, to cower behind borders that shut out our continent and to seek to resurrect an unachievable island sovereignty –together, this is a dead end that can only result in widespread suffering. Brexiters dodge these truths.


Intent on creating ‘Thatcherism in one country’, they want us out of the EU at any cost. While feigning concern for the state of Britain, their real agenda, in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, is a small and feeble state, the imposition of austerity and unregulated markets. They want out of Europe because it stands in their way. Two years after the referendum, the Brexiters’ ‘have cake and eat it’ fantasies have evaporated. There is no Brexit dividend, rather the prospect of dismal economic growth and tax rises. The extra £ 350 million a week allegedly available for the NHS turns out not to exist once we have settled an exit bill of £ 39 billion and rising. Virtually no one still claims that we can retain the economic benefits of EU membership while leaving the European customs union and single market.


In a moment of truth, Theresa May conceded in March 2018 that the UK will have ‘less market access’ on leaving the EU –the first time in memory that a prime minister has made a reduction in British trade an avowed object of government policy. The prospect of ‘quick and simple’ trade deals outside the EU is now recognised as delusory, particularly with Trump’s America and Xi’s China; and the public is learning that the EU already has trade deals with more than sixty other countries, including Canada, Japan and South Korea –all in jeopardy on Brexit day. The global EU is the citadel of international free trade.


Brexiters were gleeful in the first months after the referendum that the economy appeared to be holding up, but Brexit was then way off. It was not even clear if it would ultimately happen. Two years on, with a firm Brexit date only months away, the economy is undermined. Growth has stalled and bad news intensifies. Inward investment into the UK has slumped £ 132 billion in the last year. Huge activity is being offshored. Britain is excluding itself from the Galileo European space project, damaging hopes to build a £ 40 billion space industry in the UK. The end of the EU Open Skies deal with the US is similarly grim for British airlines. The car industry fears its integration with European supply chains –critical to its success –is about to be severed. This story is repeated business sector by business sector. Britain has experienced currency, banking and fiscal crises since the war. Brexit, representing a crisis in our trading relationships and core growth model, is the gravest yet.


Still in the balance is an important debate about immigration, whose impact, along with austerity, was decisive in the Leave vote. Controlling immigrant inflows turns out to be more complex and difficult than many believed or asserted, given the scale of non-EU migration, the rights of more than a million British citizens who live in other EU countries and the economic needs of the country. Britain has done much better in integrating newcomers than Farage and the fear-mongers claim. Equally worrying is the Brexit threat to European solidarity and democracy on which British security crucially depends.


Europe is quivering before the rise of the populist right and an arc of ultra-nationalists extending from Serbia through Hungary and Poland to Putin’s proto-fascist Russia. Democracy and the Enlightenment values that support it are in retreat. In the heart of Europe the rule of law is threatened by gangsterism and dangerous nationalist populism in the service of ‘strong man’ leaders. It was Churchill who said that Europe was where the weather comes from –and the winds have not changed. Our vibrant links with Europe, to look out for each other in security and defence, to trade, to work, to travel, to do science and culture together, and so much else, are to be cut in return for isolation.


At the same time we are courting new risks in Europe and at home. A hard border in Ireland is both dangerous and imminent. We are set to become a much diminished country. We are about to walk small.


This book, published only months before Britain is set to leave the EU in March 2019, aims to persuade fatalistic Remainers, and those Leave voters growing more and more uneasy, that there is a far better prospectus. Instead we can and should change Britain, and recommit to the EU. The Brexit referendum was above all a clarion call from left-behind Britain that it will no longer tolerate being ignored and neglected.


There needs to be a comprehensive response, and this book offers one. Many of those who voted Leave feel –rightly –that life in contemporary Britain is needlessly bleak, with too little chance of breaking out into anything better. They can see that the social contract is broken. Economic vitality in their local neighbourhoods is draining away.


There is too little to be proud of and too much to be worried about. Politicians in Westminster are distant; people feel trapped and discarded. The lie at the heart of Brexit is that this downward spiral can be stopped by leaving Europe. The answer lies rather in bold reform at home. Far from entrenching the Thatcherite revolution, with its permanent underclass and raging inequality, we must instead reverse it. Simultaneously we must adopt a thoroughly internationalist position abroad, one that protects our national interest and embraces our European destiny. Britain should lead, not leave; we should make, not break.


We start with an assessment of Brexit Britain: why it voted as it did, the conversion of the Conservative Party to an extreme mutation of Thatcherism –‘Faragism’ –and the underlying truth that Brexit means domination of England by a self-serving ‘wealth’ elite and domination by England of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. It means handing the country over to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, themselves exempt from the risks they propagate. Shakespeare, Churchill, Newton, Keynes, Wollstonecraft, Darwin, Fawcett –animators of modern England –were all profoundly European in creed and ambition. The idea that we can be European while deserting Europe’s institutions is fatuous; they are its practical embodiment. The alternative is isolation.


When in 1938 Churchill rejected Chamberlain’s misguided claim that the threat to Czechoslovakia, about to be subjugated by Hitler, was ‘a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing’, he spoke as powerfully against Brexit isolationism today as against the mistakes that paved the way for the Second World War. Our interdependencies are even greater today. This book presents a vision of a European Britain which is the polar opposite of the Brexit dystopia. Facts and figures take us only so far.


We appeal to the better angels and sinews of the English –a nation largely descended from European immigrants, including the Huguenot Farages –who are not isolationist, xenophobic and selfish. Our civilisation has been built on our capacity to assimilate and integrate other ideas, cultures and peoples. We must never stop. At its best Britain is self-confident and open: relaxed, for example, that the top managers in the Premiership are all continental Europeans. Spaniard Rafa Benítez, when manager of Liverpool, was as passionate a campaigner for justice for the victims of Hillsborough as any Liverpudlian.


The enthusiastic young audience at the Last Night of the Proms –a joyful celebration of European music –wave both the Union Jack and the EU flag. The quintessentially English composer Sir Edward Elgar dedicated the ‘Nimrod’ variation, played every Remembrance Sunday, to a German friend and mentor. Most of us are English, British and European. We want to welcome Europeans here, just as they welcome us in their countries. Never in modern Britain has there been so much passionate Europeanism as since the Brexit referendum.


The threat of losing Europe suddenly makes it valuable and urgent. In the European Union we make common cause in defence of values rooted in Christianity, democracy and geography. We want to share a continent where Europeans don’t fight each other, don’t prevent trade and travel, and where we allow our young men and women to live and work wherever they like. That’s why there is a single market and a customs union. It’s why there is a European Council, Commission, Parliament and Court, all freely established and supported by the elected parliaments of Europe. Europe is better for them. These achievements have not been driven solely by an economic calculus: from the start they belonged to a bigger, nobler cause of representing European civilisation and values. This is why any form of Brexit is a mistake, including a so-called soft Brexit in which we struggle to retain a kind of association with Europe.


It is a profound error to seek to leave Europe’s free institutions. Never has Europe been so peaceful, democratic and prosperous as in the era of the European Union. Britain has been a huge beneficiary and made a huge contribution. We should not withdraw –now or ever. We present a manifesto for a European Britain. It is critically important to end today’s laissez-faire, sink-or-swim approach to economics and society, and instead to populate our hijacked capitalism with repurposed companies and employers which serve, not oppress, the people.


We make the case for stakeholder capitalism. This should have been the agenda of New Labour; that the opportunity was passed up does not make it any less urgent today. New technology, especially the power of the internet and artificial intelligence, needs to be mobilised for the public good, while great institutions that serve the mass of people –like trade unions and building societies –must be reinvented for our time.


A new social contract should underwrite risk and opportunity, supported by a new willingness to invest public money where so desperately needed and to raise the necessary taxes fairly. Part of this social contract should be a far stronger notion of citizenship, including a national identity card system to assure citizens that we know exactly who is here and what they are entitled to.


Today’s huge digital companies –Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple –should be made to serve the public good. We propose a Great Charter for Modern Britain, a new Magna Carta eight hundred years after the founding document of English liberty, the first clause of which would hand power from Westminster to the cities, towns and counties of England. The second clause would create a genuine federation of the United Kingdom, including a Senate to replace the House of Lords, located in the North of England, as champion of the rights and interests of the nations, cities and localities of the United Kingdom. The Great Charter should be promulgated by the Queen in Parliament on 29 March 2019, the day the Brexiters intend to wrench Britain out of Europe. A Constitutional Convention should meet in the summer of 2019, perhaps in York, where Parliament met frequently after Magna Carta, to turn the Charter into a fully fledged written constitution, embodying radical devolution in England, an extension of the vote to sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds, and the social and economic rights which the British people have for too long been denied. Both authors are proud British Europeans. Will learned that there is no Britain without Europe through his father, Captain William Hutton, who landed in Normandy on D-Day plus 2.


Will writes: “After the battle of Caen, Dad was briefly asked to oversee hundreds of German prisoners of war. He told me that he looked at these young men, whose bravery in holding the city for some weeks against overwhelming odds he respected and who seemed indistinguishable from the young men he commanded –but caught up like his men in terrible events. He felt lucky that the accident of birth had meant he was not on the other side of the wire, and promised himself that he would do whatever necessary to prevent another European war. We Europeans shared common values, he insisted, embodied in the EU flag. On holidays in Europe throughout my childhood, if he met a German of the same age with a family he went out of his way to shake his hand in friendship –and my mother, brother and I followed his lead. He lived and died a British European.”


Andrew is the son of Nicos Adonis, a Greek Cypriot who, in 1959, aged eighteen, travelled to London with his brothers and sisters, by boat and train via Venice, in search of a better life, escaping from the brutal war of independence with Britain then raging in Cyprus.


Andrew writes: “My dad settled in London and had children while most of his siblings went back to Cyprus, only for them to return suddenly as refugees in 1974 after the Turkish invasion. Cyprus is still divided and Famagusta, where the Adonis family comes from, is still occupied by Turkey. For my family, England has been a refuge, a lifeline and –when not engaged in imperial atrocities –an inspiration. We are proud Londoners too. A European Union that Cyprus and Britain forge together is a pioneer of peace, prosperity and freedom.”


Time is short. Since the referendum there has been an air of unreality. Is Britain really going to make itself meaner, smaller and poorer? The stuff of democracy is continual debate and discussion. It cannot be closed down. The people have the right to change Britain and stop Brexit. We urge just that.


Have a read of what they make of a new manifesto – link to book on Amazon.  You can also read a long extract in the Observer here, which looks at some of the arguments given above in more detail.  Here a positive progressive review by Richard Angell with two criticisms.  

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