IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Topic: Anglosphere

Sea-Changes in World Power

📥  Anglosphere, defence, International relations, Trump

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt sent the US Navy battle fleet – the “Great White Fleet” of 16 battleships – on a symbolic tour of the Pacific. It was an awesome demonstration of the USA’s new naval power and an announcement to the world of its claims to dominion over the Pacific. The fleet was feted everywhere it went, but particularly so in Australia and New Zealand, where it was welcomed as the “kith and kin of the Anglo-Saxon race” bringing “a grateful sense of security to the white man in his antipodean isolation.” Japan was a rising military power. It had annihilated the Russian fleet in 1905. Racist attitudes towards Japanese migrant workers were running high in the USA and Australasia. “Stars and Stripes, if you please/Protect us from the Japanese”, wrote a New Zealand correspondent.

whitefleetfinal

 

Roosevelt saw the fleet’s tour in similar terms. He was resolved to treat the Japanese government with courtesy and respect. But he wanted to assert the importance of keeping the world’s “races” apart, particularly when it came to migration into California, and he inflected his Social Darwinist arguments with a class populism: “we have got to protect our working men”, he was reported to have argued. “We have got to build up our western country with our white civilization, and…we must retain the power to say who shall and who shall not come to our country. Now it may be that Japan will adopt a different attitude, will demand that her people be permitted to go where they think fit, so I thought it wise to send that fleet around to the Pacific to be ready to maintain our rights”[1].

Roosevelt was heavily influenced by the naval strategist Admiral Alfred Mahan, whose books on the importance of sea power and naval strength were key military texts in the late 19th and early 20th century, read and absorbed not just by US foreign and defence policymakers, but by their counterparts in the capitals of all the leading world powers – including Great Britain, whose naval prowess he much admired. He was also highly influential on Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who devoured Mahan’s books as a young man and was a lifelong navy enthusiast, serving as Assistant Secretary for the Navy in Wilson’s administration. As President, FDR would massively expand the US Navy. Spending on the navy – a sort of naval Keynesianism – gave renewed impetus to the New Deal in the late 1930s.

Donald Trump’s speech at the Newport News shipyard, which builds ships for the US Navy, and his pledge to expand the fleet to 350 ships, therefore stands in a clearly defined lineage. It heralds a renewed commitment to assert the naval primacy of the USA and significantly boost military spending. On its own, that might be lifted straight out of the recent Republican playbook – particularly in concert with tax cuts for the wealthy. But Trump’s economic nationalism and his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric also trace a line back to fin-de-siècle Anglo-Saxonist political discourse. His rhetoric symbolically connects the projection of economic and military power to the fortunes of the American working class, particularly the white working class – Teddy Roosevelt shorn of the progressivism and diplomatic tact.

This time, of course, the main antagonist is China, not Japan. China’s navy has been expanding rapidly under Xi Jinping’s leadership. It has commissioned new missile carriers, frigates, conventional and nuclear submarines, and amphibious assault ships. A close ally of Xi’s, Shen Jinlong, has recently been appointed its commander. It has moved from defensive coastal operations to long-range engagements around the world. It will serve to underpin China’s assertion of supremacy in the South China Sea and the projection of its power further afield – towards the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and the Maritime Silk Road routes.

The respective strength and reach of national navies can mark out wider shifts in geo-political power. It was at the Washington Conference in 1921 that the USA finally brought the Royal Navy to heel, insisting on parity in capital ships, and setting the seal on the end of the British Empire’s global maritime supremacy. “Never before had an empire of Britain’s stature so explicitly and consciously conceded superiority in such a crucial dimension of global power,” wrote Adam Tooze of this capitulation. It would take until the late 1960s, when Britain finally abandoned its bases East of Suez, for the process of imperial contraction to be complete (a decision that the current Foreign Secretary laments and risibly promises to reverse).

With tension rising in the South China Sea, war and rival power conflict in the Middle East and the Gulf region, and the prospect of a scramble for power over the sea lanes of the melting ice caps of the North West Passage, this new era of naval superpower rivalry echoes the Edwardian world. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s self-declared economic nationalist adviser, believes it will end the same way: in war. It is up to the rest of the world to prove him wrong.

 

 

[1] For this quotation and other source material, see Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line, Cambridge: CUP (2008), Chapter 8 pp 190 - 209

 

The empire strikes back: How the Brexit vote has reopened deep wounds of empire and belonging, and challenged the future of the United Kingdom

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit

This piece originally appeared in New Statesman

Joseph Chamberlain, it has been widely remarked, serves as an inspiration for Theresa May’s premiership. The great municipal reformer and champion of imperial protectionism bestrode the politics of late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. He was a social reformer, a keen ­unionist and an advocate for the industrial as well as the national interest – all values espoused by the Prime Minister.

shutterstock_534162682 [Converted]

 

Less noticed, however, is that May’s excavation of Chamberlain’s legacy is a symptom of two larger historical dynamics that have been exposed by the vote for Brexit. The first is the reopening on the British body politic of deep wounds of race, citizenship and belonging, issues that home rule for Ireland, and then the end of empire, followed by immigration from the former colonies, made central to British politics during the 20th century. Over the course of the century, the imperial subjects of the queen-empress became British and Irish nationals, citizens of the Commonwealth and finally citizens of a multicultural country in the European Union. The long arc of this history has left scars that do not appear to have healed fully.

The second dynamic is the renewal of patterns of disagreement over free trade and social reform that shaped profound divisions roughly a century ago. Specifically, the rivalry was between a vision of Britain as the free-trade “world island”, supported by the City of London and most of the country’s governing elite, and the protectionist project, or “imperial preference”, articulated by Chamberlain, which sought to bind together the British empire in a new imperial tariff union, laying the foundations for industrial renewal, social progress and national security. The roots of these commitments lay in his career as a self-made businessman and reforming mayor of Birmingham. A leading Liberal politician, Chamberlain broke with his own party over home rule for Ireland and, with a small group of Liberal Unionists, joined Lord Salisbury’s Conservative government of 1895, becoming colonial secretary. He subsequently resigned in 1903 to campaign on the question of imperial preference.

The fault lines in contemporary political economy that Brexit has starkly exposed mimic those first staked out in the early part of the 20th century, which lie at the heart of Chamberlain’s career: industry v finance, London v the nations and regions, intervention v free trade. This time, however, these divides are refracted through the politics of Britain’s relationship with Europe, producing new economic interests and political ­alliances. What’s more, the City now serves the European economy, not just Britain and her former colonies.

Chamberlain is the junction between these two critical dynamics, where race and political economy interweave, because of his advocacy of “Greater Britain” – the late-Victorian idea that the white settler colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa should be joined with the mother country, in ties of “kith-and-kin” solidarity, or more ambitiously in a new imperial federation. Greater Britain owed much to the Anglo-Saxonism of Victorian historians and politicians, and was as much a Liberal as a Conservative idea. Greater Britain was a new way of imagining the English race – a ten-million-strong, worldwide realm dispersed across the “white” colonies. It was a global commonwealth, but emphatically not one composed of rootless cosmopolitans. Deep ties, fostered by trade and migration, held what the historian James Belich calls “the Anglo-world” together. It helped equip the English with an account of their place in the world that would survive at least until the 1956 Suez crisis, and it was plundered again by latter-day Eurosceptics as they developed a vision of the UK as an integral part, not of the EU, but of an “Anglosphere”, the liberal, free-market, parliamentary democracies of the English-speaking world.

Greater Britain carried deep contradictions within itself, however. Because it was associated with notions of racial membership and, more specifically, with Protestantism, it could not readily accommodate divisions within the UK itself. The political realignment triggered by Chamberlain’s split with Gladstone over Irish home rule, which set one of the most enduring and intractable political divides of the era, was symptomatic of this. For Chamberlain, Irish home rule would have entailed Protestant Ireland being dominated by people of “another race and religion”. Unless there could be “home rule all round” and a new imperial parliament, he preferred an alliance with “English gentlemen” in the Tory party to deals with Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of Ireland’s constitutional nationalists.

The failure of Chamberlain’s kith-and-kin federalism, and the long struggle of nationalist Ireland to leave the UK, left a bitter legacy in the form of partition and a border that threatens once again, after Brexit, to disrupt British politics. But it also left less visible marks. On Ireland becoming a republic, its citizens retained rights to travel, settle and vote in the UK. The Ireland Act 1949 that followed hard on the Irish Free State’s exit from the Commonwealth defined Irish citizens as “non-foreign”.

A common travel area between the two countries was maintained, and when immigration legislation restricted rights to enter and reside in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, Irish citizens were almost wholly exempted. By the early 1970s, nearly a million Irish people had taken up their rights to work and settle in the UK – more than all of those who had come to Britain from the Caribbean and south Asia combined. Even after the Republic of Ireland followed the UK into the European common market, its citizens retained rights that were stronger than those given to other European nationals.

In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement went a step further. It recognised the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to hold both British and Irish citizenship. Common EU citizenship north and south of the border made this relatively straightforward. But under a “hard Brexit”, Britain may be asked to treat Irish citizens just like other EU citizens. And so, unless it can secure a bilateral deal with the Republic of Ireland, the UK will be forced to reinvent or annul the common travel area, reintroducing border and customs controls and unstitching this important aspect of its post-imperial, 20th-century settlement. Will Ireland and its people remain “non-foreign”, or is the past now another country?

***

Today’s equivalent of 19th-century Irish nationalism is Scottish national sentiment. Like Gladstone and his successors, Theresa May is faced with the question of how to accommodate the distinct, and politically powerful, aspirations of a constituent nation of the United Kingdom within the unsteady framework associated with the coexistence of parliamentary sovereignty and ongoing devolution. Scotland’s independence referendum bestowed a sovereign power on its people that cannot be set aside in the Brexit negotiations. The demand for a “flexible Brexit” that would allow Scotland to stay in the European single market is also, in practice, a demand for a federal settlement in the UK: a constitutional recognition that Scotland wants a different relationship to the EU from that of England and Wales.

If this is not couched in explicitly federal terms, it takes the unitary nature of the UK to its outer limits. Hard Brexit is, by contrast, a settlement defined in the old Conservative-Unionist terms.

Unionism and federalism both failed as projects in Ireland. Chamberlain and the Conservative Unionists preferred suppression to accommodation, a stance that ended in a war that their heirs ultimately lost.
Similarly, the federal solution of Irish home rule never made it off the parchment of the parliamentary legislation on which it was drafted. The federalist tradition is weak in British politics for various reasons, one of which is the disproportionate size of England within the kingdom. Yet devising a more federal arrangement may now be the only means of holding the UK together. May’s unionism – symbolised by her visit to Edinburgh to meet Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in the first days of her premiership – will be enormously tested by a hard Brexit that cannot accommodate Scottish claims for retention of single-market status or something close to it. Separation, difficult as this may be for the Scottish National Party to secure, may follow.

The idea of Greater Britain also left behind it a complex and contentious politics of citizenship. As colonial secretary at the end for 19th century, Chamberlain faced demands for political equality of the subjects of the crown in the empire; Indians, in particular, were discriminated against in the white settler colonies. He strongly resisted colour codes or bars against any of the queen’s subjects but allowed the settler colonies to adopt educational qualifications for their immigration laws that laid the foundation for the racial discrimination of “White Australia”, as well as Canadian immigration and settlement policies, and later, of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Nonetheless, these inequalities were not formally written into imperial citizenship. The British subject was a national of the empire, which was held together by a common code of citizenship. That unity started to unravel as the colonies became independent. Specifically, a trigger point was reached when, in 1946, the Canadian government legislated to create a new national status, separate and distinct from the common code of imperial citizenship hitherto embodied in the status of the British subject.

The Attlee government responded with the watershed British Nationality Act 1948. This created a new form of citizenship for the UK and the colonies under its direct rule, while conferring the status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen on the peoples of the former countries of empire that had become independent. It was this that has made the act so controversial: as the historian Andrew Roberts has argued, it “gave over 800 million Commonwealth citizens the perfectly legal right to reside in the United Kingdom”.

This criticism of the act echoed through the postwar decades as immigration into the UK from its former empire increased. Yet it is historically misplaced. The right to move to the UK without immigration control had always existed for British subjects; the new law merely codified it. (Indeed, the Empire Windrush, which brought British subjects from the Caribbean to London in June 1948, docked at Tilbury even before the act had received royal assent.)

At the time, ironically, it was for precisely opposite reasons that Conservative critics attacked the legislation. They argued that it splintered the subjects of empire and denied them their rights: “. . . we deprecate any tendency to differentiate between different types of British subjects in the United Kingdom . . . We must maintain our great metropolitan tradition of hospitality to everyone from every part of our empire,” argued Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Tory shadow minister of labour and future home secretary.

As the empire withered away in the postwar period, some Conservatives started to change their minds. Enoch Powell, once a staunch imperialist, came to believe that the idea of the Commonwealth as a political community jeopardised the unity of allegiance to the crown, and so was a sham. The citizens of the Commonwealth truly were “citizens of nowhere”, as Theresa May recently put it. As Powell said of the 1948 act: “It recognised a citizenship to which no nation of even the most shadowy and vestigial character corresponded; and conversely, it still continued not to recognise the nationhood of the United Kingdom.”

Once the British empire was finished, its core Anglo-Saxon populace needed to come back, he believed, to find their national mission again, to what he viewed as their English home – in reality, the unitary state of the UK – rather than pretend that something of imperialism still survived. On England’s soil, they would remake a genuine political community, under the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament. If Greater Britain could not exist as an imperial political community, and the Commonwealth was a fiction, then the kith and kin had to live among themselves, in the nation’s homeland.

Contemporary politicians no longer fuse “race” and citizenship in this way, even if in recent years racist discourses have found their way back into mainstream politics in advanced democracies, Britain included. However, the legacies of exclusivist accounts of nationality persist, and not merely on the populist right. British politics today is dominated by claims about an irreconcilable division between the attitudes and national sentiments of the white working classes, on the one hand, and the cosmopolitanism of metropolitan liberals, on the other.

But thinking and speaking across this artificial divide is imperative in both political and civic terms. Many Remainers have the same uncertainties over identity and political community as commentators have identified with those who supported Brexit; and the forms of patriotism exhibited across the UK are not necessarily incompatible with wider commitments and plural identities. Above all, it is vital to challenge the assumption that a regressive “whiteness” defines the content of political Englishness.

***

Brexit thus forces us once again to confront questions about our citizenship, and the question of who is included in the nation. In an ironic twist of fate, however, it will deprive the least cosmopolitan of us, who do not live in Northern Ireland, or claim Irish descent, or hold existing citizenship of another EU country, of the European citizenship we have hitherto enjoyed. Conversely it also leaves a question mark over the status of EU nationals who live and work in the UK but do not hold British nationality. The government’s failure to give guarantees to these EU nationals that they will be allowed to remain in the UK has become a matter of deep controversy, on both sides of the Brexit divide.

As only England and Wales voted for it, Brexit has also exposed the emergence once again of distinct identities in the constituent nations of the UK. Although Scottish nationalism has been the most politically powerful expression of this trend, Englishness has been growing in salience as a cultural and, increasingly, as a political identity, and an insistent English dimension has become a feature of British politics. Although talk of a mass English nationalism is misplaced – it can scarcely be claimed that nationalism alone explains the complex mix of anxiety and anger, hostility to large-scale immigration and desire for greater self-government that motivated English voters who favoured Brexit – it is clear that identity and belonging now shape and configure political arguments and culture in England.

Yet, with a handful of notable exceptions, the rise in political Englishness is being given expression only on the right, by Eurosceptics and nationalists. The left is significantly inhibited by the dearth of serious attempts to reimagine England and different English futures, whether culturally or democratically.

It is not just the deep politics of the Union and its different peoples that Brexit has revived. The divisions over Britain’s economy that were opened up and positioned during the Edwardian era have also returned to the centre of political debate. Though as yet this is more apparent in her rhetoric than in her practice, Theresa May seems drawn to the project of reviving the Chamberlainite economic and social agendas: using Brexit to underpin arguments for an industrial strategy, a soft economic nationalism and social reform for the “just about managing” classes. She has created a new department responsible for industrial strategy and advocated places for workers on company boards (before watering down this commitment) as well as increased scrutiny of foreign takeovers of British firms. Housing policy is to be refocused away from subsidising home ownership and directed towards building homes and supporting private renters. Fiscal policy has been relaxed, with increased infrastructure investment promised. The coalition that delivered Brexit – made up of struggling working-class voters and middle-class older voters (or the “excluded and the insulated”, as the Tory peer David Willetts puts it) – is seen as the ballast for a new Conservative hegemony.

Presentationally, May’s vision of Brexit Britain’s political economy is more Chamberlainite than Thatcherite, a shift that has been obscured in Brexit-related debates about migration and tariff-free access to the European single market. Her economic utterances are edged with a national, if not nationalist, framing and an economic interventionism more commonly associated with the Heseltinian, pro-European wing of her party. In a calculated move replete with symbolism, she launched her economic prospectus for the Tory leadership in Birmingham, advertising her commitment to the regions and their industries, rather than the City of London and the financial interest.

It is therefore possible that May’s project might turn into an attempt to decouple Conservative Euroscepticism from Thatcherism, creating a new fusion with Tory “One Nation” economic and social traditions. It is this realignment that has left the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, often exposed in recent months, since the Treasury is institutionally hostile both to economic interventionism and to withdrawal from the single market. Hence his recent threat to the European Union that if Britain cannot secure a decent Brexit deal, it will need to become a deregulated, low-tax, Dubai-style “world island” to remain competitive. He cannot envisage another route to economic prosperity outside the European Union.

It also leaves those on the Thatcherite right somewhat uncertain about May. For while she has sanctioned a hard Brexit, in crucial respects she appears to demur from their political economy, hence the discontent over the government’s deal to secure Nissan’s investment in Sunderland. As her Lancaster House speech made clear, she envisages Brexit in terms of economically illiberal goals, such as the restriction of immigration, which she believes can be combined with the achievement of the new free trade deals that are totemic for her party’s Eurosceptics.

In practice, the Prime Minister’s willingness to endorse Hammond’s negotiating bluster about corporate tax cuts and deregulation shows that she is anything but secure in her Chamberlainite orientation towards industrial strategy and social reform. Her policy positions are shot through with the strategic tension between an offshore, “global Britain” tax haven and her rhetoric of a “shared society”, which will be difficult to resolve. May has embraced hard (she prefers “clean”) Brexit, but a transformation of the axes of conservative politics will only take place if she combines Euroscepticism with a return to pre-Thatcherite economic and social traditions. This would make her party into an even more potent political force. The recent shift of the Ukip vote into the Tory bloc and the notable weakening of Labour’s working-class support suggest what might now be possible. This is the domestic politics of Chamberlain’s social imperialism shorn of empire and tariff – only this time with better electoral prospects.

***

There are some big pieces of 20th-century political history missing from this jigsaw, however. In the 1930s, Chamberlain’s son Neville succeeded where his father had failed in introducing a modest version of tariff reform, and trade within the empire rebounded. Britain abandoned the gold standard in 1931 and cheap money revived the national economy. The collectivism of the wartime command economy and the postwar Keynesian settlement followed. New forms of economic strategy, industrial policy and social reform were pioneered, and the Treasury beliefs in limited state intervention, “sound money” and free trade that had defined the first decades of the 20th century were defeated.

This era was brought to an end by the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Her government smashed the industrial pillars and the class compromises that had underpinned the postwar world. The ensuing “New Labour” governments inherited a transformed political economy and, in turn, sought to fuse liberal with collectivist strands in a new settlement for the post-industrial economy. What many now view as the end of the neoliberal consensus is, therefore, better seen as the revival of patterns of thinking that pre-date Thatcherism. This tells us much about the persistent and deep problems of Britain’s open economic model and the continuing, unresolved conflict between finance and parts of industry, as well as London and the regions.

Brexit brings these tensions back to the surface of British politics, because it requires the construction of a completely new national economic and political settlement – one that will be thrashed out between the social classes, the leading sectors of the economy, and the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

Few peacetime prime ministers have confronted the scale and kinds of challenge that Brexit will throw up: holding together the UK, revitalising our industrial base, delivering shared prosperity to working people and renegotiating Britain’s place in Europe and the wider world. This is the most formidable list of challenges. Lesser ones, we should recall, defeated Joe Chamberlain.

Michael Kenny is the inaugural director of the Mile End Institute policy centre, based at Queen Mary University of London

Nick Pearce is professor of public policy at the University of Bath 

 

Brexit Redux

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit

If only Alan Milward were still alive. Our foremost historian of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and author of the first volume of the official history of the United Kingdom and the European Community, would have brought the full force of his intellect and scrupulous scholarship to bear on the prospectus the Prime Minister has set out for the Brexit negotiations.

Why, he asked, did our first attempt to join the EEC fail in 1963, and our national strategy collapse?  “Britain’s weakness in the negotiations did not spring from its tactics”, he wrote in his official history, “but from the direct conflict between its own worldwide strategy, which in the Conservative Party still had powerful adherents, and that of France.  It was not a part of the United Kingdom’s strategy to base its economic or political future on European preferences. France, however, would accept nothing less and the outcome was de Gaulle’s veto.” (Milward, A., The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy 1945-1963, 2020 p483).

shutterstock_534665683

 

That history seems wearily prescient now. Should we learn any lessons from it? Contemporary eurosceptics, whose number must now be taken to include the UK government, would doubtless retort that leaving is not the same as joining: we are not petitioning for entry, but quitting. “No deal is better than a bad deal”, as the Prime Minister put it in her Lancaster House speech. Unfortunately, we have been given to such hubris before and it has not served us well. Britain has now played the key cards in its negotiating hand: to leave the single market and the customs union, and end free movement. It is left with the threat of imposing retaliatory tariffs on incoming EU goods and turning Britain into a corporate tax haven – the United Kingdom offshoring itself into one of its own dependent territories. These do not look like strong bargaining chips, even if they weren’t so patently undesirable in their own terms. And, just as in the early 1960s, we are bringing perspectives to bear that are shrouded in the mists of our national history, not the realities of contemporary European diplomacy.

Britain sought entry to the EEC when it became undeniably clear that our post-war economic performance was vastly inferior to that of the six EEC countries.    Between 1950 and 1960, GDP grew at an annual average of 2.7% in the UK, compared to 7.75% in West Germany, 5.85% in Italy and 4.6% in France. By the early 1960s, productivity levels in West Germany and France overhauled those in the UK, and have remained higher ever since. Unlike continental Europe, the UK did not successfully integrate commercial and industrial policy in the 1950s. It preferred, as Milward put it,  “nebulous rhetoric about global competition”. Thus, “while British diplomats and civil servants, pushed into action by the Bank and the financial interests it represented, argued for a “one world system” in which British industry might well in reality have been at a serious disadvantage compared to its competitors, their European counterparts kept their eyes on the finer details of the relationship between industry and trade. All of them were rewarded by higher rates of growth of productivity in manufacturing than in Britain.” (Milward A, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, 1992, p393).

The post-war regime of fixed exchange rates meant that this loss of economic competitiveness showed up in recurrent balance of payments crises and pressure on sterling reserves. Policymakers were forced to address underlying weaknesses in our economy and direct national resources towards exporting sectors. This drove the change in Britain’s strategy towards the EEC – instead of standing aside, we sought to join the new, burgeoning European market, opening up our manufacturers to the competitive pressures it would bring, as well as to its consumers. The 1960s saw the development of a new industrial strategy to support this economic reorientation. It led to massive investment in our infrastructure, a new regional policy and a huge expansion of further and higher education opportunities.

Today, a floating exchange rate means that sterling bears the weight of adjustment. Our loss of competitiveness is signalled in a weakening pound. It is just that the markets decide its level, not Prime Ministers or Chancellors.  They are absolved from addressing the root causes of our current account deficit, as and until inflation eats deeply into living standards or foreign direct investment dries up. When faced with the prospect of a bad Brexit deal and further relative economic decline, our current Chancellor and Prime Minister argue for tax cuts and deregulation, not industrial strategy, capital investment and stronger public services.

In the early 1960s, it was our failure to resolve our relationship with the Commonwealth, and what entry to the EEC would mean for their critical exports to the UK, that sunk our negotiations. But more than that, what the EEC negotiations forced the UK to confront was the accumulated geopolitical and economic problems of the post-war era; not just our relative economic decline or our trading relationship with the old, “white settler” Anglosphere commonwealth, but the economic development needs of India and Pakistan, the political demands for decolonization in Africa, the status of three European territories (Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus) and the meaning of our Atlantic defence and security relationship after the Suez crisis. As Milward put it, the “cumulative problems of 250 years of British rule” were “all gathered together in one negotiation.” (Rise and Fall p370).

Today that list would read rather differently. But Brexit will still be a prism through which a profound set of national challenges will be refracted. Inter alia, these include: the future of the United Kingdom itself, given Scotland’s vote to stay in the EU and the positions taken by the elected SNP government; Northern Ireland’s relationship to the Republic of Ireland, given our impending departure from the single market and customs union; the balance of economic and social class interests within the economy and political system of the country, and the weight given to the regions and manufacturing vs London and the City; and, most of all, our ability to pay our way in the world, given our longstanding trade deficits. All of this takes place against the radical uncertainty introduced into global politics by the election of Donald Trump. It is a formidable challenge.

Future historians will have to rise to the task of explaining how a marginal political preference that was largely (if not entirely) the preserve of the Eurosceptic right in British politics became the official position of the UK government.  We can be pretty sure that the answers will not be found in the Whitehall archives, as they were for Milward. Brexit has become a deeply political process, inside the Conservative Party, and outside it. Official histories will only tell us half the story. But as the negotiations with the European Union get underway, we would do well to learn from our past.

 

Some thoughts on Article 50 and the High Court Ruling

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit, EU Referendum, Euroscepticism

There can be little doubt that the government lost its case over the exercise of prerogative power to trigger notification of Article 50 (the mechanism by which the UK begins the process of leaving the European Union) very badly in the High Court. The court’s ruling is comprehensive - and damning.

As public law experts have noted, the government’s legal case would have been stronger if it had conceded that withdrawal from the European Union is not inevitable after Article 50 has been triggered. Lord Kerr, the British diplomat who authored Article 50, has argued that the process is reversible; that the withdrawal can itself be withdrawn.  That seems to be perfectly consistent with the text of Article 50, precisely because it is notably silent on this point – it doesn’t specify anything about revoking the notification, and the history of the European Union is replete with creative political use of the silences, blank spaces and inconsistencies in European law. (Indeed, when the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, the paper itself was blank: they had been negotiating so extensively over its terms that a final text was not ready for the official signing ceremony. “Europe started as a blank page”, the Dutch political theorist Luuk Van Middelaar once wrote).

The confidence of the High Court’s ruling on this point would therefore appear misplaced. It asserted that the notification of Article 50 would trigger the irreversible loss of the claimants’ rights. But that interpretation can be challenged in law, and in practice it cannot be certain that Article 50 is irrevocable, given the political contingencies. Yet for obvious political reasons, the government considered it untenable to concede that Article 50, once invoked, could be reversed.

It seems unlikely that the government will change its stance and decide to argue that Article 50 is revocable when the case comes before the Supreme Court in December. In addition to the political hit it would take, the government would then be in disagreement with the claimants over the interpretation of Article 50, which is a piece of EU law. And in that instance, the Supreme Court would have to refer the case to the European Court of Justice. As one leading European law expert, George Peretz QC put it, "if there is a question of European Union law [in a Supreme Court case] they have to refer it to the ECJ, unless the answer is obvious. That's a basic principle of EU law."

So the government will be back to arguing that prerogative power does indeed apply to Article 50, on which the High Court’s ruling was clear and decisive. It will likely lose. Then the focus will shift back to Parliament.

If legislation, rather than a substantive motion, is required to give effect to the courts’ ruling, then it will be a very short bill, as Hannah White at the Institute for Government has argued. The government will not want a Christmas tree on which pro-Europeans can hang all sorts of amendments. Instead, the opposition parties, and Remain Conservatives, are likely to try to amend the legislation, as White notes, “to place conditions on the Government before it can trigger Article 50. These could take the form of timing or process requirements – for example, a requirement on the Government to provide Parliament with information about its negotiating position before triggering Article 50.”  This also makes it very unlikely that MPs will be able to insert a clause in the Bill requiring a second referendum on the terms of Brexit, as Owen Smith MP wants to do. Parliamentary clerks would rule such amendments inadmissible. But it is not obvious that the legislation will take such a long time to get through Parliament that the timetable for triggering Article 50 before the end of March 2017 will slip. Governments can strip the legislative barnacles off the boat and clear the path for an emergency bill relatively easily if they need to, and this legislation will take precedence over everything else. Pro-European MPs will extract a price from the government, but they will not vote to stop Article 50 being triggered.

Nicola Sturgeon has given notice, however, that the SNP will use the legal opening provided by the High Court to open up new flanks of attack on the government. This will bring the tensions between the constituent nations of the UK, and an emerging soft federalist vs unionist hard Brexit, fully into view.

A detour into history may help explain this. One of Lord Kerr’s namesakes is Philip Kerr, later Lord Lothian. Each man was once the UK’s ambassador to the USA  - the latter during the early days of World War Two, when he gathered support in Washington for the British war effort, before dying of exhaustion. He was also, earlier in his life, a leading figure in Milner’s Kindergarten, a group of young men who served Lord Milner as High Commissioner in South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. They would become ardent imperialists and advocates of Imperial Federation between Great Britain and its settler colonies. In their writings, one can trace the antecedents of the Eurosceptic idea of the Anglosphere that figures such as Dan Hannan have done so much to popularize. And yet towards the ends of their careers, Kerr and his peers, like the tireless Lionel Curtis, would come to favour Western European federation, as a step towards a larger, multinational federation of the liberal democracies. Federation was vital to the prevention of war, and they had seen too much war in their lives.

This federalist tradition was lost after World War Two, but it was influential on continental thinkers framing the emerging European Union. It has resurfaced as the United Kingdom grapples with its own internal relations, as well as its place in the world, as a consequence of Brexit. Gordon Brown has made the case for a federalist Brexit in forceful terms today, and if the United Kingdom pursues a flexible Brexit – or “flexit” - it will be a federalist one.  MPs from the SNP and SDLP, and some Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs, are likely to support distinct arrangements for the constituent nations of the UK. The legislation to authorize the notification of Article 50 will give them an opportunity to make their case. This will enlarge our democracy, not diminish it.

 

Legacies and long shadows: will Theresa May succeed where Chamberlain failed?

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit, future, political parties

Birmingham has a square named after Joseph Chamberlain, its most famous politician, through which visitors to the Conservative Party conference will pass on their way up from rebuilt New Street station this week. Although the square is home only to a lacklustre memorial fountain, and not his statue, Chamberlain will still loom large over proceedings at the conference. He will be celebrated by Theresa May and her colleagues as a champion of the manufacturing industry and a great social reformer, the radical who campaigned for municipal education, decent housing and civic improvements for the Victorian working class.

shutterstock_343844027

 

Chamberlain was also an apostle of imperial unity between Great Britain and her settler colonies – what today’s Brexiteers call the “Anglosphere”. As Colonial Secretary, he sought closer economic and political ties between Great Britain and Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. His passion for this cause would eventually lead him out of government, the better to campaign for tariff reform that would give preference to colonial goods and shelter British industry from international competition. It was a lost cause. Free trade was too deeply embedded in the political economy of Edwardian Britain for Chamberlain to dislodge it. Birmingham’s manufacturers were no match for the financial, commercial and shipping interests that had the deepest stakes in the liberal British world order, while the free traders’ “big loaf” beat Chamberlain’s “little loaf” for the loyalty of the working class. Unionist imperialism plus social reform lost out to a new progressive alliance of Liberal and Labour interests.

Theresa May wants to succeed where Chamberlain failed in uniting working-class voters with the British industrial interest. She has created a new department for industrial strategy and promised to prioritise “just managing” households. Housing policy is to be refocused from subsidising home ownership, to building homes and supporting private renters. Fiscal policy will be relaxed, easing planned cuts to services and benefits. The electoral coalition that delivered Brexit – of struggling working-class voters and middle-class older voters (or the “excluded and the insulated”, as David Willetts recently put it) – will form the ballast of a new Conservative hegemony.

But the Prime Minister’s chosen path to Brexit – of prioritising immigration control over the single market, and “sovereignty” over the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – will bring her into conflict with Britain’s existing political economic interests, just as much as Chamberlain’s campaign for tariff reform did. Britain’s leading-edge manufacturers – in the automotive and aerospace sectors, for example – are deeply integrated into the European single market. They do not simply make products in the UK, and sell them to the rest of Europe, tariff free, as Brexiteers suppose: they have complex supply chains and move parts and people across plants in the EU. Imposing custom checks, slowing down supply chains, and limiting the movement of workers will matter as much as tariffs to their operations. And what goes for manufacturing is doubly true for services.

Decisions about new investment will often be taken in global HQs, not national branch offices. The growth of foreign direct investment in the UK since the 1980s means that much of Britain’s industrial capital is no longer national in any meaningful sense. Economic patriotism will hold little sway over multinational investors or global bankers.

Some political economists argue that the advanced sectors of the economy are not subject to partisan division, since their centrality to national prosperity is such that political parties agree on the policies needed to secure their interests. If so, that may be about to change. The City of London and the leading export sectors – trade unions and employers – have yet properly to flex their muscles in the Brexit debate. Although they cannot currently turn to an electorally credible Labour opposition to make their case, they will have advocacy routes of their own, not least through the Mayor of London and the Scottish government. Hard Brexit will stretch Theresa May’s unionism and the unity of the country, as much as that of her own party, to the limit (and that is before the status of Northern Ireland’s border is factored into the equation).

Few peacetime prime ministers have confronted a set of challenges like those facing Theresa May: holding together the United Kingdom, revitalising British industry, delivering shared prosperity to working people, and renegotiating Britain’s place in Europe and the world. It is a formidable list. Lesser ones defeated Joe Chamberlain and his generation. Theresa May will hope that she isn’t memorialised by failure.

After Brexit: The Eurosceptic vision of an Anglosphere Future

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit, Euroscepticism

Now that the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has published the proposed reforms to the relationship between the UK and the EU, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has endorsed them as the basis for the UK’s continued membership of the union, the starting gun has effectively been fired in the referendum campaign. A central challenge for Eurosceptic supporters of Brexit is how to articulate a prosperous, optimistic future for the UK outside the EU. Conversely, supporters of staying-in need to show why Britain is stronger inside the union, and why leaving it would be risky. Much of this hangs on bread-and-butter questions about jobs and living standards, and the extent to which the Prime Minister’s reform package addresses public concerns about immigration and democratic control over EU institutions. But bigger questions about Britain’s identity and place in the world loom large too.

In the last couple of decades, eurosceptics have developed the idea that Britain’s future lies with a group of “Anglosphere” countries, not with a union of European states. At the core of this Anglosphere are the “five eyes” countries (so-called because of intelligence cooperation) of the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Each, it is argued, share a common history, language and political culture: liberal, protestant, free market, democratic and English-speaking. Sometimes the net is cast wider, to encompass Commonwealth countries and former British colonies, such as India, Singapore and Hong Kong. But the emotional and political heart of the project resides in the five eyes nations.

As this lineage suggests, the roots of the Anglosphere concept lie in 19th century imperialist discourses, and more specifically in the idea of an Imperial Federation, which gained ground in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the British Empire came under pressure from rising nationalist and anti-colonialist forces. Federation, with an Imperial Parliament governing foreign, defence and trade policy, seemed an ideal solution for keeping dominions and colonies happily inside the empire. The First World War put paid to this ambition but the idea lived on in the concept of the Commonwealth.

As Professor Michael Kenny and I set out in an essay for the New Statesman, the Anglosphere returned as a central concept in eurosceptic thinking in the 1980s, when Europhilia started to wane in the Conservative Party and Thatcherism was its ascendancy. On the right of the Conservative Party, we argued:

“…American ideas were a major influence, especially following the emergence of a powerful set of foundations, think tanks and intellectuals in the UK that propounded arguments and ideas that were associated with the fledgling “New Right”. In this climate, the Anglosphere came back to life as an alternative ambition, advanced by a powerful alliance of global media moguls (Conrad Black, in particular), outspoken politicians, well-known commentators and intellectual outriders, who all shared an insurgent ideological agenda and a strong sense of disgruntlement with the direction and character of mainstream conservatism.

In his major work Reflections on a Ravaged Century, the historian Robert Conquest argued that the political arrangements of the west were all increasingly deficient, the EU included. The answer was “a more fruitful unity” between the Anglosphere nations. And, in a speech to the English-Speaking Union in New York in 1999, Margaret Thatcher endorsed Conquest’s vision, noting how such an alliance would “redefine the political landscape”. What appealed most was the prospect of the UK finding an alliance founded upon deep, shared values, the antithesis of the position it faced in Europe.”

The idea of the Anglosphere as an alternative to the European Union gained ground amongst conservatives in their New Labour wildnerness years, when transatlantic dialogue and trips down under kept their hopes of ideological revival alive. It was given further oxygen by the neo-conservative coalition of the willing stitched together for the invasion of Iraq, which seemed to demonstrate the Anglosphere’s potency as an geo-political organizing ideal, in contrast to mainstream hostility to the war in Europe. By the time of the 2010 election, the Anglosphere had become common currency in conservative circles, name checked by leading centre-right thinkers like David Willetts, as well as eurosceptic luminaries, such as Dan Hannan MEP, who devoted a book and numerous blogs to the subject.

As Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sought to strengthen ties between the Anglosphere countries, despite the indifference shown by the Obama Presidency to the idea. After leaving the cabinet, the leading eurosceptic Owen Patterson gave a lengthy speech in the US on the subject of an Anglospheric global alliance for free trade and security; he could expect a sympathetic hearing in Republican circles, if not the White House. And in its 2015 election Manifesto, UKIP praised the Anglosphere as a “global community” of which the UK was a key part.

These geo-political claims are met with derision in centrist political circles. For international relations realists, the idea of an Anglosphere barely merits a straight face, let alone serious consideration. And it is unquestionable that the US and Canada, let alone India, would view a geo-political alliance of English-speaking as an alternative to existing global structures as fanciful; indeed, they question why the UK should be entertaining leaving the EU at all.

But the Anglosphere’s potency is ideological, not geo-political. It functions as an imaginary horizon for a eurosceptic worldview of Britain after Brexit, uniting the UK with a global trading future as well as a sceptered isle past. It registers nostalgia, but also energy: Britain would be liberated to march on the world stage again, freed from sclerotic, conformist Europe and reanimated by the animal spirits that once gave it an empire. Thus it defends the eurosceptic flank where it is most vulnerable – rebutting the charge that it wants to take Britain back to the 1950s by delving even deeper into our island story and casting it forward into the 21st century.

This should give pro-Europeans pause for thought. The “Remain” campaign is currently premised largely on the risks of Brexit (or “Project Fear” as it is known to its detractors). It needs an optimistic account of Britain’s future in the world - one which passes through the European Union, not past it.  Yet globalization currently has a bad press, and in the face of insecurity and inequality, a New Labour formula of “globalization plus good schools” doesn’t cut much ice with working class voters. Developing its own version of Britain’s identity and role in the world, beyond the fact of EU membership alone, is therefore a pressing task.