This article was published in Ceylon Today on November 4 2019. They took a long time to fit it in so it has been rather overtaken by events. Some of it is still relevant.
I stayed up late on Saturday night, October 19, to watch the Commons debate on the ‘new deal’ that prime minister Boris Johnson had struck with the EU. There were appalling scenes as the government showed its utter contempt for parliament and the British people. Tory MPs walked out as Joanna Cherry of the SNP began to speak. At one point, the speaker was having to answer questions that ministers should be answering. The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, walked out of the chamber rather than answer questions. Instead of backing Johnson’s agreement in a “meaningful vote”, MPs passed an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs led by Oliver Letwin (a senior Tory and former minister who was recently booted out of the party by Johnson) by 322 votes to 306 – a majority of 16.
Shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, (who should be leader of the Labour Party) vehemently rejected Johnson’s arguments using his skill as a lawyer to demonstrate that this new deal was worse than Theresa May’s deal, particularly because of the absence of legal guarantees on workers’ rights.
Johnson appealed to the House to respect democracy and support the deal, support the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 referendum. He bloviates about democracy while defying the will of Parliament, breaking the law on prorogation and strongly hinting that he intends to defy the Benn Burt Act.
The will of the people was tainted by lies and dark money. There was much chicanery about ‘Taking back sovereignty’ which was a respectable cover for xenophobia.
Giving away Sovereignty
Trump had the rallying cry of “Make America Great Again”. In the UK, the Leave campaign wanted to “Take Back Control”. William Keegan writes that it took British economy to recover from the banking crisis of 2007-09, “As is being increasingly recognised, recovery was stifled by an ill-conceived austerity programme whose deleterious effects played no small role in the outcome of the 2016 referendum.” The game plan was to blame the EU for all the ills that beset the UK in June 2016. Most of those ills could be blamed on the austerity programme of the Conservative government. It is ironic that austerity has now been abandoned and a Magic Money Tree has been found by Boris Johnson which will enable him to bribe the voters and the DUP. Voters may wonder why they suffered so much for so many years if fiscal responsibility can be tossed aside so cavalierly.
Other persistent problems were caused by the madness of outsourcing and privatisation policies followed by all governments from Thatcher’s onwards. Control of the UK economy was not taken from Britain by the EU, it was handed over to foreign companies by British governments. Foreign governments are making hundreds of millions of pounds a year running British public services. Conservative and Labour governments have been selling the family silver to foreigners for decades.
The national, integrated rail system of the UK used to belong to the British state. A voodoo political philosophy led to it being broken up and sold off to the nationalized state railways of foreign nations. In 2014, The Independent calculated that 20 national train lines were run or owned by foreign state-owned or controlled companies. Huge companies like Arriva UK Trains, Abellio and Govia run several operators. There are now few purely private operators left on UK railways. Virgin Trains will lose its long-standing West Coast franchise in December. It will be replaced by First Trenitalia which has been awarded the franchise until 2031. First Trenitalia is Trenitalia (Italy’s state railway), which holds 30 per cent and First Group which holds 70 per cent.
Govia runs Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express. The firm is a joint venture between Go-Ahead group and French company Keolis, which itself is 70 per cent owned by the French National Railways Corporation. Greater Anglia, Stansted Express and Scotrail are all operated by Abellio. Abellio is run by Netherlands Rail whose only shareholder is the Dutch government. Arriva UK Trains is behind the operators, Chiltern, CrossCountry, London Overground, Grand Central, and Northern. In total it runs around a quarter of all British train operating companies, and is part of German firm Deutsche Bahn, in which the German state is the biggest shareholder.
Even though water was privatised in England and Wales in 1989, a quarter of England’s water provision is publicly-owned – it is just that, like with transport, it is owned by foreign governments in the form of public sector workers’ pension funds (mostly overseas), or foreign governments’ investment funds. In 2006, Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water, which now supplies 4.7 million people, was snapped up in 2007 by another consortium, this time made up of Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was also bought in 2011 by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.
British Gas is the oldest energy company in the UK, having been founded in 1812 as the Gas Light and Coke Company (GLCC) before taking the name British Gas in 1973. The parent company, Centrica, is a multinational. EDF is one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French state. One of Germany’s leading energy companies owns npower which is one of the UK’s big six energy companies. Another big six supplier, Powergen, was purchased by German energy company E.ON in 2002 and its headquarters are in Dusseldorf. ScottishPower may have its headquarters in Glasgow but, since 2006, it has been a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola.
Approximately 60% of the UK energy supply comes from abroad: from countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands, among many more. Around 60% of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30% of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30% comes from OPEC.
An analysis done by The Independent in 2014, showed that in the previous two years, overseas taxpayers took dividends of nearly £1bn from companies which make their profits from UK households and passengers while UK customers struggle with increasing fares and bills and are powerless to improve services. Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail workers trade union, said: “The true scale of the way the railways here in Britain are being used as a cash-cow to hold down fares and improve services across the rest of Europe will shock passengers.” British firms have minimal presence in overseas utilities markets.
London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer the city where British capitalism does the world’s business. The property market is dominated by Russian crooks and Saudi princes. Ordinary people cannot afford to rent or buy.
None of this has anything to do with membership of the EU.
Incompetent and venal ministers have been discombobulated as people who actually run successful businesses in the real world try to explain the basics of how the real-world economy works and what a disaster Brexit will be. British industry, agriculture and society are still on hold. Billions are being spent on Brexit (to make it less awful) and on unsuccessfully bribing the DUP, which could have been spent on something useful. All they have to offer is nostalgia for an empire and commonwealth that only exist in their imagination and an empty optimism. Top civil servants told business people who had appointments with former trade minister Liam Fox to give him a positive message or he will end meetings early. See how optimism works out when they try to sell their souls to Trump’s America. Look where trusting him got the Kurds.