By Mark Buckley
Donald Trump and key members of his administration have made it crystal clear that he is in Britain to campaign for a No Deal or Hard Brexit – and that this is in the US’s interests, not Britain’s.
Trump himself told the Sunday Times (£) that ‘Britain should go for a no deal outcome’, and that Farage should be ‘part of the negotiating team’. Trump’s support for both Boris Johnson and Farage is because of their positions in favour of leaving the EU without a deal. His National Security Adviser and war-monger-in-chief John Bolton says that Trump is looking forward to ‘negotiating with a truly independent Britain’. Trump’s ambassador was explicit: the US administration’s support for No Deal is to achieve a US trade deal where both a virtually unregulated food industry and the NHS would be ‘on the table’.
Naturally, many people are horrified by this perspective, and this interference. Jeremy Corbyn put it exactly right in a single tweet, where he said, “President Trump’s attempt to decide who’ll be Britain’s next PM is an entirely unacceptable interference in our democracy. The next PM should be chosen not by the US president, nor by 100,000 unrepresentative Tory party members, but by the British people in a general election.”
What’s at stake?
It is clear that the US intervenes in many countries. Recently, the US supported a judicial coup (‘lawfare’) to remove a left government in Brazil (a strategy it is using against the left in other countries in Latin America), and is currently attempting regime change in Venezuela. In recent history US has affected regime change through wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. It has imposed sanctions on a long list of countries in order to achieve the same outcome. No-one should imagine that the US baulks at (less overt) interventions in European politics. The US was instrumental in replacing Chirac with Sarkozy as French President because of the former’s opposition to the US-led war on Iraq.
The US intervention on Brexit occurs because the historic US position on the European Union has now changed. The Trump administration is in favour of its break-up, and has faced no serious opposition within the US to that perspective. Key administration advisers openly argue for break-up, and this is now regarded in Europe as Trump’s settled position.
This is not some frolic by an erratic US President. The change in position is entirely logical, given the straitened circumstances of the US economy. The US economy has slowed over the long-term. In the economic crisis period of the 1970s, real average annual US GDP growth was 3.2%. In the last 10 years, the real average GDP growth was just 1.8%.
Crucially, US national savings have declined to the extent that it is unable to fund any significant rise in investment. In order to fund even existing levels of investment and maintain current living standards, the US is obliged to borrow from abroad. The latest US current account balance, a measure of the overseas borrowing, is an annual deficit of almost $500 billion.
If the US wants to increase current levels of investment without driving down domestic living standards, it will need to significantly increase that overseas borrowing. In the past, it was able to corral Japan into providing that capital. But the Japanese economy is now so hobbled as a result, it can no longer provide the capital required on the necessary scale. There are only two countries in the world whose own current account surpluses are sufficiently strong to provide what the US demands – Germany and China.
The US offensive against China now includes a trade war, attempts to destroy leading Chinese companies and military provocations. For Germany, the US is involved in a series of fights, including over sanctions on Iran, the economically vital Nordstream 2 project and the strategic aim of breaking up the EU – of which Germany is the dominant state. Weakening and isolating Germany is a prelude to forcing it to direct its savings to the US. There is a historical precedent, as the US previously threatened to withdraw troops from West Germany during the Cold War unless it received huge payments to prevent a ‘gold-flow’, or US current account crisis – and West Germany was obliged to pay up.
The role of Britain
Clearly, removing the third-largest economy from the European Union would weaken it strategically. Trump allies like Steve Bannon hope to create momentum and Bannon is organising the Salvini’s far right League in Italy for that purpose.
Brexit provides two strategic benefits for the US, in addition to weakening the EU and undermining Germany. First, any negotiations for a trade deal will be completely unequal. After leaving the EU, Britain will have no alternative but to accept US terms. Trump will make Britain ‘an offer it cannot refuse’. This will include opening up British markets to US producers, including the infamously low-regulated food industry, fracking and of course the privatisation of the NHS.
Secondly, the US will insist that its own, much lower standards and protections for the workplace, the environment and for products apply. It will also insist on the jurisdiction of its courts, as it already does in many areas of commercial law. The combined effect will be to increase the rate of exploitation in the British economy, and this in turn will provide a competitive threat to the EU.
The US, and the Hard Brexiteers, must oppose any customs union agreement with the EU. Being in a customs union will mean accepting common EU regulations, and so prevent precisely the type of trade deal that Trump wants. Jeremy Corbyn insists on a customs union with the EU precisely to prevent this ‘race to the bottom’.
Opposing Trump, Johnson, Farage and Hard Brexit
Most of the candidates for the leadership of the Tory party are outdoing each other to be the most militant No Dealer. It seems certain that the Tory membership, given the choice, will pick whoever is the most in favour of crashing out without a deal. Of course, the Brexit Party is delighted with this concerted Trump intervention in favour of No Deal.
Voters who support a clear Remain position are now more numerous than those supporting Hard Brexit. But none of the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP or Plaid Cymru can hope to form a Westminster government. In the case of the Lib Dems, their position is for further austerity within the EU. They would simply poison the environment and destroy the NHS slowly, compared to Trump’s quick execution – as they did in Coalition.
Only Jeremy Corbyn can stop Trump and prevent a No Deal Brexit. This is exactly his position, and is endorsed by the overwhelming majority of his supporters. Corbyn can unite both Remainers and supporters of soft Brexit in opposing Trump/Johnson/Farage. In addition, many genuine supporters of Leave oppose the attack on workers’ rights, environmental and consumer protections and the privatisation of the NHS, as Corbyn does. This is the powerful and principled set of alliances that are needed to defeat a US President – and only Corbyn can lead it.