George Parker has a mordant sense of humour (“The aristocrats at the heart of British democracy”, FT Magazine, November 13). When I was the EU’s chief election observer in Indonesia in 2004, I was charged with explaining that the EU did not consider a parliament with 80 or so unelected army officers topping up the elected MPs to be democratic — Indonesia’s election that year was in fact the first occasion the army did not have seats reserved for itself.

One suspects that were the UK to ever seek to rejoin the EU the same question might apply if the UK continues to water down its “democracy” with the products of history, patronage and payment.

Originally published in Financial Times.

Much has been written in the long shadow of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on the fate of its British equivalent. Yet, unlike Rome, that collapse has yet to go to completion. Within one Empire was hiding a second. The post-war collapse of Empire was the first act of a drama whose second seriously kicked off with the June 2016 Brexit vote and was spurred on repeatedly in its unreeling. The English Empire is under threat as the political – and economic – strains tear it apart; an Empire that for so long hid in plain sight persisting in the shadowlands of history. 

Yet the subjection and occupation of Wales, Ireland and Scotland were the self-same process that later were to vanquish and subjugate North America, India, and much of Africa. War and terror, massacre, murder and mayhem, with the use of quislings and collaborators, completed and policed territorial assimilation. The first conquered was Wales. While earlier Norman Kings had made forays into the South, it was Edward I between 1277-83 that conquered the Principality of Gwynedd and its ruler Llwywelyn ap Gruffudd. Edward built forts, new towns like Flint and Aberystwyth populated by English settlers, and imported an army of occupation.

Now Brexit promises the last decolonisation. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Welsh all voted Remain. The narrow majority for Leave in Wales was the arithmetic of England’s colonists. Front of stage is Scotland. Long resentful of Westminster rule, still with a sense of community lost generations ago in London and the South East, its Scottish National Party (SNP) has gone from the home of contingent protest votes to government, and from nativist traditionalism to social democracy. The 2014 Referendum saw 55-45 opt for the status quo as Britain’s political establishment wrapped themselves around the flag. 

Labour sacrificed party for nation. It was to prove the last nail in Labour’s coffin in Scotland, for it was never going to challenge the Tories as the party of Union. There was a strong left case for Remaining in the UK and Europe, but Labour never made it: a class case that pitched the interests of employee against employer, labour versus capital, that would conclude that the best interests of the labour movement were served by staying in both. For Labour’s supporters, opting for independence in 2016 would have left Scotland adrift in the North Atlantic, with no guarantee Madrid would rescue them and reliant on the generosity of Westminster’s disgruntled Tories determined to punish the insurrectionists.

Four years on, coffled to Britain’s other nations, the Scots have been cruelly dragged from a continental Union in the interests of a middling nation state. The very idea that circumstances have not changed sufficiently to warrant a second independence referendum would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so consequential. The SNP landslide in May will make it hard for Johnson to hold the line without generating serious civil disobedience. If a referendum comes the money will be on Leave – and it should be. From an economic and political standpoint, the choice of being an integral part of the EU – one of the world’s three largest economic powers – or marooned as a peripheral appendage of ‘Singapore on Thames’ is not difficult to answer.

As for Northern Ireland, May and Johnson could have been closet members of Sinn Féin, judging by their actions. They have welded the economies of North and South together while simultaneously pulling those across the Irish Sea apart as Northern Unionism was offered up to ‘Get Brexit Done’. All at a time when Ireland has demonstrated – over abortion, gay marriage and the rest – that it is streets ahead of Democratic Unionism’s reactionary instincts. ‘Rome rule’ holds few, if any, fears for the young and progressive in the North today. In the wake of Scotland voting for independence within a decade, Dublin could trigger the proviso in the Good Friday Agreement for a referendum on a United Ireland. Dublin would have to act very stupidly to lose. As German Unification demonstrated, Belfast can slip seamlessly back into the EU with no negotiations.

Wales has always been the laggard. Yet support for independence has been soaring and is 33% and rising. Cardiff will never lead, but it may follow. With Scotland and Northern Ireland gone, being England’s last settlement may lack appeal, and there are seven EU member states with a smaller population.

Where do socialists stand? We have accepted Scotland and Northern Ireland’s right to self-determination – and would argue by analogy Wales. We believe that the UK voting Leave in 2016 was self-harming. On that basis, can we seriously advise fellow socialists in the colonies of the English Empire that their interests will be better served by London than Brussels? Some will argue Labour can’t win without Scotland. Now, can Labour win with Scotland? Whatever, do we really expect Scotland’s progressives to immolate themselves for us? That’s self-seeking of an heroic order. Tom Nairn’s The Break-Up of Britain (1977, revised 1982) suggested that it would be the very process of disintegration that would finally destroy Britain’s archaic state and allow a new politics and polity to be born from the ashes. The wisest choice may be to embrace the inevitable and work to ensure he’s proved right.

Ford, G. (2021). A welcome requiem for the English Empire?, Chartist, 2 March.

The timing of the Brexit deal was designed to allow minimum scrutiny and maximum gasps of relief.

By waiting until Christmas Eve to sign off a deal that could – and should – have been completed months ago, Boris Johnson has set an oven-ready trap for Labour. No-one should be fooled by this smoke and mirrors trick.

The false dichotomy between Boris’s shoddy deal and the chaos of no deal is one that Labour should reject.

The vote in the Commons is not a meaningful vote, but even if it was it is up to the Government to ensure a majority for it.

Labour is suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Held hostage by Johnson’s fibs, fabrications and ‘cunning plans’, they are in danger of mistaking release for the end in itself.

The Conservative Party needs to be forced to take exclusive ownership of a policy that will bedevil and blight British politics, economy and society for years to come.

It may trigger the death of the United Kingdom. In economic terms this deal ties Northern Ireland closer to the Republic and the EU.

If and when a referendum is held on the future of the territory, no-one should be surprised to see it held up as a reason to leave the UK.

As this deal is analysed and implemented, its damaging nature will be exposed coming more and more to the fore.

When our manufacturing sector becomes less competitive than EU competitors because of its exclusion from the customs union, when Britain’s car industry collapses as the agreed new ‘rules of origin ‘requirements triggers tariffs, when our service sector declines relative to the EU because of the lack of market access and when inward investment shrinks, Labour needs to be able to pin the tail on the Tory donkey where the blame belongs.

If Labour votes for this desperate deal, the Conservatives will have an easy refrain – ‘you voted for it’.

When it becomes clear this deal makes our labour and environmental standards vulnerable, weakens our universities and does not deliver on the promises made to fishing and farming communities, Labour will be viewed as culpable as the real guilty party.

As we serially expose the impact of the deal on various sectors of society, we will be asked ‘if it is so bad, why did you vote for it?’. Or do we collude in pandering to the pandemic as promoter?

We understand that Labour wants to look responsible and constructive by voting for this deal. Yet we will in fact look weak and malleable.

Voting for, will give the Prime Minister a massive majority and appear to endorse his negotiating strategy. Voting against, enables Labour to make clear that it will in power seek to improve and rebalance our relationship with the EU.

A no vote does not imply rejection of the 2016 referendum, but it allows us to make clear that our vision of a future relationship with Europe is quite different from this thinnest of deals the Government has manoeuvred.

There is a mountain of quotes from leading Brexiteers claiming they envisaged a relationship a million miles from this one.

The hope of Labour’s leadership in recommending a positive vote on this deal appears to be to draw a line under Brexit and appeal to the so called ‘red wall voters’.

Yet the evidence is many of them regret their vote and feel conned by the false promises of the Brexiteers. It is unlikely that voting for the deal will bring them back to Labour.

However, voting for it will be another nail in Labour’s coffin in Scotland and most commentators say Labour cannot win a general election without some recovery in Scotland.

The SNP narrative of betrayal is well under way. They have already claimed the deal will cost Scotland £9 billion, sells out our fishing community and hammers our, previously unheralded, potato seed farmers.

The Nationalists will vote against the deal and accuse Labour of siding with the Conservatives against Scotland’s interest.

A Labour defence that, to avoid a no-deal shambles, there was no alternative will be met with the strident response that there is an alternative and it is for Scotland to have its own relationship with Brussels as an independent country.

It’s time someone said it – ‘the Emperor has no clothes’.

For reasons of principle, policy, and politics we urge Labour to reject this damaging deal.

David Martin & Glyn Ford (2020). Why Labour should vote against Brexit deal, Scotsman, 29 December.

Beijing rightly stands condemned for its massive over-reaction to problems in Xinjiang of Uyghur separatism and associated terrorism. Equally its reneging on the deal with the UK that in accordance with the ‘once country, two systems’ principle Hong Kong’s existing system and way of life would be unchanged for 50 years until 2047 is shocking and disconcerting. Yet while condemning both, we need to be all too careful of fellow travellers’ intent on whisking us to war.

Donald Trump, all of whose decisions are calculated to promote his re-election, after first fawning over China’s President Xi – even endorsing Uyghur internment – has reversed course now initiating a trade war with Beijing. He attempts the military encirclement of China with a new nest of military alliances and put an embargo on Chinese trade. Johnson took the shilling and signed up to this new ‘coalition of the willing’.

He jumped to avoid being pushed, by rebel backbenchers in the China Research Group (CRG) colluding with a Labour Front Bench mating ethics with expediency. Johnson concluded that with the US now denying sales of key components to China’s telecom giant Huawei his decision in January to let the company supply up to 35% of Britain’s 5G network must be reversed at a cost of a cool £7 Billion. Simultaneously the armed wing of the CRG floated the UK’s new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth off to the South China Sea to help enforce America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. A foreign policy priority missing from December’s Tory Manifesto.

Here, according to Washington, a new maritime front line is necessary with Beijing making impossible territorial claims – contrary to the Law of the Sea Convention – to the Paracel and Spratly islands that stretch in a long tongue past Vietnam and the Philippines to Malaysia. True China did sign the Convention, while the US still hasn’t. in 1945, after the victory over Japan, Washington ordered the return of both sets of islands, occupied by Tokyo during the war, to the Republic of China. It was only with Mao’s victory that the island’s ownership became problematic.

Britain is not alone in being sucked into this swamp. Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Australia’s Scott Morrison have recently signed a bilateral military co-operation agreement, while talks are underway with Modi’s India to pull them into the package. After all China has been provoking clashes in the last months in the Galwan Valley. The first mover is less clear. Back in 1962 the two sides were briefly at war with Beijing blamed. It was only in 1970 that Neville Maxwell (India’s China War), a scholar leaning in the direction of Delhi, concluded that in fact they were responsible.

While in South Korea the Pentagon is threatening ‘your money and your life’, simultaneously demanding Seoul pays cost plus 50% for the US troops on the Peninsula and pushing for the development of a ‘blue water’ navy to join the flotilla helping to ensure a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’.

It’s only par for the course to see that Donald Trump’s deeply unloved G7 Group busily being re-purposed in Washington, transmuting this intergovernmental economic organisation into a security driven Democratic 10 (D10) in opposition to Beijing. Surprise, surprise Trump unilaterally decided the new members – to join Japan – will be Australia, India and South Korea. One wonders quite why Australia gets the nod. Its population is smaller than Madagascar and right in the centre of the action is Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country and largest Muslim state.

As for trade, the pandemic woke up the UK – and EU – to its criminal over-dependence on China and India for PPE. That was neither the fault of Beijing or Delhi, but London and Brussels. Diversification of supply and strategic stockpiling makes as much sense now as it did a decade ago, but then Tory austerity was shouting too loud for it to be heard. The idea that Huawei should have a 100% ban on security grounds is frankly laughable. It is certainly not inconceivable that Huawei’s technologies might have backdoors, although no intelligence agency in the US has found one as yet. Yet it was only a decade ago we all discovered that the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Agency with the help of GCHQ in Cheltenham via their Echelon system were routinely intercepting the world’s telephone calls and emails. You can’t swing a stick in Cheltenham without hitting a fluent mandarin speaker! Certainly at the EU level you’d want to ban Huawei and the US competition and rely on indigenous technology. If you’re going to pay over the odds for an inferior product at least make it domestic.

Back in 1940 the US embargoed all oil exports to Japan which ushered Japan’s military planners to Pearl Harbour. The attempt by Washington to interdict Beijing’s high tech sales around the world, if even partially successful, will have us back to the future with a new over-arching cold war around which proxy wars kill millions. It’s in the EU and UK interest to leave well alone. Labour’s Front bench should protest, not pander.

Ford, G. (2020). Back to the future?, Chartist, September/October.