There can no longer be any doubt: neoliberalism is fast in retreat, and post-Brexit Britain is set to emerge as the cradle of something incalculably worse.
Brussels’ dawn raid on Apple’s continental assets has plunged Enda Kenny’s fragile Irish government into an existential crisis. In a damning report, the European Commission declared Dublin’s tax regime a form of state aid, providing a host of (mostly American) multinationals virtually unchecked inroads into the common market. Though the cabinet is mulling over an appeal, the ruling should cast a final nail into Ireland’s notoriously lax fiscal policy, long the subject of domestic (and international) controversy.
For decades, the ‘Celtic Tiger’ buoyed itself on its reputation as a corporate tax sanctuary, drawing hundreds of big names to its shores; among these were Silicon Valley’s tech giants, enticed by the promise of on-demand access to Europe’s relatively sheltered consumers. The Irish agenda has always conflicted with that of the more instinctively protectionist EU, but Tuesday’s verdict surprised all, not least due to its sweeping language – it constitutes one of the first indications that Brussels is looking to flex its legal muscles with regard to the tax dealings of individual member-states.
Of course, the idea that the global elites have any immediate interest in a transnational anti-corporate shakedown is laughable – the profitability of capital depends upon the present order, as evidenced in a trend towards the expansion of evasive (or otherwise laissez-faire) tax schemes since 2008. In the long run, the Apple affair, and whatever edicts shall follow in its wake, can only amount to isolated punitive measures, a post-Panama sop to the disillusioned of Europe.
Where Ireland has turned its back on the worst of its pre-recession excesses, Westminster is bound to see in Apple’s reckoning an indispensable business opportunity. In any round of Brexit negotiations, the British government is destined to find itself massively outgunned; the European Union has virtually unlimited bargaining power, and the activation of Article 50 would put it in a position to dictate terms as it sees fit. Yet, against these nigh impossible odds, Theresa May seems resolute as ever.
Her hardline attitude owes itself, in a large part, to the Conservatives’ ascendance on the home front. Having placed themselves at the unequivocal forefront of the Brexit project, the Tory government can now count upon the endorsement of all those political sections formerly alienated from the party. Chief among these is the right-antiglobalisation current within British society, the workers and ‘cottage industrialists’ aligned against immigration and the perceived arrogance of the political classes. Of course, ‘economic’ globalisation cannot be reversed, and the international leadership of the movement recognises this (what is the basis of the European neo-fascist critique but the failure of the EU to manage capital efficiently enough? Why are Islamist polemics against the Near Eastern bourgeoisie always predicated upon the ‘toleration’ by that class of women and homosexuals?). The British state’s accommodation of their program will, rather, be demagogic, involving appeals to rustic conservatism and large-scale mobilisations against the immigrant ‘threat’ – in other words, a rolling back of the ‘cultural’ globalisation central to British capitalism since the 1990s.
To win over the aforementioned demographic would be a victory for the Tories not only against UKIP, but against Labour, in the heartlands and electoral strongholds of which it is overwhelmingly concentrated. In that event, Britain’s transformation into a de facto one-party state would be assured, especially when planned ‘boundary reforms’ inevitably wreck whatever shell of an opposition remains. It is from this hypothetical union of the new blue-collar segment with the Conservatives’ urban, decidedly white-collar backers that the form of Brexit shall be derived. What, then, is that form likely to be?
A stunted, dystopic vision, somewhere between buccaneer-age Tortuga and the chauvinistic ideology of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, is on the cards. Contrary to the fantasies of some within government, the EU cannot afford to relinquish its demands regarding the free movement of people – to accept a deal tailor-made to Tory stipulations, with the UK enjoying normal trade privileges alongside extensive immigration controls, would undermine the whole purpose of the project. Yet Britain is likely to remain a party at the helm of European economic affairs for some time, if only for lack of a replacement. The much-feared exodus of City personnel to Frankfurt or Paris will probably fail to manifest in the way the Remain camp predicted.
But a Britain outside the EU faces an uphill battle in attracting investment. Dubious as it may sound, planners could be compelled to seek out a national settlement akin to that proposed by fringe economists on the eve of the referendum. Such would involve the transformation of the UK into something just short of a casino state, complete with massive deregulation and corporate tax cuts to make Ireland blush. George Osborne laid out a policy blueprint approaching the latter in July.
Ironically, the only foreigners likely to find safe haven in Brexitland may well prove to be the likes of Apple, conglomerate parasites in search of peripheral European lodgings.