In this post, Gabriel Siles-Brugge, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester and Trade Policy Activist, takes a look at the idea of ‘taking control’ in the Brexit debate, as it applies to trade policy. This post was published first on the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute Comment Blog.
The only thing uniting the contradictory strands of the trade policy discourse for Brexit was the refrain of ‘taking control’. But in the post-Brexit landscape that will prove more difficult to achieve.
During the EU referendum campaign, the official Vote Leave campaign claimed (echoed by the alternative Leave.EU campaign) that Brexit would allow Britain to ‘take back control of [its] trade policy […] and sign new deals with countries all over the world, creating new jobs and new investment opportunities.’ Both Leave campaigns (see here and here) also stated that Brexit represented a way of protecting the NHS from the clutches of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). This second argument bears some similarity to that articulated by sections of the Left, which proclaimed that a ‘Lexit’ was the way to avoid deregulatory trade agreements like TTIP and to ‘deliver a significant blow for accountability and popular sovereignty’.
The only consistent thing about the trade policy case for Brexit has been the refrain of ‘taking control’. One meme during the referendum campaign (coined by the parody site Newsthump in 2014) was that of ‘Schrödinger’s immigrant’, ‘who ‘lazes around on benefits whilst simultaneously stealing your job’’. Here we have Schrödinger’s trade policy: where Britain ‘takes control’ by throwing off the shackles of Brussels, where Brussels is both simultaneously ‘protectionist’ as well as the advocate of further marketisation (of public services) and neoliberalisation.
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