Henry McLeish: As nationalism grows, truth and freedom are victims

It is time to take a long hard look at why we are buying into the inevitability of leaving the EU, argues Henry McLeish.

When Theresa May pulls the trigger to activate Article 50 the results will be disastrous, according to this float in the annual Rose Monday parade in the German city of Dusseldorf. Picture: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Being immersed on a college campus in the USA, gives a different view of today’s international politics.

Brexit has a new and even more disturbing perspective and – surrounded by thinking and involved Americans – President Trump’s newly appointed administration seems even more disturbing and disturbed.

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These events pose a threat to the EU and the security of Europe and the prospects of a new and unbalanced relationship with the US looms large. 
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of President Trump, have, emboldened far right parties in Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Trump’s tweets, support the break -up of the EU: a view shared by Marine Le Pen, of The National front, the alt-right party in Germany and the far-right Geert Wilders heading up Nexit in the Netherlands.

Does Theresa May want to encourage the extremes of Europe’s political right alongside Trump, and embrace them as new political allies?

The similarities between both campaigns are a chilling reminder of how old ideas are being repackaged for modern times.

History tells us a lot about nationalism – however economic it is dressed up to be –authoritarianism, nativism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance – especially against Islam – and the consequences for countries and continents! This is the “new” populism of the right.

Brexit resonates around stirring emotion, fear and fake news. This is also the Trump approach. The idea of greatness, never defined, was the unspoken mantra of the campaign: a combination of the fanatical and the delusional trapped in Britain’s glory days of Colonies and Empire, where the sun never sets and we, as the US seeks to achieve today, ruled the waves and ran the world!

Always ambivalent about the EU, the Tories are poor team players and could never adjust to the idea of sharing sovereignty.

Confused by history and the idea of “Englishmen reared on the heady heritage of exotic Empire” (the phrase coined by US Under Secretary of State George Ball), the Brexit leaders played the immigration card. In the US, the presidential campaign also became consumed by terrorism, Islam and migrants and the politics of fear!

Trump and Brexit voters, in the main, have similar socio-economic-educational characteristics and, more importantly, the same grievances.

Many people felt left behind, betrayed by globalisation, were suspicious of elites and in the so-called “rust belt” areas of both countries, jobs, wages and declining labour markets were taking their toll.

So the same language, politics and campaign themes unfolded on both sides of the Atlantic.

The EU was the demon to be exorcised in Britain.

In the US, truth was the victim and the exploitation of deep political, social, economic, religious and racial divisions, hit a nerve with over 60 million voters and delivered an extraordinary figure to the White House.

May’s recent trip to the US, to meet President Trump, only served to underline the dangers that lie ahead.

Seeing a potentially empty trading landscape of endless bilateral negotiations under the auspices of the WTO, the loss of EU single market and customs union membership and the rise of Regrexit at home, the Prime Minister, in a panic, sought to reset an old friendship with our transatlantic partner: but the new president is not a normal old friend!

For Trump the EU poses a threat, to his economic nationalism, his bizarre embrace of Russia and his desire to break up successful trade groupings for narrow US interests. For Trump the trip was a triumph. Theresa May fell victim to the strategy, of White House Guru Steve Bannon who described the EU as, “a flawed institution”. Putin’s Russia is being held up as a moral equivalent to Western democracies.

A view that is not shared in Western Europe.

Theresa May has become President Trumps first conquest, not a renewed “Anglosphere” of equal partners but a prime minister struggling for crumbs from the White House table.

More than 50 years ago US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that “Great Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role”.

He added: “The attempt to play a separate power role – that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a ‘special relationship’ with the United States . . . this role is about played out.”

This remains as true today as when it was first said.

There is no mystical bond between Britain and the US.

The Labour Party should not be supporting Brexit in any form and should be true to the millions of its supporters who voted to remain and are now utterly confused by its current stand.

Faced with Brexit, right-wing conservatism, a dysfunctional UKIP, the possibility of a new relationship with the US and the prospects of a Europe at risk, Labour needs to change its game.

It needs to abandon support for the Article 50 process, remain true to its internationalism and start to explain to voters the consequences for Britain that are piling up and are now being compounded by May’s overtures to Trump.

Brexit is destined to turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and for reasons of sentiment, history and ideology Britain is going to become more dependent on Trump’s America: and is in danger of becoming part of a concerted right-wing assault on the EU.

The politics of yesterday are being revisited as the echoes of the past grow louder.

Labour has to lead and Corbyn’s ambivalence towards the European project has to be dropped.

The levels of political dysfunction are growing in both countries and the prospects for stable politics are diminishing.

Politics is about passion, protest, purpose and principle. A small majority of people may have voted to leave but they didn’t vote for the chaos that is now our foreign and trade policy or the new relationship with Trump’s America or a conspiracy to dismantle the EU and undermine NATO or to encourage Putin’s strategy of weakening these vital institutions or Brexit at any price.

The world has changed since June 2016.

A new approach is needed: to oppose Article 50, to hold a binding vote in Parliament at the outcome of the negotiations and/or possibly a referendum, and from now on, to campaign in the country for a new worldview.

In politics you have to stand for something.

British people wouldn’t welcome the Americanisation of our society or creating some rehashed and imbalanced Atlantic partnership or becoming de facto the 51st state of the US or an offshore, deregulated, low tax and low welfare “bargain basement” Britain.

Adapting the slogan attacking Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential campaign and applying it to Brexit says it all. Theresa, “in your guts you know its nuts”.

Theresa May’s vision, of a world outside the EU, is a myth.

Nationalism is taking a grip. Populism is its electoral ally. Truth and freedom are the victims.

It is time for us to take a long hard look at why we are buying into the inevitability of leaving the EU. Sir Walter Scott summed it up when he said, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”.