Brexiters’ Trumpish foreign policy is incoherent and dangerous

It's not a great strategy to insult countries you hope to trade with


The case for Brexit as made by its official campaign spokesmen has had two main components, beyond saving money: free of the yoke of EU membership, Britain could form its own trading deals and reduce the number of people immigrating to the country.

By coincidence, these happen to be the two core policies of Donald Trump’s bid for US president. And like Trump, the Leave campaign promises to deliver ‘better deals’ for the British people – but provides little in the way of details.

And, again like Trump, the way Leave has chosen to campaign for their blissful dawn has a central and possibly fatal contradiction. Namely, they are using foreign countries as both stick and carrot, enemy and friend, problem and solution.

Here’s an example. Leave says it wants to be free to trade with countries like the US after Brexit on as good or better terms than is the case now.

But when president Obama came out for a Remain vote, the Leave campaign’s de-facto leader, Boris Johnson, reached into the scuzziest corners of US right-wingery to suggest the ‘part-Kenyan president’ has an ‘ancestral dislike of the British empire’.

Nor was he alone. Almost every Brexiter worth the name denounced the president for meddling in Britain’s affairs and ‘threatening’ its citizens.

(Less surprisingly, UKIP leader Nigel Farage underwrote Johnson’s piece of bigotry, saying: ‘I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country.’) This about a sitting president of an allied country with which they hope to trade after leaving the EU.

Then we have senior Brexiter Michael Gove’s love-hate relationship with Albania – one minute taking it as a post-Leave ‘model’ for Britain and a fellow member of a ‘free trade area’, (both ideas rubbished by the Albanian prime minister), and another as a symbol of mass immigration if Britain stays in the EU.

Move then to the latest example. Discussing European unity over the weekend, Boris Johnson told the Telegraph: ‘Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.’

The idea that Adolf Hitler wanted a united Europe is about as ludicrous as Ken Livingstone saying Hitler was a Zionist. To claim the EU is ‘an attempt’ by ‘different methods’ to do what Hitler wanted to do, or to even imply a comparison between the European Union and the Nazi empire, is obscene, as well as historically illiterate.

Yet his remarks were defended by Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chris Grayling and Norman Lamont, so Leavers can’t shrug this off as ‘silly old Boris’. The Sun newspaper has also backed his comparison. This theme of a German-led EU being a posthumous victory for Kaiser and Führer is pretty standard in the conservative press, which routinely visits bigotry upon Chancellor Merkel.

What we are seeing then is a mainstreaming by the Brexiters of the residual chauvinism of empire. They claim to love Europe, but appear to hate Europeans – the bossy Germans, the shifty French, the profligate Greeks, the uppity Ukrainians, and so on.

It’s hardly a brilliant strategy to insult and defame the people you hope to trade with. Nor are you likely to ‘control immigration’ when you treat your nearest neighbours with contempt.

How did the Leave camp end up in this hole? I think because an honest look at who Britain’s friends and enemies are in and outside Europe would make a decent case for EU membership.

Faced with this unwelcome fact, the Brexiters have to deny and distort reality, placing us in the murky world of right-wing propaganda, where the US president is a tyrant, Vladimir Putin a misunderstood hero of national self-determination, and Europe a crypto-Nazi/Soviet superstate after our precious bodily fluids.

Whether they can sell this to the British people is in some ways less important than their mainstreaming of a poisonous worldview, the effects of which will last beyond this referendum.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

6 Responses to “Brexiters’ Trumpish foreign policy is incoherent and dangerous”

  1. James Kemp

    >> ludicrous as Ken Livingstone saying Hitler was a Zionist.

    He Didn’t i suggest you listen to his interview he said you could say he supported them.

    Oh and if your going to tell us how stupid we are about the Wonderful democratic EU and i am being sarcastic. You tell the truth about TTIP the demon in the room the most evil trade deal ever that the EU is desperate to sign and will destroy what is left of the NHS, i guess that doesn’t matter to you?

    We have been slagging off the world and them us since ogg in the cavemen age and noon really notices it’s just words and forgotten tomorrow just look at the popularity of Trump for that!

  2. Comrade Commissioner




    TO SAY

    Vote to Leave the EU !

    In a month, each of us will have to answer the following question in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union:

    “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the EU?”
    Leaving the European Union is the first practical step we must take in order to break with:

    -privatisation – and the ban on re-nationalisation – which hands over to the banks and private interests all of the public services won by the working class thanks to the struggles of our organisations and especially our trade unions;

    -the ban on state aid and re-nationalisation in response to the destruction of industry, e.g. steel;

    -the elimination of collective bargaining agreements as required by the EU in the name of competitiveness;

    -the deregulation of employment contracts and the promotion of zero-hour contracts, which is the source of job-insecurity and poverty wages;

    -the anti-strike and anti-trade union policy being used to drive down the cost of labour. The new anti-trade union bill puts the finishing touches to Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws, which have never been repealed by any subsequent government;

    -austerity, which is the EU’s DNA and leads to the destruction of pensions, education, social housing, the NHS and every local public service, as well as strangling local government, further adding to poverty and social inequality;

    -the policy referred to as “fiscal responsibility”, a variety of social partnership, which aims to co-opt the labour organisations into the process of applying the budget austerity policy imposed by the EU and implemented by the various governments;

    -the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a Trojan horse for US big business and militarisism

    Vote to LEAVE!

  3. Lord Fauntleroy de Belize

    Actually it is the European Remanians, not the Brexiteers (note the spelling please)who are anti world.
    Allow me to explain why.
    At the moment, Europe is inward looking. We are interested in ISOs and bilateral agreements between countries, not supernational TTIP and the pathetic little arrangements with Mexico and Belize. We want to represent ourselves in world trade discussions – codex alimentarius, for instance, Nato, the WTO, the UN Security Council. At the moment, we have no voice there at all. We need our own foreign policy – not that of Federica Mogherini and M. Juncker who are busy expanding the EU into Eastern Europe at the expense of relations with Russia.
    Do you really want this country – and the socialist movement within it – to be represented by people from 28 states which vary from Latvia, through Greece to Portugal, where (outside the Eurozone) we have less clout than Eire?

  4. Ed White

    We’ve had enough…. People on the right have had enough. People on the left have had enough. Those many in the middle have had enough. My friends have had enough, my family’s had enough. Remember the great Tony Benn? He had enough… I’ve had enough. There can be no loyal Briton who would vote to surrender away all that which our forefathers – be they Scotsman, Irishman, Englishman or Welshman – fought for, bled and died to bestow to us. Freedom, democracy and the right to self-determination have no price. Period. It’s time to Leave.

  5. wg

    “What we are seeing then is a mainstreaming by the Brexiters of the residual chauvinism of empire.”

    Why does this not apply to the “Progressive Interventionists” of the Labour party?

    The Labour party, under the be-sainted Tony Blair, made a policy out of invading sovereign countries in order to inflict his fluffy version of whatever form of democracy he wished them to have.

    If it comes down to minding our own affairs and shunning the globalist’s New World Order, or reducing cities to rubble in other nations, I’ll settle for the former.

    It is this warped inversion of what the Labour party used to be about, and its new power sharing with the EU corporates, that seem to hanker after “empire”

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