Brexit: The Union Strikes Back!

In the face of the UK’s uncompromising Brexit demands, it must be noted that the EU has begun to act beyond merely defending the values and principles enjoyed by its members. On the surface one sees the likes of Merkel, Hollande and Junker adopting rhetoric of solidarity, underlining the necessary respect for the EU’s institutions as the UK (un)diplomatically approaches its future relationship with the bloc. However, certain actors within the Union are successfully sharpening Brussels’ tone and are looking to make major political gains out of Brexit at the expense of the UK’s territorial integrity.

One would think immediately of warm European support for another potential Scottish referendum, considering the regional voting outcome and the SNP’s pro-EU stance. Though the EU reluctantly dismisses Scottish independence, whose succession from the UK would vindicate regionalist and independence movements in Belgium and Spain, the Union is now seemingly eying up land grabs of British territories which share land borders with the EU.

More specifically, territorial revisionism is being fanned on the Iberian Peninsula and in Ireland for political gain. Both Spain and the Republic of Ireland have longingly strived for the reintegration of the British territories of Gibraltar and Northern Ireland for longer than the EU’s existed. While the return of Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar is a truism of Spanish foreign / domestic policy, Spain can certainly see Gibraltar’s overwhelming 96% of votes for Remain as grounds on which to negotiate an exceptional case for Gibraltar if it wishes to retain its access to the EU, notwithstanding the UK’s hard Brexit line. Meanwhile, Red Poll C, the Republic of Ireland’s pollster of choice, reported that two thirds of its sampled electorate would vote for a reunited Ireland, reigniting the Ireland question, and entertaining the thought of an if not too idealistic border solution between the two Irelands.

The EU has identified an opportunity to present itself as a more paternalistic state, positioned to ambitiously unite regions whose distinctive political, ethnic and religious cultures stand in stark contrast with one another. I purposefully refer to the EU as a state here. Were a nation to leave a trading bloc like the ALADI (the Latin American Integration Association), it wouldn’t typically provoke such a furore. ‘Ah, well. That country’s loss’, would be a standard response. However, the European Union is treating Brexit like a case of succession. And this entails punitive actions beyond the scope of mere loss of membership. This points to continuity in the EU’s policy of sporadic and opportunistic expansion. But without a European army, the European Brexit negotiating team has instead drafted the provocative measures in its legalese.

The ‘East-German Clause’, which would see Northern Ireland seamlessly transition into the EU as the former German Democratic Republic did over 25 years ago, and Brussels’ offering Spain a veto right over the status of Gibraltatar are underhand actions which suggest opportunities for EU statecraft; further expansion.

On June 23rd the EU faced a turning point in its post-Maastricht method of governance. The eradication of euroscepticism thenceforth became the EU’s top priority, which meant kickstarting an ambiguous campaign to raise popular support. Further integration was dismissed, for as an argument it could not counter the pressure from eurosceptic voices in central and southern Europe, and was often pointed to as the source of the UK’s opposition to the Union. Since then, the EU has had to make statements of strength in its period of crisis.

European leaders have come out committed to the ‘project’. Francçois Hollande maintains that Britain must be punished for its decision to exit, with Juncker also wanting to make an example out of Britain for any member states dabbling with euroscepticism. Brexit has even become a point-scoring game in the French presidential election, where frontrunner Emmanuel Macron alluded to the renegotiation of Le Touquet border treaty which sees British and French borders extend to Calais and Dover, respectively. Again, this is an affront to what Britain has taken for granted as an extended border on the cliff-face of the continent.

The humiliation and physical removal of Britain is certainly on the Union’s agenda. Nobody in Brussels wants to see Britain come out on top over the next two years. Killing two birds with one stone the EU will make British concessions both benefit EU member states, in turn presenting the EU as rightfully having its member states’ interests at heart, while also serving as a stark warning to the less EU enthused states that they would be much worse off outside of the club.

As a British europhile, one sees the EU’s traditionally patient and accommodating character slipping away, and it presents a moral dilemma. One identifies neither with the May government, nor with the EU’s actions as of late. The UK has been hijacked by Brexit zealots, forcing the EU into a corner. Recent developments show just how far the EU will go to defend itself against europhobia.

‘I love WikiLeaks’: Julian Assange and FANCY BEAR

I once considered Julian Assange a man of principles and admired his efforts to create a platform where all the world’s darkest secrets could be shared without someone fearing reprisal. I even went to see Cumberbatch immortalise the Australian in The Fifth Estate – I was sadly that enthusiastic. But since Assange’s calculated smear campaign against Hillary last summer, I’d not have expected hippy Assange to prop up such a candidate like Trump. I questioned WikiLeaks’ allegiance to the truth.

I couldn’t seem to rationalise why WikiLeaks published the hacked DNC emails on its website; I even convinced myself Assange was a man with no true allegiances, just wanting to spur on a kind of dialectic, ushering in some anarchic change. However, Business Insider UK’s report of long-standing links between Nigel Farage and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, and Farage’s shady visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy on Thursday 9 March, made me stop and think twice. Both Assange and Farage, as well as Trump, are the anti-establishment. But is this at all newsworthy? And what are their shared motivations — their common ground?

It turns out there’s quite a lot. As for Assange and Trump, they’ve been implicated in a clandestine love affair since the very beginning of the DNC hacks, with Russia the spectral middle man. In a brief breakdown:

  • FANCY BEAR, i.e. Russia’s military intelligence agency, infiltrates the DNC in April 2016. Its targets? Opposition research on Trump and the DNC’s emails.
  • In June, WikiLeaks, Assange’s technological showpiece, publishes a torrent which it encourages the DNC hacker’s findings to be uploaded to. Later that month, Julian Assange claims he has “enough evidence” to indict Hilary Clinton.
  • It reaches a crescendo on July 22 when WikiLeaks releases 20,000 DNC emails. WikiLeaks threatens a journalist with legal action over Twitter two days later for suggesting links between Russia, Trump and WikiLeaks.

Assange’s vendetta for Clinton was made clear in an interview with ITV political editor, Robert Peston. Assange derided her Libyan blunder in 2011, labelling her a ‘liberal war hawk’. By contrast, Assange defended a Trump presidency as “completely unpredictable”. And that’s somewhat more reassuring, of course.

Putin’s motivations are more convincing; she’s the epitome of neo-liberalism and short-sighted American imperialism. However, Clinton’s thinly veiled comments on the legitimacy of the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia are believed to be the main reason for pop president Putin’s hostility.

Trump’s unrelenting barage of attacks weren’t visceral, rather tactical. He’s a pragmatic man, and the Clintons, former expedient business aquaintances, were simply obstacles firmly established on the Hill who needed to be torn down. Trump’s opposition to Clinton was obviously for the presidency, and this did not stop him from appropriating campist discourse and utilising its outlets.

And if it’s not all dead obvious that something suspect was going on between the three, I leave you with the man himself:

“Russia, I hope you’re listening. If you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will be rewarded mightily by our press” – Donald J. Trump, 27th July 2016

and then the not too subtle

“I love WikiLeaks” – Donald J. Trump, 10th October 2016

So what about Farage? In short, UKIP under Farage has been arguing for Assange’s release and the dropping of the European Arrest Warant in relation to rape allegations in Sweden. UKIP MEPs have been calculated, attempting to positively present Assange’s release within the EU Parliament and even the House of Lords. It’s worth noting at this point that an American reporter questioned Sean Spicer on Farage meeting with Assange on the 9th March, asking whether he did so on behalf of the Trump Administration. The links with Farage may be tenuous insofar as what’s materially there, though the ideological similarities between Trump and Farage suggest that something may be amiss.

But the common ground is unquestionably Russia. Russia’s political elite have had their fingers in all three of their pies; through financial support to Trump’s property enterprises, but also in the form of foreign agent Michael Flynn, and a dose of saucy kompromat. But pan-eurosceptics like Farage and Le Pen have also benefitted, with the latter financially entwined in the Russian banking system, while the former rims the Russian propagandist mouthpiece RT. He’s an eager guest, most recently berated by a young girl for his xenophobia, shortly after being knighted with an inflatable sword. But apparently nothing on WikiLeaks?

Were you to go and visit the WikiLeaks site, you’d be faced with pages upon pages of WikiLeaks revelations on domestic and international US controversies. But go enter ‘Russian cronyism’ or ‘Russian corruption’. Nothing appears on the subject. I challenge you to find any WikiLeaks document discrediting Russia.

WikiLeaks can be seen as a campist organisation; a conduit for Russian intelligence enhancement, and as such a proponent of a bipolar world like that during the Cold War. The WikiLeaks revelations on American foreign and domestic surveillance fit well within the grand narrative of American distrust and imperialist tendencies. The likes of WikiLeaks and RT present these happily to an enraged, campist left. But ironically, the undermining of American security agencies is in turn bolstering right-wing crony Trump’s attacks on the corrupt establishment.

Whether it intended to or not, WikiLeaks has inadvertently propelled Trump to dizzying heights, who’s enacting isolationist and protectionist measures. But crucially, the US is now getting cold feet over duties it’s performed thus far. Trump’s shaky on NATO, accuses the ECB – most notably Germany – of currency manipulation, and is already lifting sanctions on Russia following the DNC hacks and the annexation of Crimea. This gives Russia hella confidence; the undermining of its neighbouring political block is advantageous as it seeks disunity to exploit political and economic opportunities. Think Brexit. Think the Baltics. Think Ukraine. Think resentful Turkey. It’s just like the prophecying Russian foreign policy bible: Foundations of Geopolitics.

So should we worry? These political actors have been playing the long game and are sure to continue. What is lacking, unfortunately, is concrete evidence implicating each individual in a group conspiracy. More likely is that the Kremlin is directing these snide operations so as to avoid crossing paths. But funnily enough, we rely on Assange-like whistleblowers to confirm these links. Looks like we’re going to have to play the long game with them.

Post-truth and The Zeitgeist

What we are now seeing with the USA is becoming typical of our time. President Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims from seven Islamic states entering the US has provoked international abhorrence. It is not just the religious blanket ban on Muslims that disturbs us, however, but Trump’s absolutist reasoning behind the ‘banned states’. As the republican candidate during the presidential campaign Trump publicly called for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.’ Such a narrative of populist diatribe should be something we fear; it marks the return of a destructive trend. The established rational idea, that heads of state participate in structured organisations and find consensus to bring about change, and the reclaimed belief that unilateralism and populism’s decisiveness and efficiency are unparalleled, are now both equally as normalised.

Adam Curtis’ hit BBC documentary, Hypernormalisationand the themes it raises, are very much the support to this analysis. The deceptive act of perception management is central to our understanding of Trump and other populists’ political strategies, for they aim to distract people from the complexities of the world. Curtis explains how this originated and developed from Reaganism and the complex sequence of events and acts of aggression towards America in the Arab world. Reagan’s aim was that of a moral crusade: America would fight evil and make the world a better place. We can immediately see how appealing a narrative this can be to Americans today after more than a decade of the War on Terror – coincidentally a series of wars, namely that in Irak, where intervention was based on fabricated and factually inaccurate truths – which has culminated in nothing more but the most outwardly aggressive Islamic caliphate the modern world has ever seen.

Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, a former student of the Sharia, is a relatively unknown, yet major influence on Trump’s Muslim ban on refugees and the now rescinded green card-holders (those vetted and permitted to enter the US) from Syria, Iraq, Libya, among other states. During the American occupation of Irak, al-Bagdadi was interned in a US prison where he was radicalised. Upon release, he encouraged an expansion of underground Sunni militia cells and patiently waited with them until the Americans left. As the Syrian civil war broke out, al-Bagdadi ordered a group of his Sunni militiamen, al-Nusra Front, to integrate amongst the Syrian rebels and eventually turn on them, implementing Sharia law in those areas taken by their rebel ‘partners’. Chaos ensued, an Islamic caliphate was declared, and an international scepticism for ostensibly ‘democratic’ forces conveniently developed into a general mistrust of Muslims from areas under IS control. After the apathy and anger over the futility of The War on Terror, Trump hijacked the truth and simplified it. Heeding German sociologist Ulter Beck’s theory of risk society, the idea that threats can be socially constructed and overexaggerated to be perceived as more dangerous, Trump has attempted to depict Islam, Muslims and unfettered migration from Mexico as threats to American society unparalleled by any others. This fits in with the simplicity of the Reagan narrative of good and bad, them and us, and Trump and his administration will fight to the death to defend it. This takes us to post-truth.

Raw emotions drove political decision-making in the US presidential campaign. Just how the net gains of EU membership were sidelined once the Remain Campaign carted out an eye-catching image of a line of foreigners with the suggestive slogan ‘Breaking Point’, Trump berated American political institutions for being deeply flawed and unfair. Its effect was incredible. Despite the complete lack of political credibility, Trump and Farage had managed to pull at the heart strings of those sceptical of a system and environment they couldn’t understand and from which they did not benefit. The post-truth era was established on the 24th June 2016 when a narrow majority of UK citizens voted in favour of leaving the European Union and later that year vindicated by Trump’s election on 9th November.

Both Theresa May’s flanking cabinet eurosceptics’ defining the Brexit negotiations’ 12 aims, and an uncalculated commitment to the economically inviable Mexican borderwall and a partial paralysis of American businesses dependent on employees from the 7 banned states have shown populism to trump pragmatism. The campaign tactic which both movements depended on, post-truth, is again being used to justify their promises. Kellyanne Conway, advisor to Trump, defended the hard to enforce Muslim ban, describing the widespread chaos as ‘a small price to pay‘ for American security. There goes that post-truth again: American security.

And when the Trump administration’s authority is further undermined, it bounces back by denying factually evident truths which both stupify and bewilder those who possess basic cognitive functions. Think of Sean Spicer’s laughable claim of a greater turnout for Trump’s inauguration over Obama’s in 2008. Its labelling of certain news outlets as ‘fake news’ is the most dangerous method, however, which seeks to both delegitimise the truth seekers and legitimise the truth deniers.

We need to keep our heads in this era of confusion in which we now question truths from our heads of state. The dichotomous nature of the world should be acknowledged and approached as such. We must continue to question in order to discover what has brought us to this tumultuous, factually vulnerable period of time, while we acknowledge there will never be simple fixes to come from hotheaded decision makers. President Trump’s first week will be seen in retrospect as emblematic of an established political trend: that everyone has a simple, idealised vision for the future, but no one has the inclination to understand and investigate its complex past.

The Status of British Relevance Will Be ‘Negotiated’

The May government faces a crisis of relevance. Following news of the pound’s three-month low in wake of May’s Tuesday Brexit speech, Gove’s offering of no further clarity on a Trump brokered US-UK trade deal from 2019, and the video of Mrs. May aimlessly searching for leaders to speak with at the European Summit in December – the epitome of Britain’s position in Europe right now – the UK now stands at the ‘back of the queue’ in many areas of global importance.

We start with Europe. Ever since the Brexit vote, which frustrated ‘Eurocrats’ and various political figures all over Europe, those bloody Europeans have been uncompromising on the EU’s principles of free movement for free market access. Tsk, if only May heeded Cameron’s pragmatism with disincentives for European workers, then single market access might not be at the mercy of ideological imperatives. But the discontinuation of EU membership will be merely an economic blow to the empire of yore. As for our international presence, a series of British blunders in Libya ensued in 2011, parliament was hesitant over the bombing of the Assad regime back in 2013, stifling Obama’s aerial campaign against the Syrian dictator, and Britain being absent from the Minsk Accords in 2014, instead being assumed by France and Germany, has culminated Britain into a sapless ‘yes man’ with no real presence in international processes.

Talking of America, Trump’s rapprochement with Russia is leaving little room for May to maintain the US and UK’s ‘special relationship’. With news on Trump’s foreign policy overwhelmingly swamped by the affectionately coined ‘Vlump’ friendship – cheers, Jimmy Fallon – and one of Trump’s first foreign visits yesterday confirmed to be to a summit in Reykjavik with Putin, where does the absent UK fit in, if at all in this diplomatic upheaval?

It’s common knowledge by now that the May government isn’t a top priority for the next American administration. Despite May’s slimy admiration for the Donald, she was only tenth (!!) on the list of the president-elect’s first calls to foreign leaders. Days later we got good ol’ one of the people Nigel Farage skipping eagerly across the Atlantic to shake hands first with Trump in his high castle, followed by a cringe worthy proposal of Nige taking the role as UK ambassador to the US in what can only be described as a demonstration of the leader of the Free World’s abysmal understanding of the British political system. But oh, May’s a fighter. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose, and like a delirious ex who won’t take a hint she maintains high hopes for a closer economic friendship with the United States of Trump at a time when the protectionist Trump-Pence duo are thinking of hashing the NAFTA trade agreement made between the USA’s own North American neighbours.

Turning back to the suspect Vlump friendship, the UK is now also having to fend off Russian accusations that MI6 was culpable for the dirty dossier; a dossier much raunchier than the dodgy one authored by Alistair Campbell, it implicates the Donald in having kinky sex with prostitutes during his trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe contest in 2013. If Russia’s narrative is picked up by the Trump administration, then it would further bolster the campaign to vilify the US intelligence services, and wouldn’t help the Trump-May rapport any better, either. Lest we also consider the divergent foreign policy towards Russia, with the UK remaining steadfast on Russian sanctions and Trump ready to drop them were Moscow to do ‘some really great things’…

So let me ask again where the UK fits in on the global stage. I’ll tell you where it’s at: the very periphery of the conventional West.

In an increasingly protectionist, inward-looking West, Brexit Britain has to rethink its diplomatic approach to the international community. It must halt burning bridges with the EU if it desires to maintain its economic and political soft power. Elsewhere, although unlikely, and given the desperation of this government’s trading policy, we must side on the line of caution when trading and cooperating with states tarnished with shabby human rights records or run by crony heads of state. By all means rekindle old ties with the Commonwealth and take trade further with the Asian Tigers and Japan, otherwise the UK could be permanently ousted as a major player in its own back garden by Germany, and namely France which overtook our economy last year. Expanding on our humanitarian and foreign aid is a great way of maintaining soft power in far-flung corners of the world at a time when the debate on foreign aid has been hijacked by Brexiteers. But this is the crux of the problem; only until we know what power the Brexiteers are taking back do we know what the future of the UK will be on the world stage.