Brexit: the ‘Australian option’?

The British approach to Trump has been quite different, although even here Johnson seems to have underestimated just how difficult an operator Trump is. His decision to adopt Huwei technology led to a temporary breakdown in relations between the two sides, and civil servants were said to be aghast at the level of Trump’s anger.

But that aside, Johnson clearly favours the transatlantic relationship. And this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, a central driver for Brexit for a section of Britain’s ruling class has always been that the EU is an over-regulated bureaucratic nightmare akin to a communist dictatorship. Brexit, for them, represented a desire to break free from Europe, slash regulations and become a free market US proxy floating in the North Atlantic.

A trade deal is a key mechanism for locking in this right-wing dream, and for fundamentally and irreversibly shifting power away from ordinary people and towards international capital.

That’s precisely because trade deals today are really about so much more than ‘trade’. Indeed in many ways trade rules are the fundamental laws of the global economy. And unlike international agreements on human rights or climate changes, they are highly enforceable.

By their nature, they’re largely written behind closed doors, especially in post-Brexit Britain where we have no accountability mechanisms. MPs have no rights to vote on the government’s objectives, no ability to properly scrutinise the negotiations, and can’t even stop a trade deal when it’s been agreed. Ironically, while our potential trade deal with the EU would have to be passed through the European Council and the European Parliament, and in all likelihood member state parliaments and even regional assemblies in Belgium, our MPs will have no power over that deal.

‘Science-based’ chlorine chicken

Chlorine chicken has become a symbol of a US trade deal, and this isn’t as frivolous as it might sound. Rather these poor birds are a great symbol of the downward pressure which modern trade deals exert on our hard-fought for rights, standards and protections. How does it work? Imagine I’m a chicken farmer in the US. I think my chicken is just as good and just as safe as British chicken, but I farm it in a different way. I see British food standards, which don’t allow me to wash my chicken in chemicals like chlorine, as simply a form of trade protectionism. So I lobby my government to ensure that in the trade deal my chicken is seen as ‘equivalent’ to British chicken, and can enter the British market even though it’s made in ways not allowed here.

This might be acceptable if the chicken genuinely was the same. But US food standards are radically different to those practiced in Britain. US agriculture is dominated by massive corporations, farming animals on an industrial scale, with intensive use of antibiotics, hormones and steroids to promote rapid growth and prevent illness in what are often extremely unpleasant and unhealthy conditions. It isn’t the chlorine that’s the problem per se, more that it conceals a non-existent animal welfare system.

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