Far from ‘taking back control,’ Brexit has humbled Britain.
From an establishment point of view, Brexit has diminished Britain. Before the referendum, the UK, in equal standing with Germany and France, was one of the three hard-hitters in the EU. The UK had a tailor-made EU membership, with exemptions, dispensations and a budget rebate. It was the ‘respected’ representative of US interests inside the EU; and the UK was a vehicle for the City and International firms passporting into Europe. All of that is now going or has already gone.
Today, the British elite, along with the electorate, is severely divided about what to do with referendum result. Very few are still holding out hope for retention of full EU membership. Most of business, the trade unions and a majority of popular opinion want to cling to the European Union through a ‘soft Brexit.’ That means retaining membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market. But while this option is to be much preferred to to any hard withdrawal, it would inevitably mean Britain becoming a mere rule-taker; i.e. accepting EU law without having a say in its creation.
But a soft Brexit is an anathema to the Tory Brexit elite, who have the whip hand in the May Government. They want the UK to spurn the European social-market model all together and fall into step with the US economy. After the shocks of a hard withdrawal, they desire the creation of a society of low taxes, minimal rights for workers and consumers, with little or no social welfare - a European America or a Singapore on the Thames.
Nevertheless, such a long-term ‘pro-capitalist’ project is a shaky policy for the Tory Party to adopt, because it commands little electoral support and is the mirror opposite of what most working-class Leave voters want. In addition, such a strategy is of little immediate benefit to a great deal of business, which today is struggling not to be impeded in European markets.
But to understand the Brexit elite, we have to realise that for these Tories economic calculation is not everything. The Tory Brexiters are also driven by a Europhobic nationalism, which has always balked at the idea of the UK being an equal partner of other European states, let alone being subject to pan-European law. They cling to a delusional sense of their own ‘Anglo-Saxon’ superiority come what may.
One thing is clear, Brexit entails a loss of power and influence for Britain. The UK is no longer a leading partner in the EU but an isolated medium-sized country being forced to chose to which economic superpower it subordinates itself - the EU27 or the US. For the country’s institutions it's not about taking back control but about national humiliation.