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Brexit Hits Voters Where It Hurts, In Their Wallets – OpEd

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In an update from Brexit Britain, the powerful news this week is that some of those who voted for the UK to leave the EU in the June referendum are how clearly having second thoughts, as the economic impact of their suicidal vote starts to become apparent.

Because we have not yet left the EU and the economy has not gone into freefall as we drive ourselves voluntarily off the highest cliff imaginable, in the single most self-destructive act by a nation state in modern history, the chief fantasists of the Brexit camp — those Tory MPs and media commentators obsessed in a deranged manner with an illusory notion of Britain’s sovereignty — are still free to pretend that Brexit will not be a disaster, but is instead some sort of fabulous opportunity.

But two stories this week suggest that this colossal act of self-deception is under threat.

The first involves two polls undertaken last week. The first, conducted by YouGov for Open Britain, the organisation that rose from the ashes of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, revealed that, as the Guardian described it, “The British public will not accept a Brexit deal that leaves them worse off financially … In a sign that a majority of the public would be unwilling to accept an economically damaging hard Brexit, half of those who voted to leave the EU in June, including 62% of Labour voters and 59% of those in the north, would not be willing to lose any money at all as a consequence of Britain’s withdrawal.”

Just one in 10 of those who responded to questions from YouGov said that they “would be willing to lose more than £100 a month,” and Peter Kellner, the former president of YouGov, said that the results suggested that Theresa May “could have real difficulty in delivering a Brexit that satisfies those who voted for it.” He added, “This is the first poll to look specifically at whether leave voters are willing to accept any financial loss as a result of Brexit. The answer is that few are prepared to.”

The poll showed that 28% of voters expect to lose money as a result of Brexit, and that only 1 in 20 expect to be better off as a result, while just over 1 in 5 (22%) don’t expect that Brexit will have any impact on their finances.

Alarmingly, 45% have no idea what to expect – even though a significant boost to the Leave campaign’s popularity was its unfounded claim that leaving the EU would mean that £350m a week would be returned to the UK — to be spent, the Leave campaigners lied, on the NHS.

Another poll was undertaken by the consumer magazine Which?, revealing that “almost half the population (47%) are worried about Brexit, up eight points since September, with nearly two-thirds concerned about its potential impact on food prices.”

Interestingly, the Which? poll revealed that those who voted to leave the EU in areas where a majority of people voted to leave “are among those most unhappy to be left worse off, according to the study – including 59% in the north and 54% in Wales and the Midlands,” and even UKIP supporters are demonstrating an awareness of reality, with 39% not wanting to be worse off because of Brexit.

The Guardian noted that those opposing a “hard Brexit,” favoured by Theresa May, who has become a tyrannical Leave supporter since the referendum, “believe the findings could convince the government to think again on potential plans to pull out of the single market – and could reignite a contentious debate over whether Brexit voters were aware that their ballots meant leaving the single market,” something that voters weren’t aware of, of course, because the referendum was a ridiculously simplistic binary process: a simple yes or no, on an issue that is actually one of mind-bending complexity, with 43 years of laws and treaties tying us to the EU like the circulatory system of the human body.

In response to the polls, Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who have adopted a clear anti-Brexit position, unlike the conflicted Labour Party, said, “It’s clear the British public don’t want a hard Brexit at any cost, despite what the Tories might think. They no longer support membership of the single market and have given up on people who don’t wish to sign away a blank cheque Brexit.”

The Guardian also noted that Open Britain’s poll also suggests that “the prolonged period of uncertainty since the 23 June referendum has chipped away at the pro-Brexit majority,” noting that, “If a rerun of the vote were held tomorrow, remain and leave would be tied at 44% each, with 5% not voting at all and 7% undecided.”

On another front, as London suffers from flood after flood as a result of burst water mains, Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian has been asking how the economic blow that will undoubtedly be delivered if we leave the EU will be received by those who voted for it on the basis of lies — and points out how the government’s ongoing obsession with selling off British assets is relentlessly continuing, even though it is actually exactly what Leave voters don’t want, and even though part of the problem is revealed through an examination of who owns Thames Water, and how they’ve been plundering it financially.

In ‘A Brexit betrayal is coming – but who will get the blame?’ Chakrabortty asks, “What happens when 17 million people get the feeling they’ve been cheated?” adding, “That will be the most profound question in British politics, not just in 2017 but for many years to come. As the broken promises of Brexit pile up one on top of the other, so that they are visible from Sunderland, from Great Yarmouth, from Newport, what will the leave voters do then?”

He then explains that he isn’t talking about the £350m NHS lie, but about the promises “that went far deeper. The vow to ‘take back control’. To stop being the human punchline to someone else’s macroeconomic joke. To – as our north of England editor Helen Pidd wrote last week – no longer live on crumbs, while others in London enjoy entire loaves.”

As he proceeds to explain, “The Brexiteers were explicitly offering voters a once-in-a-lifetime shot at changing the status quo,” except that “change, in our new prime minister’s dictionary, just means more of the same. “[W]hatever is promised – hard or soft, red white or blue – it’s clear that the terms of Brexit will be dictated by Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel and the other 27 members of the EU, rather than by our dream team of May, Boris Johnson and David Davis,” Chakrabortty notes, adding, “We can also see much else of what the next few years will bring. The economic plan for the rest of this decade has been laid out by Philip Hammond, and it equals austerity-lite – but for even longer. The forecasts for wages and living standards are in, and they indicate Britain will suffer its first lost decade since Karl Marx was alive.”

He then runs through May’s broken promises — reversing her promise to “call off the expensive disaster of Hinkley C,” dropping her vow to install workers on company boards, and promising to stick up for “just about managing” families, then allowing Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, to “carry on slashing taxes for multinationals” instead.

Then Chakrabortty reaches his key point — “the foreign ownership of Britain’s infrastructure,” and delivers the following condemnation of one deal in particular, involving Macquarie, the Australian investment bank that heads the consortium that bought Thames Water in 2006 — and which announced its intention to sell its stake earlier this year. While water pipes are bursting all over London causing immense damage, because of neglect by Thames Water, Chakrabortty reveals that an academic study revealed that, in four out of the five years up to 2012, “Macquarie and its fellow investors took out more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits.” No wonder no neighbourhood is safe from watery destruction. As Chakrabortty also notes, some analysts cite the sell-off of Thames Water as “being among the greatest debacles in all of Britain’s history of privatisation.

Last week, while the tabloids and the majority of the now degenerate liberal mainstream media were encouraging everyone to look the other way (at the Supreme Court’s deliberations about the need for Parliament to be consulted before we leave the EU), the National Grid agreed to sell a a 61% shareholding in its gas pipe network to a consortium led by Macquarie, “also backed by China Investment Corporation (CIC) and Qatar Investment Authority, along with fund managers including Hermes and Allianz.”

As Chakrabortty describes Macquarie’s predatory role:

Remember how May promised to scrutinise any proposed takeovers of such strategic assets as water, energy and transport? Well, last week, while the rightwing commentators were diligently huffing and puffing over Gina Miller at the supreme court, another kind of sovereignty was being covered on the City pages. The National Grid announced it would sell a majority of its gas pipelines to a consortium of largely overseas investors, including China and Qatar, and led by an Australian investment bank, Macquarie.

You may never have heard of Macquarie, but my guess is you’ve probably been one of its customers. The bank is known as the “millionaires’ factory” or the “vampire kangaroo” – and it owns a lot of the most prosaic parts of British life. You’ve been Macquaried if you’ve left your car in a National Car Park, or flown out of Glasgow, Southampton or Aberdeen or if you’re among its 14 million customers in Thames Water. And as of next spring, it will lead an international group with a 61% share in our biggest gas distribution network: that’s 82,000 miles of pipe, serving 11m homes and businesses across eastern England, the north-west and the West Midlands.

I have come across Macquarie before, through its handling of Thames Water, which some analysts cite as being among the greatest debacles in all of Britain’s history of privatisation. Just as with National Grid, it led a consortium to buy Thames. Two academics at the Open University examined the accounts between 2007 and 2012 and found that in four out of those five years, Macquarie and its fellow investors took out more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits. They crippled the firm with billions in debt, while Thames customers paid ever more in water bills and got among the worst service offered by any water company.

And if you think this is bad, bear in mind that Macquarie and other non-UK, non-EU corporations, China, Qatar and other Gulf states, unaccountable hedge funds and other leech-like or vampiric enemies of British well-being and economic prosperity are exactly who the Brexiteers in government are turning to to sell what has not already been sold in an effort to stave off the worst of the disaster that leaving the EU will entail. From living in a peaceful lagoon in which our fellow fish are, more or less, just like us (the EU), we are now plunging into inhospitable waters full of sharks just waiting to feast on what is left of the corpse of the UK.

When, or if, I wonder, will people wake up to the true cost of Brexit, and the reality that our so-called leaders are actually preparing to sell us off even more disgracefully than they have been doing for the last 30 years?


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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.

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