Stephen Colegrave looks at how Boris Johnson’s determination to make Brexit a success is in danger of increasing inequality and social problems in Britain on a scale not seen before.
Many people will be voting for Boris Johnson in this General Election because they feel he will give Britain back its place in the world.
Older voters will leave their sick beds to vote for a Brexit that brings back a sense of Empire, or at least a revitalised Commonwealth. There is a Trumpian sense that we will ‘Make Britain Great Again’ if we can apparently regain control of our borders and our laws.
The reality is likely to be very different. The indications are that Johnson and the wealthy vested interests behind Brexit will drag us further away from the Victorian centre of the world towards a South American-type state. Why?
The US Trade Deal
Until now, the UK has been sheltered by the EU from pressure by the US to reduce the standards of our food produce, including chlorinated chicken. This was a major part of the discussions at the trade talks with the US, described in the unredacted reports that came to light last week.
The US uses chlorination as a cheap way to try to compensate for poor farming standards and there is no doubt that the US has much laxer standards. According to FarmingUK, in the US, the use of antibiotics is on average five times higher than in the UK – which increases the chance of antibiotics no longer working for humans. Even more worrying, it found that instances of food poisoning in the US were 10 times higher than in the UK.
Once Johnson has got his way to pursue a US trade deal at all costs to prove that Brexit was right, there will be no going back.
Our big farmers are already planning for a ‘no subsidy scenario’ and are looking at how they can survive by converting to a high input, high yield approach, to compete in world markets with a race to the bottom in terms of quality, safety and environmental benefit. If that’s the case, any hopes of trading with the EU in food products will be wiped away.
As Mike Buckley explained in these pages recently: “Instead of being honest about their plans to diverge from EU standards and regulations, [the Conservatives] have said that their trade deal with the EU would be easy because we start out completely aligned. They have failed to be honest about the fact that the whole point of their new trade deal is to create divergence… a first in the history of trade deals.”
The Widening Chasm Between Rich and Poor
The UK has always had wealthy and poor people, but the chasm between them is arguably moving closer to the proportions of inequality found in the countries of South America.
On the campaign trail, Johnson has hardly talked about, or acknowledged, poverty. However, after nine years of a Conservative Government and austerity, 21% of the UK population live in relative poverty, according to a report by the Department for Works and Pensions in 2015. Of course, there are different definitions of poverty, but Britain already is heading towards the levels found in South America, where it affects 30.7% of the population, according to a Borgen Project report in 2016.
Johnson has announced a Brexit ‘tax-cutting budget’ within his first 100 days, but it is likely to favour the rich not the poor – especially as his friends and donors are super-rich and he himself earned nearly £1 million last year and has already complained of struggling on a Prime Minister’s salary of just over £1,300 a week.
As the poor suffer from zero hours contracts and the difficulties of Universal Credit, the rich are getting richer and richer. The richest 1% in the UK own the same wealth as the bottom 80% – or 53.2 million people – and this doesn’t take into account the global super-rich and oligarchs who use London as their playground.
Increasing inequality also tends to lead to an increase in crime. The UK has never been a violent society and we should be proud of the fact that most of our police do not carry guns. We have a long tradition of prison reform and rehabilitating prisoners into back into society.
However, Johnson’s keenness to only tackle the symptoms of crime with more police, longer sentences, more prisoners and grandstanding over the death of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at London Bridge all bode badly for an increase in the prison population. The numbers of those imprisoned in Uruguay and Brazil are nearly double that of the UK.
Johnson’s friendship with Trump aside, his necessity to make Brexit work, as well as to get it done, means that he has to strike an early and impressive trade deal with the US. That’s why he will dance around the definition of ‘selling’ the NHS.
Plenty of Scope To Rip The Guts Out Of The NHS
Johnson knows that, for the British electorate, universal free access to the NHS is a red line and he is not stupid enough to cross this. However, this still leaves him plenty of scope to give the guts of the NHS away.
He can argue that most of the transformation of the NHS over the past five years has come from digitisation. Enabling data sharing will be the next big thing to transform our health. Virtually all of the suppliers of this technology are American and most have won business in the NHS on their own merits.
This is not the case for medicines. It was evident in the minutes of the trade discussions that the big US Pharma companies are keen to hike up prices in the UK to US levels and stop the NHS getting value from generics. It is easy to envisage a scenario in which Johnson, to get a trade deal, allows the price of medicines to rise and lets this soak up the extra budget for the NHS that he is trumpeting in his manifesto.
For non-prescription drugs, Johnson shows no real attempt to stop us sliding towards a South American-type state. His manifesto says warm words about “breaking the cycle of crime linked to addiction”, but the reality is that the Conservative Government has taken funding away from drug treatment services, rehabilitation and support. The UK is already primed with the highest cocaine use in Europe and Scotland has the highest drug-related deaths rate in all of the European Union.
A Vassal State of The US
Could the UK end up becoming a vassal state to America? The signs aren’t good.
From his haste to sign a deal with the US, to his determination to reward the rich and not the poor, and his lack of interest in tackling the causes of crime and drug addiction, Johnson appears to want to move Britain towards become a vassal state of the US, just like most of South America.
The only people who are going to benefit from this are the wealthy elite like the hedge fund owners who made up 65% of Johnson’s Conservative leadership campaign donations or the Russians who have increased their donations to the Conservative Party. They will be safe in their security-patrolled neighbourhoods in Kensington and Chelsea, whilst we live in an increasingly impoverished and insecure nation.
Perhaps we will be mollified by football and Samba.