Richard North, 30/04/2019  

Those who watched the "clash" between Iain Duncan Smith and Pascal Lamy on the BBC's Politics Live show yesterday may have been suitably entertained by the dramatics. But those of us who cannot bear to expend their life energy on such mind-numbing activities, there was always the media report to give us the gist of what happened.

In a nutshell, Duncan Smith made his usual facile comments about "alternative arrangements" for the Irish border, while Lamy attacked them as "pie in the sky". But, to emphasise the point, the former director general of the WTO indulged in eye-rolling and other "extravagant" gestures, to the delight of the pundits, turning just another boring encounter into a small piece of theatre.

Gone are the days when anyone is seriously attempting to argue the issues. Each side has its fixed positions, superglued into place with no more chance of movement than an "Extinction Rebellion" protester when asked nicely by a Metropolitan Police constable.

The outcome is that there were those who applauded Duncan Smith and those who applauded Lamy. Even if anyone changed their minds as a result of the encounter, it wouldn't have made any difference. Brexit now relies for its immediate resolution on some Faustian deal between the Tories and Labour, while rationality takes a back seat.

Meanwhile, I was intrigued to see a blogpost from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), written by Dalibor Rohac, a researcher and writer on European politics, and a fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs. He has also been associated with the Legatum Institute.

Rohac's current thesis is that it is "time to call Brexit off", a conclusion at which he purportedly arrives from the "sheer dysfunction" into which the result of the 2016 referendum has thrown British politics. The current delay until the end of October, he writes, is an opportunity for the British political class to take a deep breath and call Brexit off.

This might be more convincing if the thesis represented a Damascene conversion on the part of the man, but Rohac is a long-time supporter of UK membership of the EU. In May 2016, he had published a book entitled, "Towards an Imperfect Union: A Conservative Case for the EU". This, we were told, represented "the first systematic attempt to justify the European project from a free-market, conservative viewpoint".

Instead of advocating for the end of the EU, Rohac argued that (British) conservatives must come to the rescue of the integration project by helping to reduce the EU's democratic deficit and turning it into an engine of economic dynamism and prosperity.

At £49.95 a pop, this has not exactly been a best-seller and it is "temporarily out of stock" on Amazon, so one wonders why Rohac should now be popping up with his talk of abandoning Brexit.

With the Republican-supporting AEI having previously entertained a succession of pro-Brexit Tories from the UK, and been part of a group plotting a new trade deal between the US and the UK, it is not clear whether he is an outlier or a straw in the wind.

It is interesting, though, to see Rohac arguing that, if the promise of a "Global Britain" sounded vaguely plausible in the spring of 2016, it is much less so today.

Instead of a generally benign international environment where the UK could perhaps find a degree of goodwill to strike free-trade agreements with countries around the globe, he asserts, the UK would now find itself in the midst of a series of trade wars.

Notwithstanding his promise of a US-UK trade deal, Rohac maintains that Donald Trump has displayed little patience with the niceties of the WTO-run trading system based on the principle of non-discrimination. Not only the oft-invoked "WTO option" tends to be misunderstood and misrepresented by Leavers, it may well be dead by the time the UK leaves the EU.

On such grounds, Rodac asserts that this is not the time for the UK to erect new trade barriers with its closest trading partners, friends, and allies. In his view, it is precisely because the global centre of gravity, both in terms of wealth and power, is shifting away from the European continent that Europeans need to stick together.

Doubtless, the American political establishment – which has never really understood EU politics, and still less the UK Eurosceptic movement – is as puzzled as the rest of us as to why the Brexit process has so comprehensively unravelled.

But if this represents a rethink on the American right – especially in the context of Rodac's comments on trade - then we could be in for some interesting times. It is, after all, the AEI which was one of the main supporters of a new deal between the UK and the US.

If there is a wind of change, it might not even be too far-fetched to assert that the Americans could be taking fright at one of Nigel Farage's new friends. Certainly, the recruitment of the "former Communist" Claire Fox must have raised some eyebrows – especially as there is a school of thought which would question the "former" appellation: once a Communist, always a Communist.

David Aaronovitch, in The Times recently drew some of the threads together, writing of "The shadowy past of Farage's motley crew", reminding us of Fox's affiliation with the militant Trotskyist organisation called the International Socialists (IS), with Frank Furedi and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).

When the RCP was formally disbanded, there emerged the magazine Living Marxism which, after it was closed following a libel suit, Furedi followers founded two main ventures, the Institute of Ideas, of which Claire Fox is the main public figure, and the internet comment site, Spiked Online, of which Brendan O'Neill is the editor.

Says Aaronovitch, "the important thing to know here is that the main people at Spiked and the Institute operate in political synchrony. They are, in effect, a political party led by Professor Furedi, but one without formal structures. So when Ms Fox declared as a candidate for the Brexit Party, Spiked Online and all its acolytes took to their various outlets to back the party".

The support of O'Neill and Spiked Online for Irish Republicanism has been well documented, as is their refusal to condemn terrorist activity and their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement.

Now, moving on from the Irish Freedom Movement (IFM), "a British-based solidarity campaign in support of Irish unity and against the low-intensity war that the British state was then waging in Northern Ireland", to becoming enthusiastic supporters of a no-deal Brexit, Spiked and its editor have enjoyed extensive media coverage, finding common cause with Farage without in any way distancing themselves from their Communist past and their connections with Irish Republicanism.

Spiked Online, incidentally, is the publication that, in 2009, carried a retrospective on the Brighton bombing which had taken place 25 years earlier. It described the attack as a "forceful and audacious protest about the Thatcher government's ruthless treatment of the republican hunger-strikers".

The author, Mick Hume – editor-at-large of Spiked at the time - after having lamented the lack of passion in the Blair era, concluded the piece with this heartfelt call: "Twenty-five years after that bomb blew the sleepy Tories out of their hotel in Brighton, where are the explosive politics that could blow our society out of its sloth?"

These are the people whom Farage is now pleased to stand alongside, arguing at the launch of his Brexit Party that it was time to "put the fear of God" into MPs. And, while one could always make a case for keeping MPs in a state of unease, it is perhaps indicative that one of the most enthusiastic defenders of this controversial comment was Spiked Online, the piece written by Brendan O'Neill.

Farage might thus find that while it is possible to take the politician of out the Ukip, it is not as easy taking the Ukip out of the politician. Having strutted his stuff on Clacton pier, revisiting past glories, he might reflect that Communists also come with an amount of baggage.

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