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British industry, public and private, was a national enterprise.


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Since the s things have changed radically. Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. Everywhere in the UK there are foreign-owned enterprises, many of them nationalised industries, building nuclear reactors and running train services from overseas.

When the car industry speaks, it is not as British industry but as foreign enterprise in the UK. The same is true of many of the major manufacturing sectors — from civil aircraft to electrical engineering — and of infrastructure.

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The real meaning of ‘Global Britain’: a Great Escape from the EU

Whatever the interests of foreign capital, they are not expressed through a national political party. Most of these foreign-owned businesses, not surprisingly, are hostile to Brexit. Brexit is the political project of the hard right within the Conservative party, and not its capitalist backers. In fact, these forces were able to take over the party in part because it was no longer stabilised by a powerful organic connection to capital, either nationally or locally. Brexit also speaks to the weakness of the state, which was itself once tied to the governing party — and particularly the Conservatives.

The British state once had the capacity to change the United Kingdom and its relations to the rest of the world radically and quickly, as happened in the second world war, and indeed on accession to the common market. Today the process from referendum to implementation will take, if it happens, nearly as long as the whole second world war.

British Council Worldwide

The modern British state has distanced itself from the productive economy and is barely able to take an expert view of the complexities of modern capitalism. This was painfully clear in the Brexit impact sectoral reports the government was forced to publish — they were internet cut-and-paste jobs.

The state can no longer undertake the radical planning and intervention that might make Brexit work. That would require not only an expert state, but one closely aligned with business. The preparations would by now be very visible at both technical and political levels. But we have none of that.

The Post-Brexit Paradox of Theresa May's 'Global Britain' - The Atlantic

Instead we have the suggestion that nothing much will happen on no deal, that mini-deals will appear. The real hope of the Brexiters is surely that the EU will cave and carry on trading with the UK as if nothing had changed. Brexit is a promise without a plan. But in the real world Brexit does mean Brexit, and no deal means no deal. Brexit is a necessary crisis, and has provided a long overdue audit of British realities.

It exposes the nature of the economy, the new relations of capitalism to politics and the weakness of the state. From a new understanding, a new politics of national improvement might come; without it we will remain stuck in the delusional, revivalist politics of a banana monarchy.

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