💲Whenever people use the adjective ‘free’ to describe something in the political arena it is a good idea to ask: free for whom, and free from what?
The original ‘free traders’ were the Cornish smugglers who sought to avoid tax on contraband brandy and gin, or their cousins the privateers, who rode the high seas shunning the authority of governments. This is how some of the Brexiteers imagine themselves – shunning authority and revelling in the status of Bad Boys.
The romance of these early rebels against authority was that in the days of the narrow franchise defined by a property qualification they had no ability to influence policy. Today’s ‘free traders’ are very different: their ambition is to maximise profits for themselves without making a financial contribution to society or considering the consequences of their actions on people or planet. And, through the influential think tanks they fund and operate, they are now at the very heart of government.
For them, free trade is threatened by dastardly politicians who might require them to consider the common good and constrain their profit-making by taxing them to pay for public services or for the vulnerable in society. Their agenda is not one of universal freedom but of freedom for the wealthy, for the citizens of nowhere to bestride the globe without being bound by the petty laws of nation states.
The reality is, of course, that global trade is dominated by a small number of vast corporations who operate beyond national jurisdictions and can play governments off against each other, as they do when claiming their sweetheart tax deals. Their freedom has resulted in dispossession and environmental destruction on an unprecedented scale. And their lust for power is perfectly exemplified by having their own private courts.
In Britain, what they most want to be free from is the system of regulations and laws that bodies like the European Union have introduced to constrain their worst excesses. Take, for example, the new EU law to stem the trade in conflict minerals that have fuelled civil wars in places like the Congo for generations.
Or the dry-sounding Directive of Administrative Cooperation, a series of laws that require law firms or accountants based in any EU country to share information with tax authorities if a transfer from one to the other looks like a means of avoiding tax.
This is why the privateers wish to destroy the European Union: because its emphasis on ensuring the well-being of citizens and on shared freedoms undermines their ability to satisfy their selfish greed.
These ‘free traders’ saw the Brexit vote as a crisis to be exploited so as to rapidly advance their agenda of eliminating the laws that manage globalisation, put in place through painstaking democratic processes. And they have established a network of organisations that link powerful people in resisting or destroying such democratic controls over their power.
Read more about the free traders who are part of this Brexit Syndicate: