Monthly Archives: June 2018

Brexit and Conspiracy

Charlie Stross – one of our best home-grown SF writers – has brought me to restart blogging, just to keep a record of his recent posting on Brexit. I find his discourse highly credible, despite generally favouring ‘cockup’ over ‘conspiracy’ explanations for untoward events….

Here is the link.  And here it is in full, anyway:

The Pivot

Something huge is happening in the UK right now, and I wonder where it’s going.

Brexit requires no introduction at this point. Nor, I think, do the main UK media players. With the exception of two newspapers (The Daily Mirror and The Guardian) the national papers have been uniformly pro-Brexit to the extent of attacking national institutions seen as being soft on Brexit. The BBC news programs have also broadly pushed a pro-Brexit line, from Question Time (which gave Nigel Farage a semi-permanent slot but not once invited a guest speaker from the Green Party or the SNP—both pro-Remain by policy), to the Today Program (Radio 4’s news flagship), whose John Humphrys pushes a hard Brexit line.

Although the referendum was framed as advisory and limited to leaving the European Union, it was received as a mandate by the Conservative hard right and their hard-left opposite numbers in Labour (who have their own reasons for disliking what they see as a neoliberal right-wing institution), and the current in-cabinet debate appears to be over whether to leave all European institutions immediately, or to provide an adjustment period for leaving organizations like the Customs Union (which wasn’t on the ballot in the first place).

Here in the real world the drumbeat of bad economic news continues. Jaguar Land Rover to move production of Discovery from UK to Slovakia, because of course they’re owned by Tata, most of their output is exported, and why would an Indian company want to invest in a UK beset by pre-Brexit uncertainty? UK manufacturing output is falling at its fastest rate since 2012. And the rest of the economy is doing so well that Poundworld (the equivalent of a US dollar store chain) has collapsed and is in bankruptcy administration.

Then, last week, something happened. Or several somethings. (From the outside it’s hard to be sure.)

One of those somethings was the retirement of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and his replacement by Mail on Sunday editor Georgie Greig, a pro-European journalist. Newspaper owner Lord Rothermere remains the same, but an unattributed source described Greig’s appointment as part of a process of “detoxifying the Daily Mail”.

Next, the Murdoch press began an extraordinary about-face on Brexit. For about a year now Carol Cadwalladr of The Guardian has been digging into Cambridge Analytica, the Leave.EU campaign, and possible links to Russian state agencies and oligarchs. These links were known to some pro-leave journalists as much as two years ago, but they’re only now coming to public view. Aaron Banks is one of the main bankers of the Brexit campaign and appears to have very cordial relations with the Russian government, not to mention half a dozen Russian gold mines; he’s been called to testify before a House of Commons committee tomorrow and last week was refusing to attend. This week he appears to be on the back foot, with The Times going after him Revealed: Brexit backer Arron Banks’s golden Kremlin connection. Indeed, The Observer reports that Arron Banks ‘met Russian embassy officials multiple times before Brexit vote’. The newspaper goes on to say, “Towards the end of last year, Banks issued a statement saying his contacts with “the Russians” consisted of “one boozy lunch” at the Russian embassy. Documents seen by the Observer, suggest a different version of events.” (Note that Banks has a net worth in the ~£100M range: you don’t print anything about him in an English newspaper without getting a legal opinion first.) Oh, and the Fair Vote Project is going after him in court in the US, following allegations that two companies owned by Banks may have illegally exported information on British voters to the USA (in violation of UK data protection rules) for purposes of data mining (Banks had negotiated with Cambridge Analytica prior to this move).

Here’s a summary of what we know so far, by way of Vice: verything you need to know about the bombshell report linking Russia to Brexit. Shorter version: Banks had extensive meetings with the Russian ambassador to the UK, who is also named on the indictment of ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos; Banks also passed contact information for Trump’s transition team to the Russians. So he’s a critical link in the Brexit/Trump/Russia connection.

He’s not the only Brexiteer in trouble in the press. Hedge fund manager and Brexiteer Crispin Odey is accused of shorting the British stock market to the tune of £500M, effectively betting that Brexit will cause the market to fall and these companies to do badly. Brexit ultra and possible Conservative party leadership challenger Jacob Rees-Mogg is under siege by the formerly-friendly Daily Mail: Mogg’s Moscow Millions: Brexiteer’s firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlim but has invested next to nothing in Britain. And finally Neo-Nazi MEP Nigel Farage’s EU pension is to be held in escrow pending the completion of ongoing fraud investigations (and, as the icing on the cake, apparently the FBI have named him as a person of interest in their ongoing investigation into Russian slush money and false news).

Let me put forward a hypothesis:

In the real world (outside the pages of fiction) only two types of conspiracy generally take place: cover-up and collusion. A cover-up generally happens when several people or groups stand to lose money or be politically embarrassed if an uncomfortable truth becomes public knowledge. See, for example, the Home Office shredding of historical records relating to the Windrush scandal lest they embarrass the Prime Minister, who was the Home Office minister who brought in the hostile environment immigration policy. And collusion generally takes place when a group of individuals or organizations stand to benefit from a course of action.

Brexit was a classic example of a collusion conspiracy. Many of the named politicians and businessmen above stand to gain millions of pounds from a hard Brexit that causes the British stock market to fall. Others stand to make millions from juicy investment opportunities they were offered in Russia. We cannot know for certain what the quid pro quo for those investment deals were at this time, but I strongly suspect that support for Brexit (and more general socially-authoritarian right-wing policies) was part of it.

And now we’re seeing a rival collusion conspiracy surface. Not all billionaires stand to profit from seeing the remains of British industry sink beneath the waves, and not all of them are in the pocket of the Kremlin’s financial backers. There are a bunch of very rich, rather reclusive men (and a handful of women) who probably thought, “well, let’s sit back and see where this thing leads, for now” about 18 months ago. And now they can see it leading right over a cliff, and they are unhappy, and they have made their displeasure known on the golf course and in the smoke-filled rooms, and the quiet whispering campaign has finally turned heads at the top of the media empires.

If I’m right, then over the next four to eight weeks the wrath of the British press is going to fall on the heads of the Brexit lobby with a force and a fury we haven’t seen in a generation. There may be arrests and criminal prosecutions before this sorry tale is done: I’d be unsurprised to see money-laundering investigations, and possibly prosecutions under the Bribery Act (2010), launched within this time frame that will rumble on for years to come.

Even if the momentum behind Brexit proves un-stoppable at this point, the Remain faction—in the shape of the corporate and political power groups who stand to lose their fortunes as a result—will seek revenge.

And in the large, I think it’s no coincidence at all that this broke out in the same week as Donald Trump’s epic tantrum at the G7 summit.