Historian of technology David Edgerton: “The state can no longer undertake the radical planning and intervention that might make Brexit work”

London Bridge and the Shard

David Edgerton, an historian of technology who teaches at King’s College London, writes that “Brexit is a necessary crisis – it reveals Britain’s true place in the world.” It makes two big points: first, that “there is no such thing as British national capitalism.”

London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer one where British capitalism does the world’s business. 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. 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.

Second, “Brexit also speaks to the weakness of the state:”

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….

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.

It’s a really stimulating piece.

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