Birds of prey were a particular interest of mine when I was a child. Of course, as a young child you are interested in the fastest and the biggest, so those I drew the most were the rapid peregrine falcon and huge condor.
But as I trawled through my book of birds of prey, I became fascinated by another vulture species. The Egyptian vulture wasn’t as majestic and massive as the condor, but my book told me about its crafty skills, such as tossing stones at larger bird’s eggs to get to the contents and dropping bones off ledges to access the marrow.
The Egyptian vulture wasn’t attractive enough for me to bother to draw — it looked rather disgusting compared to something like a golden eagle — but I was struck by its ruthless cunning. It has popped into my head a fair bit recently as I’ve observed the shrill desperation of Brexit extremists to ensure we go over the cliff in March.
As the UK teeters on the edge of a no-deal Brexit, there are only a few options left. One of those seems absurd to any rational person — unless that person happens to be someone who could profit from chaos and other people’s hardship. An Egyptian vulture of the world of politics.
The options are: extend Article 50 to have more time to ensure a satisfactory outcome, revoke Article 50 to stop Brexit, or be bullied by Brextremists and have our families and companies plunge headfirst onto the jagged rocks of a no-deal crash-out.
At this stage, after months of Theresa May sticking dogmatically to her unpopular deal — and thereby running down the clock — there isn’t time for a referendum on her deal (a so-called people’s vote). And so there would need to be an extension to Article 50 to be able to go back to the public and see what they want, from the unappetising options available.
Though there has been no change in May’s position, there have been changes in the tone of the Brextremists in parliament and beyond. Given that the UK is poised precariously on a cliff-edge, facing a huge drop onto the rocks, the increasingly shrill calls that we should just jump seem rather like the sinister bystanders who urge distressed people to jump from a building or distraught people online to harm themselves.
Some will react against the use of self-injury metaphors in relation to a no-deal Brexit. However, this is not to trivialise the experience of those struggling with suicidal ideation but to recognise that such a decision for the UK would be devastating for many individuals, families, and employers, and lead to avoidable hardship in a country where there are already a lot of children going hungry.
Furthermore, in mental health services, where I have spent much of my career, a large range of activities are seen by clinicians as self-injurious and self-destructive. From substance abuse to cycles of destructive relationships to driving while intoxicated, to participation in crime, to self-neglect, there is a myriad of choices people make that are harmful to them, and to those around them.
I would argue that the wealthy self-interested Brextremists trying to push the UK over a cliff are as bad as the sadistic braying mob who encourage individuals to harm or destroy themselves. Some might argue that they are actually worse because they are not only protected by their fortunes from the devastation a no-deal Brexit is likely to cause, but they are among a tiny group of people with the ability to profit from that carnage. Many are themselves or are strongly connected to, predatory capitalists — people who profit from chaos and the hardship of other people.
Let’s focus on some of the most vociferous ones — the ones who so shrilly demand that the UK plunges over a cliff, from the comfort of their mansions or the splendour of Westminster. There are some shadowy figures on the fringes of politics, such as Arron Banks and Steve Bannon, who have been pushing with every ounce they have for a hard Brexit, but the two most vociferous MPs driving the narrative have been John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is a man who founded a hedge fund, where most of his fortune comes from, and is a backbench MP. One could plausibly suggest, having looked at his business and his political leanings, that Rees-Mogg is primarily a predatory capitalist who has been moonlighting as a junior MP to push the dogma of extreme neoliberalism, which he profits from.
Hedge funds bet on outcomes that are unsavoury in order to made money for their investors, as well as their owners and fund managers, who are among the wealthiest people in the world. During the credit crunch, when large numbers of people lost their homes, hedge fund managers inflated their own fortunes more than most. They arguably were also responsible for the crisis they profited from. It is hard to see them as anything but vultures. They would argue that they have an important role. I would argue that actual vultures have a more important role in nature.
Another vociferous Brextremist is John Redwood, a not especially notable politician of yesteryear (he failed to depose even John Major) but, it would seem, an effective hoarder of money. He was an investment analyst and director for Robert Fleming and the Rothschilds in the 1970s and 80s. He co-founded Evercore Pan-Asset Capital Management in 2007 and is currently Chief Global Strategist at Charles Stanley & Co, a £21 billion investment management company.
Redwood has been an MP throughout most of his lucrative financial career. In 2017, amid UK economic uncertainty — to a large degree caused by the forthcoming Brexit that he had been pushing — Redwood advised investors to take their money out of the UK and look further afield. Jacob Rees-Mogg hit the headlines in 2018 for moving money to an EU country (Ireland) amid Brexit uncertainty.
Some wonder if the desperation of Brextremists that the UK plunges over the Brexit cliff, despite the cost on companies, individuals and families, relates to an abhorrence of the EU’s efforts to tackle tax avoidance, as well as money laundering. If the UK gains an extension to Article 50 or even enters a transitional period, some rapacious vultures could have some of ‘their’ spoils taken away from them, as could their clients.
Beyond the aversion of some to pay their fair share of tax, there are always some who can add to their fortunes by exploiting market chaos and political uncertainty. If any of those people have the ability to add to market and political instability, perhaps because they are politicians with loud shrill voices, then we should strongly resist the narratives they push. If they are in a position to make huge gains from the UK plunging from a cliff, then we can reasonably ask if they are on the side of our society — or callous vultures hoping to devour flesh and marrow from the tragedy.