Britain: Brexit theatrics continue – working class must fight for its own interests

No to austerity and privatisation, whether from Boris, Blairites or Brussels! (photo S. German)

As ‘Brexit Day’ on 31 October approaches, the roller coaster crisis for British capitalism intensifies.
Spokespeople of big business – the majority of whom want to remain in the EU – are ramping up the warnings of a no-deal Brexit. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns of the highest UK debt since the 1960s. The Financial Times highlights the warnings from the HMRC of an admin burden of £15 billion on British-EU trade, even before there are any tariffs. “New deal or no deal – but no delay” is Tory prime minister Boris Johnson’s brazen pledge.

His ploy is that he stands ‘with the people’ against the “Remainer elite”. As well as parliament and the courts at home, he is trying to blame the EU for the impasse. He hopes this would enable him to blame any failure to exit on 31 October on the EU and on his political opponents. In this way, he hopes to see off any threat from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in a general election.

The divisions rife in the Tory party have come to the fore again with disquiet about the way talks are being presented to the British press, which EU president Donald Tusk has lambasted as a “stupid blame game”.

As nothing is predictable in this long-running farce, none of the possible outcomes can be ruled out. One of Johnson’s several defeats in parliament was the passing of the ‘Benn Act’ which requires the prime minister to request an extension if there is no agreement reached by 19 October.

The Court of Sessions in Edinburgh has rejected an application for a court order to force Johnson to do this, because the judge concluded that his pledge to carry it out was “unequivocal”.

Nonetheless, debate continues as to whether Johnson could challenge the Benn Act in court, or perhaps persuade one of the 27 other EU states to refuse to grant an extension, as the decision has to be unanimous.

It may be possible he could get a deal passed by parliament, with votes from the DUP, some right-wing pro-Brexit Labour MPs, and some returning Tory rebels. But a deal can only go to parliament if it has been agreed by the EU, and the wrangling between EU leaders and Number 10 goes on.

Johnson’s alternative deal is no real alternative, but the theatrics of putting it do serve the appearance of seeking Brexit by any means necessary. The pretence of Johnson’s proposal is that it provides an alternative to the Irish backstop, which was the main sticking point in Theresa May’s failed deal.

The backstop essentially meant that the UK would remain in close alignment with the EU single market and customs union until trade arrangements were agreed that would solve the problem of a border on the island of Ireland. Any loose arrangement is opposed by the EU because it would mean the potential for goods to enter and leave the EU, avoiding customs, via a porous border in Ireland.

But, in addition to economic impacts in Ireland of tariffs, paperwork and so on between north and south – the dairy industry in Northern Ireland, for example, says it faces a “doomsday scenario” – politically the notion of a border opens up enormous potential conflict.

Johnson’s plan is for a new all-Ireland regulatory zone, and to leave Northern Ireland in the single market but not the customs union – a fudge with potentially two borders! The EU has rejected this ‘deal’ because of the border issue, and because of the effective veto given to the DUP in the promise that the NI executive could revoke the regulatory area.

It is a sign that the Tories recognise a deal is not likely that at the start of this week they stepped up their preparations for a general election.

Jeremy Corbyn

While this capitalist crisis explodes, Jeremy Corbyn has been leading cross-party talks “to prevent a damaging no-deal”. This has included discussing an emergency motion to take control of House of Commons business.

It is reported that the 21 Tory rebel MPs who participate in these talks are not convinced, because they don’t want Corbyn to lead an emergency government. The Lib Dems, scandalously given Jo Swinson’s hostility to Corbyn, claim that “their total unwillingness to work with anyone else makes the Labour Party the biggest barrier to stopping no-deal.”

It is still possible that the idea of a ‘national unity’ caretaker government, discussed by LibDems and remainer Tories as a way of both stopping Brexit and stopping Corbyn, could be proposed.

But it is an indication of the seriousness of the situation that sections of the capitalists are even prepared to countenance a Corbyn government. A joint statement by the IFS and investment bank Citi says the economy could be 5% bigger under Labour than the Tories by 2022.

To a section of the capitalists, it might be better to allow a Corbyn government, contained by the Blairites in the Labour Party and under the pressure of big business to not implement anything too radical, than to allow a no-deal Brexit managed by a crisis-ridden Tory Party.

Some capitalists will be considering the potential mass rebellion that could develop against the Tories and the risk of that anger being harnessed by a Corbyn-led party to the left.
It should not be for the labour movement to choose between any anti-working-class alternatives. The working class is not responsible for getting capitalism out of its mess – we need to fight for our own independent interests.

Instead of turning to pro-austerity forces, Corbyn should turn to the multi-millioned working class, young people whose lives are blighted daily by the reality of austerity and the profit-seeking system of capitalism, and struggling middle-class people too.

He should fight for a general election as soon as possible, and with the left trade union leaders, call mass action. Fight for an anti-austerity, socialist Brexit in the interests of working-class and young people to overcome the ‘Brexit divide’ and expose Johnson as an anti-working-class representative of the rich, the antithesis of a ‘man of the people’.

A general election could be won, if fought boldly on clear socialist policies. Then it would be Corbyn going to negotiate with the EU, backed up by a mass movement, instead of Boris Johnson.
Negotiations in front of a mobilised working class, a challenge to the capitalist EU, would be enormously inspiring to workers across Europe, including in Ireland.

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October 2019