The Socialist Party has stated that “the unity of working class people is our over-riding priority and we oppose any moves which tend to weaken that unity.” This post is about the extent to which this is evident in the party’s support for Brexit.
Unity of the working class is not a bad place to start, although in the context of the EU this should mean concern about the unity of workers across Europe. However, it is in relation to the unity of Ireland’s workers that the Party shows most concern, and then mostly in relation to unity within the North.
The Party points to the potential for increased sectarian tension and division, particularly arising from the possibility of a harder border between North and South or a new one of sorts between Northern Ireland and Britain.
The requirement for a new border arises inevitably from the departure of the UK from the EU and from its Customs Union and Single Market. The only way to avoid one would be to maintain membership of both and if this were the case it has been correctly argued that there would appear to be no reason to leave the EU in the first place.
Certainly, Socialist Party opposition to the Single Market means that there has to be a border somewhere. To claim otherwise is not only untrue but places the Party alongside the most extreme Tory Brexiteers and DUP, who currently make this absurd claim. It is therefore not at all true that “any hardening of borders is unnecessary.” In so far as the Party considers that its opposition to the EU is more fundamental than other supporters of Brexit, the necessity for a border is stronger.
The Party claims that “the Socialist Party will always oppose any deal which is agreed in the interests of capitalism.” But since any conceivable deal will be in the interests of capitalism this amounts to opposition to any possible deal. How could the Party expect the hated EU to negotiate any other sort of deal? Even a Corbyn led Government would not seek to negotiate a deal that went beyond the interests of capitalism.
The Party would then be compelled to oppose any Brexit deal, except of course where there was no deal to oppose. But since no deal is the worst form of Brexit from the point of view of creating borders, not only has the Party’s support for Brexit created the border problem, its opposition to any conceivable deal also pushes it to oppose any deal that would reduce its scope and impact.
The Party is thus led to advocate the cause of the problem it seeks to oppose without any reasonable policy that would prevent or mitigate it.
The Socialist Party notes that “Northern Ireland voted against withdrawing from Europe in the 2016 referendum by 56% to 44%. There was a clear difference in attitudes between Catholics and Protestants: Catholics voted overwhelmingly to stay by a proportion of 85% to 15% while Protestants voted to leave by a proportion of 60% to 40%.”
The Party also notes that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”
On the other hand, it notes that many Protestants oppose “any East-West border, no matter how minor, [which] has come to represent a threat to the union between Northern Ireland and Britain.” This opposition is compared to unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and to the “widespread disorder that broke out when a mere emblem of the “Britishness” of Northern Ireland – the union flag over the City Hall in Belfast – was removed.” Since the latter was clearly a reactionary mobilisation in defence of a symbol of sectarian supremacy it is not explained why such opposition should be conciliated instead of resisted.
The Party believes that “if there is a perception in the coming months and years that the British identity of Northern Ireland is being diminished street protests and street violence cannot be ruled out”, and also seems to believe that this is a legitimate obstacle to be accommodated rather than opposed. In relation to this, the Party is currently involved in a debate on identity politics, but this capitulation to a form of the most reactionary identity politics should form part of its debate.
The Party has noted that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”
It would seem obvious then that one basis on which working class unity could be advanced would be to build upon this common view of Brexit, and the positive impulses that have arisen among young Protestants and Catholics. This certainly looks an infinitely more promising route than trying to build on a Brexit-supporting opposition based on sectarian identity, which has found previous expression in sectarian flag-waving.
Of course, support for Brexit blinds the Socialist Party to this possibility, and even if it didn’t, the Party could not contribute to advancing this potential because it believes that these young people are wrong. But how does it think it will unite workers on the basis of Brexit? This is the key question the Party has to answer but it has not even asked.