Never mind Brexit?

When I wrote against Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum I noted that one of the strongest motivators of many in the Yes campaign was the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the campaign itself, not the actual goal.  The latter promised wonderful things but these were free floating and detached from reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could make up for the lack of any realistic case.  Instead, the campaign itself gave tangible reality to the demand for independence.

It is now apparent that this is a cause that has to have such a movement, now through Indyref2, or it starts to crumble. The Scottish working class dodged a bullet when the majority of people in Scotland voted No.  Even prominent supporters of independence and erstwhile opponents of austerity are now saying that independence would need five years of austerity to work.  Of course, we’re told it would only be temporary, but then so is Tory austerity. When is austerity not temporary?

I was reminded of this when I read Owen Jones article in today’s ‘Guardian’, whose headline said it all – ‘As the media obsess over Brexit, they’re missing Labour’s revolution.’  In other words – forget about Brexit and look at the movement for change in the Party.

If you think my characterising this position is not really forgetting about Brexit, then consider the report – again in ‘The Guardian’ – that, “on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McDonnell said it could not be guaranteed that Labour’s position on the single market would be finalised if there was an election in six months.”

When Theresa May made her Florence speech last week much media coverage concentrated on her ‘change of tone’ from the bombastic declarations of her Lancaster House speech. The usual in-depth reporting perhaps.

The media repeatedly tells us that Brexit is fiendishly complex while generally ignoring this complexity; although now and then it makes pathetic attempts to explain it; that is when it’s not wallowing in the knockabout political manoeuvring at Westminster and, as it has done from the start, treating Brexit as mainly an intra-Tory fight.  On this occasion however, the obviously superficial attributes of the speech were indeed the most significant thing about it.

Where the media failed yet again, was to explain why this change of tone came about. Or how the rest of the speech was actually a continuation of the La La Land Tory dream of Brexit, which some more informed commentators think will, to the Brexiteers delight, be delivering Brexit before Christmas.  Again unfortunately, before the Labour Party might decide to get its act together.

What appeared as the most significant policy initiative was May’s statement that there had to be a transitional phase, which she couldn’t even force herself to describe as a transition.  In this transition she hopes that some unspecified super trade deal, unlike any other, can be negotiated; one that will save the UK from the consequences of Brexit.

This reflects simply that Brexit is a looming disaster, with the hope that it can be made less so by postponing it, perhaps similarly to the way it is said that justice delayed is justice denied.  Unfortunately for her, and for us, Brexit won’t be delayed, or at least not by anything she’s doing.

May’s transition assumes more or less continued EU membership, perhaps without EU judicial authority continuing, which even the most ignorant must surely know is not possible.  Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator has made it clear again and again, immediately before and immediately after May’s speech, that the UK is leaving the EU in March 2019.  If it wants to discuss anything else, it has to first sort out the rights of EU citizens in the UK, agree the financial settlement for leaving, and propose a special deal to avoid a new border in Ireland.

May made unspecified promises on citizens’ rights, offered £20 billion – which I’m sure the EU welcomes although that is quite beside the point – and said nothing about Ireland.  In other words, the UK is heading for the exit with no deal unless it practically addresses these three issues, and that includes any deal on a transition.  They have been calling it a cliff edge for a while now.

Clearly the bitterly divided Tories are drowning and trying to take everyone down with them, if allowed.  Their position on Brexit is incoherent.  They cannot possibly get the trade deal they say they want, one that gives them more or less the same arrangements as retaining single market membership while leaving the EU.  To get the former they must ditch the latter, or rather to get the latter they must ditch the former.

The problem is that the Labour Party’s position, in so far as it has one, is now perhaps even more delusional than the Tories’.  Certainly, the Labour Party demanded a transitional deal before the Tories, but only the blind could have believed that the exit terms could be agreed, and then new arrangements negotiated, within Article 50 requirements.  These requirements were written precisely to ensure it made no sense to use them.  A classical Catch 22 – to get out you must use them but if you use them it shows it makes no sense to get out.

But Labour too wants just the same sort of wonderful trade deal as the Tories while leaving the EU.  ‘The Guardian’ article reports the following – “Speaking later at an event with Labour’s MEPs, Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU.”

This is as much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ policy as the Tories.  Leaving the EU means the UK becomes a third country, so it will have to face barriers to trade.  New trading arrangements will take potentially years to negotiate and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry-pick what it will buy into and what it will not.  There is no point looking at existing comparators because the UK is the only country ever to seek to leave.  It is both too important to let cherry-pick the power wielded by the EU bloc and too weak to impose its demands.

What sets the Labour Party position apart is not the claim that it can have a Brexit that cherry-picks the best bits, but one that appears to believe that you can have a Brexit that puts “jobs and living standards first.”  Such a Brexit does not exist.  Trading barriers and their consequences will hit both – that’s how capitalism works.

Socialists opposed to Brexit have argued that socialism cannot be built in one country, cannot arise by separating the UK or any other country from the international capitalist system, but can only arise from an international struggle for international socialism based on existing global development.

in more immediate terms however, socialists will not build an alternative by acceding to a Brexit policy that can only damage jobs and services and reduce wages, processes already in train, while blithely claiming the opposite.  No amount of social democratic intervention by the UK state can ameliorate the effects of increased isolation from the world capitalist market, or the alternative of supplicant trade deals with major power blocs.

The traditional socialist value of international solidarity is based on the identity of interest among workers in all countries because these interests can only be defended successfully together.  We are not talking merely of identification of common interests, but the identity of circumstances at the most basic level.  Socialist advances cannot be successful if not extended internationally, or imposed, for example at a European level, from the very start.

Just as in Scotland, celebrating the movement while ignoring the goal is a mistake; a Brexit Britain under a Corbyn Labour Party will fail, just as similarly if not identically, a separate Scotland would also fail to advance the interest of workers there.

There is still time to dodge the Brexit bullet; but if or when it comes don’t ask why everything is turning to shit – “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  How appropriate this passage starts with “no man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent.”

Brexit and Ireland – part 3

The North of Ireland is the weakest part of the UK so should expect to be hit most by Brexit.  Local news has reported two companies as already shifting operations to the Irish State in preparation for the UK leaving.  The EU is the North’s largest export market and while for the UK as a whole, for the period 2004 to 2014, the share of exports going to non-EU countries has grown more than that to EU countries, this has not been the case for Northern Ireland. Since it has been pointed out that some agricultural products can pass across the border numerous times, the scope for tariff and non-tariff barriers to stifle this trade is significant.  Such tariffs generally range between 6 and 22 per cent

While for the three years reported in this paper, the share of EU exports going to the EU has been around 50% for the UK, it has been around 60% for Northern Ireland (NI). In terms of cross-border trade, exports from the North to the South are more important to the North than exports to the North are for the South.   Foreign Direct Investment uses Northern Ireland to export into the rest of the EU so any exit will hit this investment and this employment.

Finally, there is the loss of EU funding, especially for farmers, not that this seems to have prevented many unionist farmers from voting for Brexit.  The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that direct payments to farmers under EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies represented 87% of annual farm income in NI.

Brexit could impel the UK into trade based on World Trade Organisation rules, just when the US under Trump signals that it may ignore these rules when it doesn’t suit.  China is also reported to be breaking WTO rules but the length of time it takes to rule on any breach and the potential for retaliation are strong impediments to enforcement.   In any case the UK is already failing to manage its trade and might be fined billions of Euros by the EU for failing effectively to police the existing EU rules.  Hardly an endorsement of its ability to look after its own borders after Brexit.

The new US administration is hailed as a potential alternative to the EU even while Trump threatens to restrict and withdraw US investment abroad.  You know Brexit is a disaster when the nationalist policy of the Trump administration is put forward as the alternative, but more importantly you know how stupid the Brexit idea is in the first place when you admit you need an alternative and don’t already have one.

If Brexit makes no sense in the North it scarcely represents an advantage to the South.  It may benefit from firms relocating from NI and Britain but this is likely to be relatively minor compared to the disruption to trade with the UK, which is worth over €1 billion per week.  Exports from the Irish agri-food sector to the UK amount to over €3 billion or over 50% of that sector’s value.  The Irish State has the biggest share of exports going into the UK of any EU country, so has the greatest exposure to potential reduction of this trade.  It also has one of the biggest numbers of its citizens living in the UK of any EU country, exposing them to the threats to their rights the Tories are deploying in an effort to get a better deal.

Merchandise exports from the Irish State to the UK were over 25% of such exports in 2015 while services traded to the UK were nearly 19% of such services.  It has been estimated that in 2014 200,000 people were employed as a direct result of exports to the UK, or over 10 per cent of employment.   Again any reduction in markets could lead to reduced employment, wages, tax receipts and thus state-funded services.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that many of the economic forecasts of the quantitative economic impact of Brexit show greater falls in wages than in economic growth generally, which is no doubt a feature of the models but which shows that it is assumed that workers will pay most from Brexit.

None of this is particularly surprising and most people just get numbed by too many figures.  The effects are recognised and the question is how these are to be mitigated.  The Tories talk about opening up Britain to the world, but this world includes a growing protectionist US; a more powerful China that has already forced a British climb-down over a nuclear power station; Japanese car companies who have done the same; a Commonwealth that is supposed to welcome a return to a 21st century British Empire, and the rest of the world, much of which is part of trade blocs that the British are rejecting.  Given this context, were Brexit to go ahead, the direction of the British state will be less under its control than it was inside the EU.

Similar problems will face the Irish State if Brexit goes ahead. Up to now it could straddle a growing relationship to the EU with historic but declining dependence on the UK; and it could do this while acting as if it was the latest State to join the Union, that is the union of the United States of America.  Brexit threatens the second and Trump threatens the third.  The first is threatened by the nature of the type of Brexit that may occur and by being squeezed by the US and Britain.

If controls on immigration that are under the authority of the EU and British impede migration to the UK, the importance of this migration will decline relative to the Irish State’s greater trade with the EU, making it more attractive to enter into the Schengen area to facilitate such trade.  Entry into the Schengen area for any reason would make problematic any more favourable Irish migration arrangements with the UK compared to others, who might object to less favourable arrangements for their own EU citizens. Either way migration links to Britain could suffer, and such migration (just like that to the US) has always been a safety valve for the young fleeing a country that is regularly unable to promise it a future.

So, if the UK leaving the EU will hurt both Irish States, it is hard to see the sense in advocating that the Irish State also leave.  Unlike in Britain this policy is really confined to sections of the Left and more ‘radical’ nationalists and republicans.  But at least it is consistent with the latter’s nationalism, while how the Left expects workers to become more internationalist while their country becomes more isolated is another sorrowful mystery; even the Tories recognise the need to develop international links.  But why would European workers rally to a movement that declares that the problem is their ‘foreign’ capitalist states and not its own.

But of course, some new orientation to the world would be necessary for an Irish State outside the EU and there is really only one immediate candidate – back to the loving embrace of the similarly isolated British State, ludicrously trying to re-live its imperial youth.  A death-embrace of two states simultaneously pursuing a race to the bottom as a low wage, deregulated, offshore tax haven.

In doing so an Irish State would suffer badly, and just like the economic models relating to Brexit, we can be certain that it would be Irish workers who would suffer most for the nationalist fantasy that is Irexit.  The idea that something progressive or even socialist could develop out of such a project is preposterous.

The Euro area is by far the Irish State’s biggest trading partner, €109 billion in combined exports and imports in 2013/2014, compared to €52 billion for the UK.  Much of the foreign direct investment in the Irish State is because of its access to the EU market and could be expected to leave if it left the EU.  Foreign owned companies account for more than 20 per cent of employment while they dominate exports.

The Irish State would have to create a new currency, especially if (in the very unlikely event) its exit was motivated by the nationalist Left, which regards the Euro as a devil incarnate.  Establishing the credibility of this currency would require massive austerity while failure to do so would guarantee massive inflation.  In either case living standards could be expected to plummet.

In both parts of Ireland Brexit and Irexit is and would be a disaster.

The Left supporters of Irexit would have to find a new name for the above description of the results of Brexit and Irexit, as dismissing it as another ‘Project Fear’ wouldn’t quite cut it, as the experience of attempting to destroy capitalism by destroying capitalism only became a reality.

How ironic that it is the ideological supporters of capitalism itself that are inflicting this damage, rather than the relatively irrelevant proponents of Lexit.  Not only is this Left’s programme of breaking with the EU being implemented by the likes of UKIP, Tories, the Daily Mail and The Sun but the nonsense of a ‘progressive’ Brexit is being pursued by Corbyn’s Labour Party.  And we can see how useless that is as well.

Rarely does this Left get such an opportunity to see its big policies implemented. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they will learn anything from their errors, since they seem barely to recognise that what they have wanted is actually being implemented.

Concluded

Back to part 2

 

 

 

Brexit and Ireland part 2 – the hard border

border-brexitHaving at first said she didn’t want “to return to the borders of the past” between the North and the South of Ireland, Theresa May now says that “when the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”  What this means is that we will have a seam showing and lots of friction.

This is because, while Theresa May would like to portray the relationship as one between the North and South, the actual relationship is between the UK and the EU – this is the border that will exist post-Brexit.  Formulations to the contrary are but one example of the Brexiteers hopes to divide the EU so that it can obtain concessions from particular member states, in this case it would be in the form of a special deal for Northern Ireland.

This can range from continuing EU membership for the North (although this would create unmanageable problems in relation to Scotland) to border controls at Liverpool or Cairnryan.  This would then leave the need for potentially relatively minor checks at the Irish border itself.  Of course, we could get these checks at Belfast or Larne instead.

It was interesting that immigration checks into the UK at Dublin airport on behalf of the British was floated as a story a few months ago and flew longer than it should have, before being shot down on the grounds that the Brits can do their own dirty work (I paraphrase).  However, the Irish don’t mind the dirty work being done on their territory when it comes to the United States.  When it was also floated that the Irish State would not cooperate with racist immigration controls introduced by Donald Trump, it was quickly squashed when it was revealed, or anyway declared, that the Irish could do nothing about the pre-clearance carried out by the US immigration service on Irish soil.

Controls at British ports is about as good as it would get but it would only reveal that the fixation on the line on the map is a diversion by everyone involved.  Regardless of where the checks would take place they would be enforcing customs restrictions and any tariffs that have to be imposed.  Much of the work at the ports would just be checking while the real imposition of trade restrictions would take place in offices all across the UK and Ireland, processing the necessary paperwork and money flows.  It is these restrictions that would damage trade and thereby threaten employment.

The only point of checks on the border if they were already carried out at Liverpool or Larne would be if some smart ass thought they could avoid customs restrictions by siting themselves in Northern Ireland rather than in Britain, but if this happened to any extent the controls would move from Liverpool or Larne to Lifford, Dundalk and Newry.

Immigration and customs checks going into or out of the island might be sold as a special deal.  The British nationalism that is driving the demands for Brexit doesn’t give a damn about the Irish in the north of Ireland, if they get in the way of what suits the real British in England, Wales and Scotland.  The unionist supporters of Brexit in the North of Ireland might complain that they weren’t then being treated like the rest of her majesty’s subjects, but those of us old enough to remember the Belfast flight being off in some corner of the airport and having to fill in Prevention of Terrorism cards will have seen it before.

Besides checking on the import and export of goods, the other reason for border controls would be to check on people moving, so that those from the EU could not pass freely to the Irish State, then to the North and then to Britain.  The British, Irish and the EU have all signalled appreciation of the importance of the Common Travel Area between the Irish State and the UK, under which Republic of Ireland born are treated entirely the same as UK passport holders under the Ireland Act 1949, but this is within the gift of the EU.  Free entry, or looser entry from the island of Ireland would have to be compensated for by stricter controls within Britain itself, if it was believed that people from the EU were coming into Britain to get jobs through Ireland.  Already we have had xenophobic statements from senior Tories calling for registers of EU citizens employed in the UK.  This was rejected, but we haven’t gotten to the sharp end of the Brexit negotiations yet when the real aggro will start.  Welcome to the nasty world of a hard Brexit – the one we’re going to face.

Irish citizens living in the UK have had rights to welfare for decades before both the UK and Irish states joined the EU but under Brexit they will be EU citizens when the UK is no longer an EU member.  It cannot be assumed that the EU would be happy at discrimination against a majority of its citizens which favoured the Irish even if the British were happy to maintain these rights.  And what of those with Irish passports in Northern Ireland?  How are they to be identified, or rather identify themselves, to ensure that they don’t have second class rights as UK citizens?

All this explains the apparently surprising flurry of statements from Irish politicians talking about Brexit leading to a united Ireland – even from the most partitionist of sources.  But what they fret about is the cost to their own business and state on their side of the border, not sudden awareness of the calamitous results of partition on democratic rights.

That some people have taken these statements as more than bullshit is testament to failure to realise that the effects of the border are not primarily felt on the border itself but in the politics of the two societies that lie behind each side of it.  This is why much of the alarmist claims that Brexit will damage the peace process and/or will create conditions for a successful referendum to remove the border are so wide of the mark.

Everyone know the EU played a relatively minor role in the pacification of the North of Ireland.  The rush for Irish passports after the referendum is not enough to signal any mass change in political identity but a sensible pragmatic decision, which those choosing hope won’t come back to bite them.  They can, anyway, get two passports.  Northern Ireland voted Remain but even this split was very much, although not to the usual extent, based on sectarian lines.  Even where massive majorities of nationalists voted for Remain, such as in West Belfast, the turnout wasn’t great.  I know unionists who voted Remain and they’re still unionists, and being unionist means being trapped into a sectarian political state because unionism demands it even if these people don’t.

There is going to be no return to political violence because of a hard border, even if it does cause significant inconvenience for those living along it, which is the most likely outcome.  A bit of nationalist history is instructive here.

The recent ‘Troubles’ broke out not because of problems with the border – the IRA’s border campaign of 1956 to 1962 had achieved nothing and fizzled out.  It followed an earlier bombing campaign in Britain and previous demise of the original raison d’être of the anti-Treaty IRA, which was fighting the treachery of the Free State forces, in other words fighting the Southern State.  By the 1950s republicans had abandoned fighting the Free State and accepted it, so that now it is almost forgotten that this was the IRA’s primary purpose.  Instead, what drove the IRA to its more recent prominence was what society inside the Northern Ireland border was like – its sectarianism and capacity for violence in defence of it, particularly by State forces.

In other words, what will, and currently is, causing the degeneration of the ‘peace process’ political arrangements are the internal contradictions within the process itself.  This does not mean that external factors are unimportant.  In fact, my own view is that such factors will be decisive in clearing away the political slum that is Northern Ireland.  What it does mean is that the effects of Brexit will exacerbate the problems but not be their key cause.

It is not the erection of border posts that will matter, they will just be visible symbols of the changes occurring.  The IRA, of whichever group, is not going to relaunch any significant armed struggle directed against the border.  This border will be just as much an EU/Irish border as a British one and just as much, if not more, a requirement of the former as the latter, even if it is the British whose Brexit has brought it into a harder form.

What will matter is the damaging effects on the North and South of Ireland of Brexit and the competing demands of Britain, the US under Trump and the EU.  In periods of relative geo-political stability small countries and regions can appear relatively stable and entertain illusions of sovereignty and autonomy.  When big powers seek a reconfiguration of international structures they rarely give a f*** about the interests of small countries.

Forward to part 3

Back to part 1

Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

irexitI have just read that various police forces in Britain have taken steps to prepare for a spike in racist and ‘hate’ crimes once Article 50 is triggered in March.  It is also correctly predicted that the course of the negotiations will present numerous opportunities for nationalists and racists to turn the failure of these negotiations to deliver on their fantasies into attacks on foreigners.  What the Tories will do verbally in attacking the EU it can be safely assumed that nationalist street thugs will do with their fists.

The reactionary outcome of the Brexit referendum is so obvious that it is simply grotesque and monstrously stupid that those sections of the left who supported Brexit still see it as progressive.  How dim or blinded by political dogma does one have to be not to see the link between the rise in racist attacks and the encouragement given to racists by the Brexit result?

The reactionary consequences of Brexit are glaringly obvious yet the process is being touted by it supporters in Britain as the way forward for the left in the rest of Europe.  The reactionary dreamers of a long lost imperial glory want to go back to the past while left supporters of Brexit imagine that a massive step back to the past will somehow represent a great leap forward into the future.  One of the few difference between the former and the latter is that the former makes more sense!

The European left have the luxury of watching the British events from one remove, but it is not the only advantage that they have.  Having witnessed the dire outcomes of Brexit they should stand firmly against their own states seeking the nationalist short cut to a non-solution though exiting the EU.  They too, just like British workers, must be alert to any weakening and diminution of their rights arising from the Brexit negotiations.  Of course, were Brexit the progressive outcome claimed by some we should expect a boost to workers’ rights from the negotiations, but the ridiculousness of such a thought only exposes the idea as incredible.

This is particularly the case for Irish workers whose state has the strongest links to Britain and could be most immediately and directly affected.  Yet even in Ireland the same left supporters of Brexit trot out the same ignorant arguments in favour of the decision; despite the increased xenophobia, despite the increased racist attacks, despite the massive shift to the right in the agenda of the Tory government, and opposite incoherence of the Corbyn-led Labour Party.  Despite all the evidence that the consequences have been reactionary the Brexit-supporting left has learned nothing.

The basis for their support for Brexit is the same mistaken arguments of their co-thinkers in Britain. Thus, they say that “the EU is run in the interest of Europe’s bosses and bankers.”  It is “deeply undemocratic, anti-worker, racist and regressive.”  Yep, mostly very true, just like the Irish State itself, which is the alternative to the EU that they put forward.  The nation state that doesn’t even include all of the nation is the alternative to the increased unity of the various states which determine the EU’s policy.  Apparently this is because although the EU cannot be reformed, the Irish State can.

In fact the Irish left must be applauded for making their illusions in nationalism so clear – that their opposition to the EU is based on their belief that the various capitalist nation states can be reformed and become the route to socialism.  The task across Europe is “to bring Left governments to power which will nationalise industry, while the EU would only be “a fetter on a future left-wing government.”

Capitalist state ownership and its political power is presented as socialism without an inkling that socialism is the power of the working class, which it is the capitalist state’s function to suppress and repress.  This complete misunderstanding of what socialism is about means that there is no conception of how it can arise from the current system.

It is correctly recognised that the EU is an attempt to “overcome the limitations of the nation state, to allow the free flow of capital and labour so as to maximise profits as well as forming a more powerful geo-political bloc.  The withdrawal of one of its major economies represents a profound blow to these ambitions.”

This apparently is what makes Brexit progressive.  It’s as if the objective of socialism is to restrict the free flow of capital and to frustrate the maximisation of profits.  It is probably news to these socialists that this is not the objective of socialism.

Capitalism presents its own barriers to the free flow of capital and the maximisation of profit, and which are expressions of the contradictions of capitalism pointed out by Karl Marx 150 years ago.  The point of socialism is to resolve these contradictions through the birth of a new system, not to intensify capitalist contradictions as an objective in itself.

On the other hand, it is an objective of socialism to support “the free flow of labour” and it is the objective of socialism to “overcome the limitations of the nation state”.  In fact, one objection to capitalism is that it has so far proved unable to do this.  Socialists do not seek to go back to the nation state but forward beyond it based on the steps that capitalism has already taken.  The first is called freedom of movement, an elementary democratic right and vital to workers’ unity, and the second is called socialist internationalism, the idea of which the Brexit left seems totally innocent.

Finally, this Brexit-Irexit left want to land a profound blow against “forming a more powerful geo-political bloc” by forming a Lilliputian bloc of one.

This left proclaims that it voted for Brexit “not because we have anything in common with the nationalism and xenophobia of the likes of UKIP” but because the EU is neo-liberal etc.  But this is obviously untrue.  The proposed Brexit referendum was sufficiently to their liking that they voted for it, called on everyone else to vote for it, still support even now and call for other countries to emulate it.  Nothing in common?  Is all this just a coincidence then?

What they both have in common is a nationalist conception of politics that is centred on the professed progressive potential of the nation state.  Both seek national independence as a prerequisite for progress and state intervention as the key to it. Totally the opposite of the socialist view that unity across nations is the key for workers and the nation state an obstacle to this.

Even in terms of the specific role of increased state spending, the views of this left are not so far from some of the proposals for increased spending presented by those other nationalists Trump and le Pen.  The tide of reactionary nationalism that these two and the Brexiteers represent threatens trade wars justified by rabid jingoistic rhetoric and sabre rattling.  The world has been here before in the twentieth century.  Giving a left gloss on this growth of reactionary nationalism by tail-ending it is a massive mistake, only reduced in effect by the relatively small forces advocating it.

The Brexit-supporting left is oblivious to their own role in the growth of this nationalist politics.  It minimises the xenophobic and racist content of the Brexit referendum by claiming that the Remain campaign was also anti-immigrant, ignoring the difference in degree and importance of such ideas on each side.  How quickly the murder of a Labour MP by a nationalist fanatic is forgotten!  How likely was this to have arisen from a supporter of the Remain campaign?

This left doesn’t even believe its own excuses – acknowledging that “the majority of ‘Remain’ voters did so for very positive reasons – in opposition to the xenophobia and inward-looking nationalism of the forces which dominated the official ‘Leave’ campaign, expressing a desire for unity across national borders.”  A desire expressed in freedom of movement within the EU, a freedom ignored completely in the series of analyses reviewed for this post.

All this exposes the hollowness of proclaimed opposition to rising anti-immigrant prejudices, prejudices fuelled by the decision they supported and still support.  Political positions have a logic outwith the sincerest of intentions – it’s commonly called the road to hell being paved with good intentions.  But even here the articles can’t help skirt with prejudice by talking of the “strain” caused by immigration and “the real concerns over the effects of immigration.”

This left presents frankly delusional claims that Brexit has been good for the working class – “opportunities are posed for the working class to organise and assert their interests” and “the working class can now more easily shape the course of events than it could within the glass prison of the EU.”

But in the real world the increase in racist attacks continues and reactionary nationalist rhetoric intensifies.  The Tories threaten to create a low-wage, low tax and deregulated free market paradise off the coast of Europe – a threat to British workers and to all of Europe’s workers – not an opportunity.

Most directly and immediately it is a threat to Irish workers.  After all, who else occupies the low tax, low regulation, super-business friendly niche that the Tories threaten to move into more obviously than the Irish?  My goodness, we even speak the same language.  Of course, the Irish State is inside the EU, which is a great attraction to US multinationals, but this does not help trade barriers for Irish-owned industry buying or selling into Britain, when Britain leaves the EU.  So, what better solution than for the Irish state to leave the EU as well?  After all, this fits the Trump agenda into the bargain.  Just a pity that this particular nationalist agenda also presents its own threats to the Irish ‘model’ of development.

Whatever way you look at it the nationalist agenda espoused by the Brexit-loving Irish left doesn’t offer any solutions to Irish workers.  But then, the Brexit left knows this itself:

“The bosses in Ireland will attempt to go on the offensive against the pay and conditions of workers in an attempt to make Irish exports more “competitive”, in the context of Sterling devaluing against the Euro. In short it is workers in Ireland, both public and private sector, who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit. Already the ESRI have talked of wage cuts taking place of between 4-5% for up to 60,000 workers. There have also been reports that the government may seek to attack the pay of public sector workers.”

So “it is workers in Ireland . . . who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit”.  But sure, wouldn’t it grand all the same?

Forward to part 2

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 2

 

HARLOW, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, addresses supporters and members of the media as he launches his party's local election campaign on April 5, 2016 in Harlow, England. Mr Corbyn visited the Essex town to meet supporters and to officially launch the Labour Party's local election campaign ahead of voting on May 5th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The argument that we can do nothing about Brexit except make the best of it is presented in a lucid argument on this blog.  Three reasons are advanced in support of the view that for the Labour Party to oppose Brexit “would be disastrous”.

Firstly, it would fail.  The Tories will vote for it as will the early pioneers of Donald Trump – the Donald Unionist Party.  And so will those Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constituencies who show much more readiness to oppose their leadership than the disaster that awaits their working class constituents.

This may or may not be true, although it certainly will be true if the opposition to Brexit itself refuses to oppose it.  The mantra that “the people” have voted for Brexit will be made official if those MPs supposedly opposed join in making the slim majority in the referendum an overwhelming vote in parliament.

The typically arrogant and supremacist claim of the Brexit right will be confirmed, that the only people who matter are those led by bigots.  The loyalist slogan “we are the people”, to be understood in the sense that everyone else is a lesser being, sits perfectly with the declarations of Farage and Trump that they alone speak for the people, because those who do not support them do not count.  Not voting against Brexit confirms the strident demands of the bullying reactionaries that their vote based on lies, fantasy and prejudice is unimpeachable.

On the other hand a vigorous campaign led by Labour against Brexit, which explains the real effects that are already visible, could compel reluctant Labour MPs to vote against Brexit and provide the cover for Tories opposed to Brexit to do the same.  We have been ‘warned’ repeatedly that a majority of MPs oppose Brexit, what matters is the political environment to make this a reality; and while the vote in parliament will decide the matter, the combination of disastrous consequences and political mobilisation outside parliament can determine it.

And if we are talking about numbers – what about the 65% of Labour voters who voted to Remain or do concerns about losing support only apply when bowing down to the most reactionary segment of support?  In terms of sheer numbers it makes no sense to alienate 65% in order to placate 35%.  ‘We can’t neglect to take on board the concerns of our working class supporters’ doesn’t really cut it when you look at it this way, unless you accept the nonsense that Remain voters were the metropolitan elite who, guess what, are not part of ‘the people.’

The second argument is that Labour cannot be seen to be “gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it  ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’.  Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.”

This is no doubt true; it is also true, although I do not know to what extent, that some Labour voters supporting Brexit will vote against Labour or abstain if it seeks “to subvert the will of the people”.   But it must again be recalled that the majority of Labour voters voted Remain!  And it really is internalising defeat when you vote with the Tories against the wishes of a majority of your own supporters.  However true the argument is that the strident claims of the Brexiteers will gain traction if Labour doesn’t bow before their demands, the contrary argument put here is also true, true to our principles and true to our future:

“The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say,“Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump’s racist and reactionary policies.”

The parallel drawn here is not merely similar to the Brexit vote; in the immediate sense it is identical.  The Trump measures against refugees and the citizens of seven countries is a clear attack on peoples’ ability to move and to seek a better life in another country.  The Brexit vote was led by just the same sort of xenophobic and racist politics that motivated the reactionary Trump campaign, even if not all who voted for Brexit were xenophobes or racists, just like Trump voters, who weren’t all bigots and racists either.

The parallel is identical because a core principle socialists are trying to defend by opposing Brexit is the freedom of movement of working people in the EU, just like the freedom of movement of refugees and citizens of mainly Muslim countries to the US.  Working class solidarity is hardly a credible proposition if you don’t defend the ability of workers of different nations to work together.  It is much harder to make it a reality if it is prevented.  We know this, amongst other reasosn, because we know that the Brexit vote did not succeed in areas with the largest number of immigrants but often in areas with low numbers.

The third argument is that the Labour strategy of seeking to amend the Brexit process “will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get” and “does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.”

Aside from the strength of an opposition that ultimately promises to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 it is unfortunately the case that a hard Brexit is the only one on offer.  An end to the free movement of workers in the EU is already a given, as is the exit from existing free trade arrangements, the disruption of which will impact on British capitalism and thereby on British workers, not to mention those in the EU.

As I have already argued, the strategy of a low-tax, deregulated and low wage Britain is the most credible one for an isolated nation seeking to insert itself into an international system in which every other large economy is part of a free-trade arrangement.  The exposure that Britain will impose on itself was illustrated by an article in Monday’s ‘Financial Times’, which reported a study that 46% of goods and services exports from the UK’s 62 cities went to the EU.  In contrast China accounted for only 4%, so that in order to make up a drop of 10% in EU exports would require a doubling of them to China or an increase by nearly one-third to the US.

Given that we know that a hard Brexit is coming it makes no sense to pretend the Tories will deliver anything else.  Could anyone seriously believe the Tories want to exit the rules and regulations of the EU because they want to make the regulations governing working conditions and employment rights better?

To pretend they will do anything else is a stand-out illustration of the weakness of an approach that tail-ends the Tories confusion and incompetence and that has allowed them to get away with taking over six months before even giving the broadest of outlines of what they wanted.  Leaving opposition to some final vote that the Tories can ignore is to play parliamentary games with workers’ futures when you aren’t in control of the rules.  There appears no guarantee that even defeating a Tory Brexit deal will not allow them to exit with no deal, as they have threatened.  A movement that would make this outcome politically unacceptable might prevent employment of such a device.

The only honest approach is to explain that a hard Brexit is inevitable and to build opposition to it on this basis, not wait for it to happen.  Having (sometimes) stated that the Tories will deliver a hard Brexit, the Labour Party is open to increasing incredulity and anger that they are not now opposing it.  The shadow-Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has told everyone that it is now impossible to oppose Brexit, making it clear that a single consideration trumps every other concern, while it took the old Tory Ken Clarke to make the points Starmer would not:

“Let me give an analogy in explaining the position for members of parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public in their wisdom have occasionally failed to take my advice and they have actually by a majority voted Labour. And I have found myself here facing a Labour government.”

“I do not recall an occasion where I was told it was now my democratic duty to support Labour policies under Labour governments on the other side of the House. That proposition would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. “

“We are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with this great new globalised future, which offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

“Don’t let me be too cynical – I hope that is right. I want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

This third argument has been put most pithily by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman – “accept the result.”  Except the real result of the referendum is not yet in and it would be criminal to accept it.

The third argument on accepting Brexit relies on the undoubtedly true argument that the referendum result “has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it.  In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.”

However, while true, this can hardly be an argument not to fight back now and, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, “in some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.”  This is because the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism which has created Brexit will not benefit workers, and their continued pursuit of them will hurt them rather quickly and rather directly.

Brexit allows the reactionary import of nationalism and racism to be demonstrated through the attacks on workers’ rights, conditions and living standards that Brexit will inevitably involve.  It provides the grounds to clearly separate the hardened ideological bigots from workers mistakenly attracted to false and simple-minded solutions that are nor in their interest.  Now is not the time to entertain the idea that restrictions on immigration and deference to reactionary nationalism can be combined with protection of workers to produce a mildly progressive ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no combination of nationalism and racism with state ‘national’ socialism that will be in the interests of workers.  By pointing this out and fighting for an alternative the Labour Party will be proved right if or when Brexit either becomes a reality, or its disastrous effects become visible and palpable before this happens.  To prepare for this means opposing Brexit now and being best placed to build the movement that stops it and inflicts a defeat on the forces of reaction behind it.  Which leads to a final argument put up against opposition to Brexit now.

“This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.”

There is no doubt some truth in this as well but it is rather like the truth that Brexit will be shown to be the shitshow predicted when it comes to pass.  Will the working class and the socialist movement be better off for having been proved right or will we have suffered a bitter defeat from which we will have to struggle to recover?  And similarly, if we defeat Brexit – the right of the Tory party and UKIP plus their ‘respectable’ fascists – will they be stronger or weaker for their defeat? The right can have its myths and its narrative if the labour and socialist movement can have its victory.

Back to part 1

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 1

gettyimages-628009410-e1485368657171-640x481In an interview last November Jeremey Corbyn was reported to have set out his “bottom lines”, without which he would vote against Article 50, which included access to the 500 million customers of the single market; no watering down of employee rights, currently guaranteed by EU law; consumer and environmental safeguards and pledges on the Government making up any shortfalls of EU investment.

However in January he said that “Britain can be better off after Brexit.  “Only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so that it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for Britain.”

As he went on to say: “as far as Labour is concerned, the referendum result delivered a clear message.  First, that Britain must leave the EU and bring control of our democracy and our economy closer to home.  Second, that people would get the resources they were promised to rebuild the NHS.  Third, that people have had their fill of an economic system and an establishment that works only for the few, not for the many.  And finally, that their concerns about immigration policy would be addressed.”

“Labour accepts those challenges that you, the voters, gave us.  Unlike the Tories, Labour will insist on a Brexit that works not just for City interests but in the interests of us all.”

“We will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs.”

“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”

Meanwhile John McDonnell stated that Labour will help deliver a “sensible British compromise” over Brexit, but also said that Labour would not back a “kamikaze” departure from the EU which hit the economy.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer then claimed a partial victory for Labour in the aftermath of Theresa May’s big speech on Brexit saying that the government had “accepted” many of the Opposition’s proposals, was heading away from a “hard Brexit” and that May will “fall far short of the hard Brexit that many businesses and trade unions have feared”.

This is straight after May admitted the UK couldn’t remain inside the Single Market and limit freedom of movement at the same time, instead proposing uncertain ideas of staying inside some of the customs union and hinting at special deals for certain industries.  Unfortunately the World Trade Organisation rules on such deals would mean that if the EU agreed them with the UK it would have to agree such deals with other countries as well.  We are expected to believe that the UK will succeed in getting the EU to agree a deal not only to its benefit but potentially to the benefit of a host of other countries as well.

May’s speech came days after the chancellor Philip Hammond delivered a threat to EU nations that Britain could cut its corporate tax rates yet again as part of its post-Brexit restructuring.  But as the Tories are doing this anyway we should be clear among all the confusion that Tory threats of a low-tax, low-regulation bargain-basement polity is not a policy consequent on failure to agree a good Brexit deal but will be a consequence of any Brexit deal.

Outside the EU lies tortuous negotiations with those paragons of all things fair, the Chinese State, and the consistently fair-minded, dispassionate and unprejudiced Donald Trump, who has promised to take personal charge of a trade deal with the UK.  May’s grovelling to one Japanese car company; her swift retreat on second thoughts on buying a ridiculously expensive and unproven nuclear power plant partly from the Chinese; and her assault backwards up the alimentary canal of Donald Trump, even pre-empting the Irish in the process, all testify to what “taking back control’ means for the newly to-be-isolated British State.  What both Trump and May now openly share are threats to the EU, even though Britain states its desire for its success.

So what are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn’s current position – that you can have a good Brexit that is good for workers?

As I posted a while ago – there isn’t a progressive Brexit, not on offer and not remotely possible.  Only the national reformist conceptions of the old Labour Party Left can sustain illusions that there is.  That, and the nonsense of some people who call themselves Marxist who supported and still support something called Lexit.  These left organisations, which had the project of replacing New Labour with their very own version of Old Labour, have also adopted wholesale the nationalist illusions of this old left.

Supporters of Lexit will claim that Lexit is not Brexit; that they voted against the EU for other reasons and/or that what they voted for is not exactly what they wanted – they wanted not capitalist unity in the EU but workers’ unity outside it.  But of course what they voted for was what was on offer – capitalist separation – because that was the only conceivable result of their vote being successful.  Their reasons for voting for it are neither here nor there.  If what they and the rest of us now face were sufficiently different from what they say they wanted then they would now be campaigning to stop Brexit, recanting their previous view and with an admission that they had made a mistake.  But they’re not doing any of these things, so what we all face must be sufficiently close to what they consider they voted for them not to oppose it now.

In comparison Jeremy Corbyn stands on a more progressive platform since there is still some, albeit very unclear and very indefinite, claim that he will oppose a Brexit that is bad for workers at some time in the future if that is necessary, but not now.  Or I think that’s his position.

It isn’t very clear what it is, or what could possibly take precedence and transcend his support for triggering Article 50 on the grounds that the “will of the people” should not be obstructed.  Under what circumstances will the Labour Party oppose the disaster for workers that is Brexit and with what arguments that don’t apply just as forcibly now?

Of course it has been the case that the choice between British capitalism seeking an isolated role in the world or as part of the EU is not one socialists would seek.  But we have enough accumulated knowledge of how to progress the interest of the working class and socialism not to get the answer wrong.

The second problem however is that we were defeated and defeat always imposes a cost.  We should of course seek to minimise this cost but more importantly we should seek to continue the struggle on the new, unfortunately more unfavourable, terrain.  For the Labour Party the problem is posed to them by the fact that an estimated 65% of Labour voters backed remaining in the EU while roughly two-thirds of the constituencies with Labour MPs in place voted to leave.  For a Party wedded to electoralism this creates an obvious dilemma while for socialists the need to take a longer-term view means the opportunist and unprincipled, even blinkered, approach that appears to be determined by purely short-term electoral considerations must be rejected.

The third problem was aptly posed on this blog – the defeat has been a long time coming and rests on long standing weaknesses that exist because of the incapacity and unwillingness of the labour movement to oppose British nationalism.  For Labour this has led to collapse in Scotland as a different nationalism has fed off the ideas that British nationalism and all nationalisms take for granted and usurped its leading role.  In England and Wales British/English nationalism also hurt the Labour Party where it had not had to confront it before, including the failure to tackle the worst excesses of this nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant prejudice and racism.

The media reports that despite the obvious confused incompetence of the Tories they are far ahead in the polls and that many Remainers have reluctantly become reconciled to Brexit.  Some strong Remainers believe there is no case for fighting Brexit and that for the Labour Party to try to do so would be utterly disastrous.  But this is a mistake and one that will have greater consequences the longer we refuse to take up a fight that should have been taken up long ago.  In some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.  Why give up when it hasn’t happened yet?

Forward to part 2

Crisis? What Crisis? – part 5 Brexit? What Brexit?

supertrampGeorge Monbiot wrote an article on Brexit for The Guardian that was subsequently reprinted in Village magazine.  In it he says that we should not only accept the Brexit referendum vote but “should embrace it.”

Yes, the Brexit campaign was ‘led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite.  Popular anger was channelled against immigrants but the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority.’ That is why the Brexit slogan “take back control” resonated.  “If the left can’t work with this, what are we for?” he said.

But, like the old Irish story of the response to someone who was lost and needed directions to a particular place – if I was going to there I wouldn’t start from here.

What the left is for, hopefully, is not to pretend that we can work with reactionary politics to sugar the pill, which is altogether different from having to deal with a reactionary situation and trying to make the best of it.

‘Working with it’ first of all means understanding that the “howl of rage against exclusion” was captured by those seeking their own exclusion of foreigners.  Alienation is of no use unless it can be overcome and not displaced onto the wrong target, and blaming a remote authority in Brussels just gets us back to the “rage against exclusion” and blaming foreigners.  As for “take back control”, this was a reactionary nationalist response that showed incredible levels of ignorance of the power, position and role of the British State.  Even if this power were not severely diminished; even if its position of weakness were not more and more exposed, and even if its supplicant role is not becoming more pronounced, it would still be a reactionary commitment to nationalism that we ‘cannot work with’ except in the sense of attempting to undermine and defeat.

Monbiot presents Brexit as a land of opportunity – “If it is true that Britain will have to renegotiate its trade treaties, is this not the best chance we’ve had in decades to contain corporate power – of insisting that companies that operate here must offer proper contracts, share their profits, cut their emissions and pay their taxes? Is it not a chance to regain control of the public services slipping from our grasp?”

But who exactly is going to exert control in this way, assuming for the moment it’s possible?  We can be sure that, in any Brexit negotiations, containing corporate power will not be an objective of Theresa May.  We can even be confident that, in negotiations between the greater capitalist power wielded by the EU and the lesser power of Britain, the weaknesses of the latter will be exploited by the former.  And this balance of forces would weigh to an even greater extent on any sort of left Government in Britain facing a much more powerful EU.

Only with allies in the EU, primarily in the shape of a European-wide workers’ movement, would it be possible for the balance of forces to tilt towards the workers.  But this obviously points in the direction of staying in the EU.  As part of the EU there would at least be the beginnings of a political unity within which the workers’ movements of the various European countries could achieve some measure of unity and seek to exercise power at an international level.

But such a perspective would mean rejecting Brexit and continuing to fight it.

I looked at the arguments surrounding such an approach before and said that “there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about. Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.”

I further said that “it could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims – about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.”

Except of course unlike a general election, in which the winning party takes office immediately, we do not have Brexit immediately and it has become increasingly obvious that the Brexit campaign has no idea how it will deliver on promises it is still making, promises that become ever less credible.

There are some steps to limit the damage that the Tories have taken, such as the secret deal with Nissan, but this exposes any notion of taking back control.  We don’t know the cost or even whether it involves state support the EU could sooner or later simply nullify, whether Britain were in or out.

But there have been and will be consequences which no Government can do much about; such as the depreciation of the currency, inflation and rising interest rates.  When the Governor of the Bank of England says that he will let inflation overshoot the target of 2% to save jobs that’s really very good of him, because there’s nothing short of cratering the economy that he can do about it.

So to give up on fighting Brexit is to put British workers at the mercy of the most reactionary and frankly stupid sections of the Tory party.  It is to accept their risible promises and seek simply to expose them through their failure, a failure whose heaviest price will be paid by workers.  It is to accept the drastic fall in living standards that has already begun and it is to accept the secrecy necessary to cover up the unfolding disaster.

In this respect the demand for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans and their progress, including sweetheart deals, is important.  Not just to expose the policy of Brexit but also the nationalist alternatives that will flourish in the twilight of Brexit failure. Such nationalist intervention will come from the SNP pointing to a betrayal of Scotland or a UKIP narrative that accumulating failures of Brexit come from an insufficiently committed Brexit Government.  So far it has been the Treasury mandarins who have led the fight against Brexit and we can expect further leaks if, or rather when, the current trio of Brexit ministers demonstrate the failure of their policy.

However, the perspective of the Labour Party is not opposition to Brexit but to fight for a “people’s Brexit” as opposed to a “bankers’ Brexit.”  John McDonnell has argued that:

“Britain voted to leave the EU, and that decision should be and must be respected.

We should not pretend that the referendum result can be undone.  If we do that, and walk off the field, we will simply be allowing other forces to give their own answers to those questions it has posed

The simple truth is that the Tory establishment cannot be trusted to make a success of Brexit. Labour in government is the only party that would be prepared to take the necessary measures to make a success of Brexit

We are also committed to making sure that Brexit works for everyone not an elite few. Labour would work with our European neighbours to protect our key industries like steel, and negotiate deals with the EU to make sure big multinationals like Google pay their fair share in tax.”

On the other hand –

  • If the vote for Brexit means severe cuts to working class living standards, why should a vote based on lies and deception be respected?
  • The Labour Party is assuming that there are progressive answers possible to the questions posed through accepting Brexit.
  • It assumes that there can be a “successful” Brexit.
  • It assumes that the protection of industry and jobs and fair taxation of multinationals is possible in Brexitland.

But Brexit puts up barriers to trade and it puts up barriers to effective taxation of the wealthy and international companies.  Were a Labour Government outside the EU how could they enlist the support of other European countries to increase taxation of the rich?

When France increased its taxation in 2012 to 75% on those earning above €100,000 the number moving abroad jumped 40 per cent.  Between 2000 and 2014 42,000 millionaires left France, many of them moving to London, and particularly to South Kensington, referred to by some as Paris’s 21st arrondissement.  Many of its banks and its bankers also moved, although thanks to Brexit this has now stopped.

Inside the EU such tax increases have a greater chance of being coordinated.  Outside, the competitive position of weaker countries often drives them to lower taxation on multinationals and the wealthy. And as we have seen, there are economic effects which are largely outside the control of Governments to prevent.  What they can do is take offsetting measures such as increased public expenditure and investment, and this is what Labour promises, but this can only be offsetting and the weakening of Britain’s capitalist economy also weakens the capacity to do this.

Of course Labour’s model of Brexit is very different from the declared objective of the Tories.  John McDonnell declares that “Labour will insist that any deal with the EU includes, at least as an interim, tariff-free Single Market access. Full Single Market access implies freedom of movement, as in Norway’s European Economic Area deal.”

Without the xenophobic hang-ups of the Tories Labour is happy to see free movement alongside as much access to the EU single market as the EU is prepared to allow.  This is one possible transitional deal that the advisors to big business, in the shape of ‘The Economist’ and “Financial Times’ are pointing to.  A transition that might, like those of Norway and Switzerland that were initially temporary, prove more permanent than first intended and that might be open as much to a transition back to full membership as complete exit.

However, once again all this will be in the gift of the EU.  All the calculations involved in a permanent divorce apply to such a separation – whether the interests of the remaining EU are better protected and advanced by accepting a relationship with Britain on these terms or whether a clean break is preferable.  Once again it is necessary to note that given its size, Britain is not Norway or Switzerland and it makes no sense for it to pay into the EU and be subject to its rules without any say in those rules.  Such a transitional arrangement is the very opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Whenever we look at the relatively weak position that Britain is in we can also see the weakness of the Tory Brexit policy – when even speeches at Conservative party conferences occasion steep declines in the currency.  The pound has hit a 168-year low and this is before Article 50 is triggered, the lousy terms of the exit start to be revealed and the two-year exit timetable has been exhausted.

This weakness is also reflected in the political weakness of those seeking Brexit.  UKIP, which spearheaded this policy, is in disarray.  The political leadership of Brexit in the Tory party includes someone who was considered a star before imploding and heading for obscurity before being given a plum job at the Foreign Office; another who was already discredited and already in obscurity before being given a job in Trade, and a third who was also a twice loser in contests to lead the Tory party.  The majority of MPs are opposed to Brexit but they have no idea of how to make popular a campaign against Brexit that would make its reversal legitimate.  That task lies with others.

The referendum was largely portrayed in the media as an inter-Tory dispute and the struggle that big business will put up to resist Brexit and/or to deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit may also seek to do so primarily through that parry.  Once again the struggle could come to be seen as primarily an inter-Tory argument.

Considerations that this may severely damage the Tory party are secondary to the necessity that the struggle against Brexit is open, clear and honest.  In this sense the instincts of the primarily young Remain Voters who demonstrated and signed petitions immediately after the referendum were all these things, which an inter-Tory dispute will not be.

In order for the Labour Party to truly defend working people it is necessary for Brexit to be stopped – to nullify the dire effects that no amount of negotiation for a ‘soft’ Brexit may put right.  If this is to be done it must be done openly or charges that democracy is being subverted will appear to have some truth.  The defeat of Brexit is still possible but it should be done openly and on a progressive basis of defending the living standards of working people; defending EU workers and other immigrants who live in Britain; defending those British people who live in other EU countries and in defence of international unity.  A lying, xenophobic referendum result with reactionary consequences deserves no respect and should be reversed.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6