Brexit – stop digging!

Wayne Asher writes in the International Socialism Journal (ISJ) that “the traditional left in Britain has committed a colossal mistake in its approach to Brexit and is making matters worse by an obsolete refusal to correct it.”

The traditional left, as Asher calls it, is once again exhibiting a failure that can be seen running through its history throughout the twentieth century, involving the subordination of socialist movements to the state, in its nation state form, expressed in a capitulation to nationalism.

The subordination of Social Democracy and its incorporation into the State led to it urging the workers of each country to slaughter each other in World War 1.  This in turn massively reinforced nationalism after the war, leading to an even greater catastrophe in World War 2.

The defeat of the Russian Revolution saw the Stalinist counter-revolution base its politics on the Russian State and more and more on Great Russian nationalism.  Thus today we even have Stalinists who defend Russia (as if it were still a separate social system from capitalism), entirely forgetting why they supported the country in the first place.

The Trotskyist movement has fought a rather lonely battle against this and such has been its isolation many of its subjective adherents are now no more than pale reflections of these larger forces.  So, we often see the espousal of ‘anti-imperialism’ without any progressive or socialist content, and a programme based on state ownership – ‘nationalisation’ –  instead of workers’ ownership.

Also common is a primitive internationalism.  So, for most social democrats the internationalisation of capitalism is to be supported and the working class subordinated to it.  This is expressed in Britain through the majority of Labour MP’s uncritical support for the EU and its supposed progressive agenda.

On the other hand, for Stalinists and the left social democrats influenced by them, the road to socialism remains national and membership of the EU is rejected on this basis.

As for some of those claiming the mantle of Trotskyism, I was reminded of the corruption of organisations claiming to stand on this legacy by a recent article on Brexit by the Irish Socialist Party, which made explicit its perspective of international socialism as simply being the coming together of already socialist nation states.

This view can see no role, except a purely additive one, for the international struggle of workers. In effect, there is no international struggle, at most a solidarity of separate struggles, perhaps still quoting Marx from more than a 150 years ago that the struggle is national in form. Such an approach is really then the Marxist version of the internationalism of nationalism, in which anti-colonial movements reject accusations of their nationalist limitations by saying that they support other nationalist movements, not just their own.  Brexit is yet another example of this left nationalism.

Asher has no difficulty showing that this policy of the organisation of which he was once a member is wrong.  There are however limitations to his critique and his position could be stronger.

The critique is based mainly on the view that the movement for a left Brexit has had no purchase on reality because the supporters of it were so small. In such circumstances he argues that the Brexit project could only be a reactionary one, and so it has obviously proved.

This sort of analysis is the basis on which another organisation I can think of opposed Brexit.  In effect, they have registered the reactionary nature of Brexit in a purely empirical manner by witnessing the nature of its support and effects.  The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party continue to support it by denying this reality and inventing their own.

Asher shows the reactionary character of the support for Brexit – that it is not a movement of the oppressed against austerity and is not a movement of those ‘left behind’.

Its core vote was Tory, reactionary and racist and his article is worth reading on this account alone if anyone is still in any doubt.

However, this recognition of immediate reality does not provide the right starting point for determining how workers should vote.  It is one thing to recognise the reactionary nature of the campaign for Brexit, but to base our own approach simply on this is to believe that our opposition to Brexit is merely contingent, that we could or should look forward to a ‘good’ left Brexit.  It fails to recognise that the effluvia of reaction that has poured forth from the Brexit campaign was not accidental or contingent but faithful to its nature.

Asher states that “Alex Callinicos’s 2015 article warned “the referendum is about the EU as a whole, not just immigration. Socialists in Britain will have to take a stand on the entire project of European integration”.  Unfortunately Callinicos does not seem to have taken his own advice and frames everything in terms of a disembodied racism that stands above everything else, as we discussed in the previous post.

It is not clear that Asher starts from the place recommended by Callinicos either; he appears simply to argue that the immediate weakness of the left and the reactionary nature of the existing Brexit project was enough to determine the attitude of socialists:

“. . . it is quite possible, as Momentum did—to accept the traditional left analysis of the EU and still argue that the correct decision in the 2016 referendum was to argue for Remain. Whatever the levels of oppression and unpleasantness in today’s Britain, they are not the fault of Brussels but of two decades of New Labour and the Tories, and neither were reliant on Brussels to carry through such policies. Socialists who argued for a Remain vote did so not because of illusions in the EU but because they saw that the main issue in the campaign—given the weakness of the left—would inevitably be reactionary nationalism and outright racism.”

He says of the “formally correct position the left (excluding Momentum)” that “it had a formally correct analysis on the nature of the EU but fell into abstraction because it did not take into account the extreme weakness of left-wing forces and the inevitable nature of the Leave campaign in a downturn that has lasted decades.”

We will not go into what all the features of this “formally correct analysis” of the left might be, except to say that I assume it means that – other things being equal, i.e. a stronger left and weaker right – the correct thing would have been to support Brexit.

In this respect, it should be clear from previous posts that I don’t agree with this, and have argued that the working class should not seek to reverse the progress of capitalism into a more backward and purely national form but should rather build its own alternative on the basis of the international development of capitalism.

In this context, I will simply take up one point made in the article.  Asher absolves the Remain left of a belief ascribed to them by Callinicos “that . . .  the underlying assumption of those on the left supporting a Yes vote is that the EU represents, however imperfectly, the transcendence of nationalism and so internationalists and anti-racists should vote for Britain to remain in the EU”.

It’s not clear to me that Asher agrees with this argument, which might be stated slightly differently as being that one reason to support Brexit is that the EU does not, even in an imperfect way, represent the transcendence of nationalism.

This seems to me to be obviously wrong.

Not because the EU transcends nationalism in the sense of superseding it – given the role of the member states in its operation this would not be possible – but because the EU does represent the development of capitalism beyond the restrictions of national boundaries.  The forces of production of modern capitalism in their most developed forms have transcended the restrictions of the nation state and are international in character.

The Brexit debate has been an education in quite how international capitalist production is.  This includes such a range of industries that the Institute of Directors has said that around 30 per cent of companies, and so not just the large ones, have or will shift some or all of their operations out of the UK.

We only need to consider that the Euro is an international currency, with one Central Bank, that has replaced a number of the most important national currencies, including the Deutsche Mark and Franc

Brexit threatens the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, and was designed to end the freedom of movement that allowed this migration to occur. This movement is but another example of the international development of the forces of production.

In this sense then, the EU does (very imperfectly) represent the transcendence of nationalism.

And this is not just in relation to the economy.  The EU has always been a political project and specifically designed to mitigate certain nationalist antagonisms.  Its supranational political structure is still to a large extent the creature of member states but these states have ceded real political power to supranational bodies.  This is true even of the European Parliament, despite the well-known weakness of its powers.

It should nevertheless not be surprising that the largest nation states carry the biggest clout in the EU and that the easiest nationalisms transcended are the smallest, which doesn’t however include the British.  When some are more powerful than others this transcendence can easily be seen as, and is, subordination, but a perspective of going back to a Europe of purely nation states, the logic of Brexit, is quite clearly not a solution to this but a return to the problem.

The economic and political (imperfect) transcendence of nationalism is reflected in the consciousness of Europe’s population.  Brexit has not prompted a growth of opposition to the EU across Europe and the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll shows increased support for it.  This support is far from uniform or unqualified, but even in the UK Brexit has increased the intensity of support for the European Union.

One opinion poll just before Christmas showed that 30 per cent of Germans supported the proposal by the German politician Martin Schulz for a United States of Europe, which was also supported by 28 per cent of French respondents.  Unsurprisingly the UK was lowest in the poll but even here the proposal was supported by 10 per cent, even though such an eventuality is not even presented for debate, except when it is trashed by Brexiteers.

Asher points out that the supporters of Lexit are in a hole and are still digging.  This is a real problem for the relatively small forces that claim to be Marxist.  As an example of where this might ultimately lead we need only look at Russia where the nationalist depths that Stalinist parties have plumbed has resulted in a programme of extreme national socialism.

This is possible, if only because the left supporters of Brexit are as delusional as its supporters on the right.  In fact, their delusions are greater.  Both live in a world in which Britain can become either the standard bearer of a free market world or a beacon of socialism – if only it were freed from the rest of Europe.

How delusional this can be was revealed to me this week when I attended a meeting on the Irish trade union view of Brexit.  Two speakers from the floor ridiculed the prospect of 27 EU countries electing left or anti-austerity Governments, thereby committing the crime of holding back the UK and Ireland from moving forward.

Aside from the admission that the unity of Europe’s workers was therefore considered to be effectively dead; so, it would have to follow, would any prospect of socialism, which is international or it will not exist.

But what was really delusional was that this claim – that we were being held back – was made in Belfast of all places.  Yes, that city renowned throughout Europe as a trail blazer of working class unity!

Where do you start with such nonsense?

In the hands of such people what we have is not Marxism but a dogmatic Marxism which, because Marxism is not a dogma, is no Marxism at all.

If the contribution of Asher has gone even some way to making the left supporters of Brexit stop digging it will have performed a service.  In this light, we might even see the article by Callinicos as an attempt to stop digging.

It would appear however that some people have yet to show signs of stopping.

Lexit – You were never really there

According to the polls not many people have changed their minds since the referendum, although there may be a few signs that this is beginning to change.  Instead a shift to a Remain majority appears to be from the death of mainly older ‘Leave’ voters and entry to voting age of mainly ‘Remain’ young people.

It might be thought that the reactionary mess of Brexit would cause those supporting Lexit to reconsider but the obstacle to this is obviously the politics that got them to this position in the first place.  I tried to get one supporter of Lexit to address this mess by asking him if he was happy with the way Brexit was going, but he refused to answer.

However, a sign that at least some are debating the question is shown in the latest issue of the International Socialism Journal (ISJ), which contains an article that calls for just such a reconsideration.  In fact, it calls on the Socialist Workers Party to recognise that it made a mistake and to correct that mistake.  It refers to the organisation’s earlier position on the European Economic Community as a way of helping it do so, and I have covered this history in a previous post.

The ISJ also contains an article continuing to defend Lexit from one of the leaders of the SWP, Alex Callinicos.  A fair summary of this article would be ‘we were right, and anyway it doesn’t matter that much.’  In my experience this appears to be a common view among Lexit supporters and has the convenient effect of divorcing themselves from the real world consequences of Brexit and their support for it.

We can continue to refer to Brexit (and not Lexit) because this is what was on the ballot paper; this is what the campaigns to leave proposed in the referendum; this is what all the debate about implementation has been about since, and most obviously this is what SWP members voted for when they put their pencil on the ballot paper.

Any claims that they were actually voting for something other than what we are getting could only be true if the world were as SWP members wished it to be, and of course it isn’t. Examples of this denial of the world as it actually is is illustrated by Callinicos’ denial that the Brexit vote was racist while still having to admit that the result ‘partially’ encouraged racism.

Since racism is for him the over-riding issue this in itself should be enough to make him reconsider, but to actually do so would require acknowledgement that his reading of the result is nonsense.  The article by Wayne Asher opposing Brexit in the same issue of the journal demonstrates this and contains enough material from the now widely publicised opinion poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft to show that the Leave vote was thoroughly reactionary.

The core Brexit vote was nationalistic, xenophobic and racist, which is why it encouraged racism afterwards.  It was centred on small capitalists, middle class reactionaries and demoralised workers, many of whom don’t normally vote or habitually vote Tory or UKIP.  Whatever their disaffection with the status quo, their response to this status quo was to blame other victims and ally with those whose policy is to make things worse.  Asher very effectively demolishes any argument that socialists should orient to these people, through what amounts to critical support for their reactionary project on spurious grounds that they are the basis of some anti-austerity protest.

The major argument of Callinicos however is that the issue of Brexit is not really that important – “which is the more important issue – the EU or racism?”  Aside from artificially dividing them into wholly separate issues when even he admits Brexit has encouraged racism, both should be considered together, understanding that Brexit is the key assault on the working class at the moment and raises very important issues for workers and particularly socialists.

He acknowledges that the referendum result has been interpreted as a rejection of free movement for European citizens but draws no conclusions that maybe the result was therefore not for the best.  If Brexit was something progressive why so many reactionary consequences?

To put a veil over all this we are told that despite “this deep political and constitutional crisis . . . the plight of British capitalism is unlikely fundamentally to change in or out of the EU.”  He feigns agnosticism over whether the country will be worse off while acknowledging that supply chains will be disrupted, and states that Brexit has “simply highlighted the limits of the reconstruction of British capitalism under Thatcher.”  A bit like cutting your right hand off to highlight the need to use your left just as well.

Callinicos refuses to acknowledge that the Brexit project will involve increased attacks on workers and that for the ultra-right this is one of its main objectives; he complacently claims that “the dynamics of global crisis will continue to work whatever happens on 29 March, and working people will still face attacks and need to fight back in or out of the EU.”  If or when such attacks come will he be saying that these are simply run-of-the-mill attacks on workers’ living standards – nothing special?  No particular cause?

By counterposing opposition to Brexit to opposition to racism he makes the claim that some Remainers are putting support for the EU ahead of fighting racism and fascism. Aside from his sleight of hand – that opposition to Brexit means support for the EU – it is he who has, to put it in his terms, put support for Brexit ahead of fighting racism and fascism.

He wishes to further divorce himself from responsibility for the project that he has supported by claiming that the rise of racism was happening anyway and that there is a tide of such reaction everywhere – so why blame Brexit?  He ignores, or simply denies, that Brexit has made such racism worse and that Brexit is the project in Britain in which this reactionary movement involving Trump etc. has coalesced.

The idea that you can support Brexit while opposing racism and the racists is absurd – imagine a Lexit contingent on a Brexit demonstration consisting of the English Defence League, Football Lads Alliance and UKIP!

But ‘never mind’ seems to be the message – “where you stand on the EU is a secondary question”.  “There is no reason why we can’t stand together against the main enemy – the bosses and the far right that the crisis of their system is strengthening.”

Yes, the millions of EU citizens working in Britain will see no issue with standing shoulder to shoulder with those who voted for Brexit and placed their right to live and work in Britain in danger.  They shall ignore that it was not just some “crisis of the system” that has strengthened the far right but also Brexit.

In the real world, it is not for these millions of workers, or for the millions of working class Remain voters, to explain to the SWP why they will not join their anti-racist campaigns but for the SWP to explain how they could be their effective allies in fighting racism while still supporting Brexit.

Callinicos claims that in supporting it he is demonstrating that it is not impossible to campaign against the EU on a socialist basis, and that “the arguments for leaving the European Union were substantial and debate-worthy.”

However despite this, and his claim that Brexit was mainly motivated by progressive impulses, he nowhere presents the relevance of Brexit to any progressive struggle that is going on.  Nor does not say how his and other left organisations supporting Brexit are helping to push it in a socialist direction.  In fact he is not able to point to any initiative that is putting a left Brexit on the agenda.  The only attempt at this is the ‘soft’ Brexit so far championed by Jeremy Corbyn, and this would still result in lower living standards and is in any case unworkable.

He admits that “the referendum wasn’t something that the left had campaigned for”, but given the argument that the EU is unreformable and is such an obstacle to progressive change you could be forgiven for seeking an explanation why not?  The campaign however, and its result, has demonstrated that Lexit has been an irrelevance, if not those who consider it in relation to the integrity of socialism and Marxism.

Callinicos admits that the referendum result has threatened to “stoke populists anxieties with unpredictable consequences’ . . . “amid political and perhaps economic turmoil’ but again sees no reason to reconsider his support for what got us here.

Like the Tory Brexiteers who proclaimed the benefits of Brexit but buggered off when it came to implementing it, the supporters of Lexit have turned round to claim that their Platonic love child isn’t really that important.

The final act of abandonment is put forward in the final sentence of the article:  “The radical and revolutionary left too should avoid getting trapped on one side or other of the debate within the ruling class and instead stand ready to promote and help shape “fundamental revolts”.

Having supported “one side”, as he puts it, by supporting Brexit, he now wants to claim that, actually, socialists should now not take sides. Of course if they followed his advice it would conveniently make implementation of Brexit that bit easier.

If only he and the other supporters of Lexit had decided to dump it earlier.  It would have saved themselves, even if it would not have made much difference to the result.

The importance of fighting Brexit

It was entirely appropriate that it was the votes of the DUP that saved Theresa May’s Government in the vote of no confidence. A reactionary Government was saved by the most reactionary and bigoted collection of MPs in parliament.  It is clear that whatever the DUP’s differences over May’s Brexit deal, it did not want to risk a Corbyn alternative.

This illustrates a question for the left in the Labour Party – does it too place Corbyn before taking a position on Brexit?  In the previous few hours before setting to write this post I came across two examples of this question being posed.

The first was a Facebook post which noted that in a Labour party branch, which I think was in London, the Corbyn supporters were moving to drop, or at least lessen, their opposition to Brexit since they considered it was weakening Corbyn’s position.

The second was in another Facebook exchange in which an old comrade of mine from Glasgow argued that “For me ending austerity by removing the Tories is the most important thing. I oppose Brexit within that context. I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue. I oppose Brexit as part of a working-class fightback so don’t have common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.”

A third exchange posts an article which makes the claim that the argument over Lexit is irrelevant and that the only possible Brexit now is a reactionary one.  The first two Facebook exchanges shows that this is not the case.

The first – to support Corbyn by accepting his policy of a Labour “jobs Brexit” – is to support Corbyn by ditching ‘Corbynism”,  or rather to support Corbyn by ditching what is best in Corbynism; accepting the worst of his national reformist politics that will destroy the potential of his better policies.

Outside the EU large numbers of businesses will close, re-locate to mainland Europe and reduce their presence in Britain.  Those that remain will find the costs of trading with their biggest trading partner increase and their competitiveness reduce.  The value of the currency will fall, living standards will decline and the potential for the state to deliver redistributive policies and provide a satisfactory welfare state will be reduced.  The British economy will be set back and then probably stagnate or grow more slowly. At the very least it will decline relatively to its European neighbours.

All this of course will be a thousand times worse if there is no deal at all.

This leaves out the reactionary political effects of withdrawal, which is predicated on foreigners being responsible for British problems.  This is the common analysis of both left and right opposition to membership of the EU.

The left blames a supposedly unreformable neoliberal EU, with its laws against state aid etc. and the right blames immigration and Brussels for undermining British freedom. In effect they both stand up for the independence and sovereignty of the British State and its parliament against a supposed Brussels bureaucracy.  In the shape of Stalinism the language is often identical.  It gets ludicrous when there are claims that Lexit means self-determination for Britain, as if it were an oppressed nation, which of course is precisely the logic of the Lexit case.

It would therefore appear that the only way to save Corbynism is to save the man from himself, and since such a thing is very rarely possible it means facing the question of saving ourselves from his Brexit policy.

Confused political events are often accompanied by confused ideas and nothing illustrates this more than Corbyn standing by the principle that any Brexit deal must involve a permanent customs union with the EU.

Unfortunately this makes no sense.  The current trading arrangements that exist in the EU, and which Corbyn says must be maintained, owe a lot more to the existence of the Single Market than to the customs union. Corbyn says he wants Britain to be part of a Single Market but there is only one Single Market and leaving the EU, as Corbyn wants, will mean leaving it and leaving the free trading arrangements the benefits of which he wants to maintain.

Remaining in a customs union with the EU will not remove the need to negotiate trade agreements with the EU or with all the other countries with which Britain now trades through deals negotiated with the EU.

No doubt Corbyn would want these deals to continue to apply to Britain, just as he wants the benefits of the Single Market and just as he wants Britain to have a say in how the EU negotiates its trade arrangements; but this simply shows the have-cake-and-eat-it delusional character of the proposed Labour Brexit.

The attempt to strike such a deal would be an ignominious failure and be just as humiliating as the repeated embarrassing episodes of Theresa May’s European adventures.  My friend in Glasgow is therefore wrong when he says that “a Corbyn renegotiation could be useful if he highlighted anti-working class aspects of the present set up.”  If Corbyn highlighted them he would only put the spotlight on his own failure to remove them.

More importantly, it is wrong because reforming the EU will not come from the British State getting the rules changed, but from British workers – with the help of a Corbyn Government – uniting with other EU workers and their political parties in getting the rules changed for the whole EU, not pursuing exemptions for one member state.

To be fair to my Glasgow comrade, he knows that such an attempt to negotiate a Labour Brexit will fail, but he does not factor in the consequences of such a failure, which is to weaken any Corbyn administration that attempted it.  Here we will leave to one side what he might then decide to do when he did fail.

And this brings us to the second way in which a correct policy of utmost opposition to Brexit is the only correct socialist policy, for the comrade says that “for me ending austerity by removing the Tories is the most important thing. I oppose Brexit within that context. I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue. I oppose Brexit as part of a working-class fightback so don’t’ have common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.”

Opposing Brexit as a principle does not entail automatic common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.  As an opponent of Scottish independence the comrade will know that it was possible to take this position without joining with the Tories in the ’Better Together’ campaign. Similarly, it is possible also to support a second EU referendum without forming an alliance with the Peoples Vote movement.  In fact a Labour Party socialist campaign for such a vote and a campaign to Remain would transform this demand, making it a potential rallying point for millions of Labour supporters and voters opposed to Brexit and austerity.

Saying that “I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue” is pointless since if Remain does not win the current austerity can only increase.

In this respect it is vital to understand that Brexit can only damage the interests of the working class.

Consider this.  The hard-right of the Tory party want to leave the EU in order to impose a low wage, low tax, deregulated sweat shop off the coast of mainland Europe and the EU is afraid of this competition.  The Withdrawal Agreement repeatedly sets out the steps that the EU wants in place to prevent this from happening.  As socialists we want to prevent it as well, so we agree with the EU on preventing such a project – one very concrete illustration of why Remain is the correct policy for socialists.

The next question is whether such a deregulated Brexit policy is the only one possible.  Apart from the obvious fact that it is the only one on offer, and no collaboration between the Labour Party and Theresa May will change this, the answer lies in considering what could be the potential alternatives to such a Brexit.

The reason why Corbyn wants to leave, but wants nothing related to trade to change, is because all trade related changes that must inevitably result from Brexit will weaken the British economy and weaken any potential for a social-democratic Britain.  Outside the EU a Britain with a similar regulatory framework as the EU will find it harder to compete, not just because of trade barriers that would have to rise up, but because production restricted within the UK, within one country (as necessarily must be the case to a greater extent when outside the EU) will be less efficient than the continental scale production within the EU.

Outside the EU Britain will more and more become a competitor to the EU if it is not to become simply a satellite of it.  This will be the inevitable result of a reactively small Britain seeking trade deals with more powerful nations such as the US and China.  Such competition will not drive regulatory standards up; it must be obvious that it will be quite the opposite.

The view of the Stalinist supporters of Brexit that the British state can take over production to create a state-led economic development that will compete with the EU, US and China etc. simply ignores the failure of such a project in the Soviet Union.  How many times does it need to be proved that there can be no socialism in one country, and no social democracy in one country either? Only on an international basis would it be possible to lift corporate taxes, or taxes on the richest billionaires, to raise the cost of welfare services through extended provision or significantly raise the terms and conditions of workers.  Only on an international basis is it possible to have the most efficient production upon which a new economy can be developed.  The looming collapse of the car industry in Britain is negative proof of this.

In a further comment the comrade says that “In effect, Corbyn is using the threat of no deal to win a GE (General Election). Quite right too. That is what I am saying. If faced with the certainty of a no deal Brexit remain Tories will vote for a GE.”

The problem with this of course is that the Tory Remainers have been exposed as spineless.  More importantly, the threat of no deal comes from the Tory Government.  Both it and Labour pursuing a similar bluff could end up with both delivering a busted flush.

In less than a day we have seen May’s call for all-party talks to be a sham.  Her spokespeople have said that she will make no significant changes to her Withdrawal Agreement.

As we have noted above, accommodating Corbyn’s demand for membership of a customs union will not even achieve the objectives of its sponsor. Only Single Market membership will do that and neither the EU nor Tory Brexiteers will swallow this and the latter will not accept a customs union.  On its own a customs union will not do away with the need for an Irish back-stop so neither the DUP or Tory Brexit ultras will accept it.  Were Theresa May to attempt a deal with the Labour Party on this basis the Tories would most likely split.

Pivoting to the ultra-Brexiteers in her own Party by ditching the backstop would fall foul of the EU and expose May’s promise as an outrageous lie.  This sort of Brexit would also fail in Westminster.  It would not be enough for the Brexiteers as the transitional deal involving all-UK customs union membership would still remain and still be unacceptable to the ultras.  This too would have to go but this, even where the EU to agree, would raise problems of implementation similar to no deal.

Since the issues haven’t changed the favoured solution of Theresa May cannot be expected to change much either.  And neither can her strategy of threatening no deal in order to get her own agreement accepted.

But this is really a threat to blow one’s own brains out.  It hasn’t been credible, which is why May lost the vote on her deal so heavily, but now that more people are beginning to think that it may be, the Tory Chancellor has been telling business not to worry, it’s not going to happen.

Just as Theresa May previously threatened Brexiteers with no-Brexit and Remainers with no deal, now she is in effect threatening parliament with no deal while promising the capitalists that it won’t happen. She needs to do this because if the latter start to believe that no deal is a real possibility they will take direct action to stop it.  The pound will fall and major announcements of disinvestment will follow.

In such a situation, in which no successful move seems possible for any of the parties, the strains between them will cause something to break.

The EU has no reason to strike a new deal with any British party when none can guarantee to deliver.  There is no reason for them to offer any compromise to anyone.  A collection of MPs from all the parties would not have the capacity or authority (in any sense of that term) to offer an alternative deal to the EU.

Any significant shift by May from her existing deal in any direction would destabilise the Tory Party and lead to the defection of the ultras or even some Remainers. It is unlikely enough MPs will be scared enough to pass her deal.

In these circumstances no deal or no Brexit is most likely, although not inevitable.  Extending the timescale of Article 50 simply extends the problem and would in itself intensify the crisis.  In such circumstances it is necessary to oppose no deal and fight for no Brexit.  And that is why it matters that socialists prioritise the battle against it.

For socialists inside the Labour Party the fight starts within the Party so that the views of the vast majority of the membership are imposed on the leadership.  In these circumstances the membership cannot allow Corbyn to place himself in the way. They must reject any potential blackmail in the same way that they have rejected the blackmail threat of no deal.  In my younger days certain political questions were called ‘the acid test’. Brexit is that test for socialists today.

A Labour Party Brexit

It used to be the case that the British Labour Party conference was interesting and important, because it involved real debate and some chance that the left could win victories.  Then Kinnock and Blair deprived it of this significance and crushed party democracy, such as it was.  The mass media, if I recall correctly, was not much concerned by this.

Now, the Labour Party conference is relevant again, it is interesting and important, the left can make advances and democracy has made some sort of return, and the mass media is concerned.

Unfortunately, this being the Labour Party, we are also going back to the bad old days when union bureaucrats would frustrate this democracy, cobbling together back-room deals that mollified the right in the party while taming the left.  So, the overwhelming desire for open selection of MPs, that they should have themselves put up for endorsement by the people who get them elected – the party members, was prevented from being voted on and passed.

Democracy in the Party has always been imperfect like this, but it is easy to forget that democracy in the unions is probably worse in many cases, and democracy in the left groups definitely worse.  If even Momentum was as democratic as the Party it seeks to democratise the left would be far stronger, and more democratic.

A similar thing happened to the views of the membership on Brexit.  The vast majority oppose it and want another referendum to reverse it.  The leadership of the Party have attempted to frustrate this movement.  In doing so, their views hark back to the most reactionary nationalist ideas about socialism which used to revolve around import controls to protect British jobs; nationalisation, with emphasis on NATIONalisation; and opposition to the EEC.

Of course, they claim to be internationalists, but their internationalism is of a very restricted kind.  It’s more a sort of solidarity of left nationalisms, just like ‘national liberation’ movements support each other in their desire to set up separate, and nominally independent, states.  They are suspicious and opposed to a unity that swears loyalty, not to its own nation and state, but to the unity of its class regardless of nationality.

No one is claiming that the vast majority of the members of the Labour Party subscribe to Marxist ideas about international workers’ unity, but they do realise the disastrous consequences of capitalist separation from the EU and the reactionary nationalist politics behind it.

So, it is on this basis that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has thwarted the desire to have a second referendum and has held the ground against coming out squarely against Brexit.  It has nevertheless been forced to have the debate, when it was able to prevent one last year, revealing that the current mangled and incoherent policy has a use by date that is rapidly running out.

Labour policy is open and clear – it is not seeking to reverse Brexit but to deliver a good Brexit.  One that defends jobs and living standards as well as maintaining regulations which support workers’ rights and protect the environment.

Tory ineptitude, in-fighting, mad-as-a-hatter ideas about a free market nirvana, and normal anti-Tory antipathy have not been enough to divert Labour members from recognising that the leadership’s position is wrong.

In many statements this policy seems to suffer from the same level of ignorance as the Tories.  Its repetition of the importance of a customs union ignores the much more vital role of the Single Market.  The former will not remove the need for a ‘hard’ border in Ireland while it won’t prevent huge trade frictions for Britain.  In its illusion that some sort of progressive Brexit is possible its position is actually worse than the Tories.

Its six tests cannot possibly be met by any deal, including any deal the Labour leadership could possibly negotiate itself. It wants a deal “to deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union.”  But the EU has made it absolutely clear, repeatedly, that Britain will inevitably be worse off because of Brexit.  It even admits that the EU itself will suffer.

Pressure from within the Party and the logic of the evolving process have compelled Jeremy Corbyn, in his conference leader’s speech, to state clearly that the Party is set to vote against any deal Theresa May comes up with, and will also oppose no deal.  So perhaps it might be said that the mass membership opposed to Brexit, and the leadership in favour of going ahead with it in some form, are going to arrive at the same destination by different routes.  Both roads seemingly leading to opposition to Brexit.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with such a view. Firstly, if no deal is agreed or approved by Parliament there will be a no deal exit, unless the EU itself postpones this eventuality itself, through some sort of extension, or fudge that allows the transition period to kick in.  But in this case the problem is postponed not avoided.  Such a scenario is a cross-your-fingers-and-toes wish that the ‘better prepared for a no deal’ EU is not yet prepared enough.  Simply running out of time is not unthinkable.

And what if time did run out and Theresa May claimed that it was the Labour Party which scuppered her deal and was now responsible for a no deal outcome?  How would Labour deal with that if the EU said ‘times up – you’re out!’

Undoubtedly the Tories have made such a hash of things that they would continue to shoulder much of the blame, and deservedly so. A no deal situation would have arisen where they had continued to push a plan that the EU had repeatedly said was unacceptable.  The Labour Party would then also have to rely on continued lack of scrutiny of its own proposals., which otherwise might reveal that they would not be accepted either.

But if the Tories were backed down to agree a deal that the EU would accept, even for a transition period, the Labour Party might find itself in strange company voting against it.  Failing to prevent the deal going through in this situation might be the least of its possible failures.

If it succeeded in voting down such a deal it would be much harder for the Labour Party to pin the blame for no deal on the Tories, and their own proposals would come under greater scrutiny, revealing the reality that their criteria cannot be delivered by any potential Brexit deal.  There would be no reason why both the Tories and EU would not jointly blame the Labour Party for the subsequent disaster.

Secondly, even if all went well and a general election was held, which Labour won, it would quickly become clear that it could not deliver a Brexit deal which would pass its own tests.  In other words, it would also have to deliver no deal or deliver something that would be inferior to EU membership.  Both would antagonise its Remain members and supporters, and also antagonise those voters who continued to support Brexit.

Of course, these voters are deluding themselves in believing that Brexit could deliver anything that was any good.  But who would have fed them this illusion and who would now be responsible for failing to deliver on it?  It would not just be the Tories. Now it would also be the Labour Party, the Party who had promised that a good Brexit was possible and had failed to deliver it.

If the Labour Party also backed down and agreed a deal that was acceptable to the EU this would be something on the lines of EEA membership or Canada-style free trade agreement.  The latter would rather quickly demonstrate how much inferior to EU membership this is for British capitalism, but would still require an extensive period of negotiations where British weakness would be exposed.  The former would require perhaps even greater negotiations, not just with the EU but with other EFTA countries.  The former leaves Britain’s role in the world hanging and unresolved and the second is not a long-term solution for anyone, for it would leave Britain as a rule taker in a small club instead of one of the leaders of the large club it had just left.

However, long before any of this became obvious, it would be clear that the Labour Party had not won over the majority of the fans of Brexit through delivering it, but would instead be savaged by them for having sold Brexit out, for having delivered Brexit in name only, a betrayal of Brexit, of all the benefits to the British people that were possible and that had been promised. And again, we would be back to the question – who was it that promised a good Brexit?

Labour leaders such as John McDonnell have embarrassed themselves and the movement they lead by proclaiming fears that Brexit cannot be stopped because it would provoke a violent reaction from the hard right. But since there isn’t going to be a good Brexit some sort of reaction like this is almost inevitable.  In this case, one delivered via a Labour Party promising that their Brexit would be so different would be a real promise broken, and would provoke an even more violent reaction from the hard-right.

There is of course a way to avoid these scenarios, but this requires being honest with workers and stating that Brexit is a disaster that must be opposed.  That if the Labour Party was elected it would reverse the decision or, at the very least, would hold another referendum to do so.  Otherwise Labour, having bought Brexit, would then own it, including all the shit that would come with it.

It would have no argument to put to Brexit supporters who would say that it had failed to deliver on its promises, and it would have nothing to say to its own supporters who would have opposed it.

Jeremy Corbyn may think his current approach to Brexit is politically shrewd, but reality is currently crushing Tory Brexit dreams and it will just as surely do the same to Labour.

The members and supporters of the Party should continue their opposition to Brexit and argue a socialist alternative.  The stronger such a movement becomes the clearer it will be that the current Labour policy is not only wrong from a principled point of view but ruinous to its future.

Ironically, it might only be the referendum that it is trying to avoid that might save the Party leadership, since it would be compelled to oppose Brexit and once again argue for Remain.

Brexit humiliated

The humiliation of Theresa May at the Salzburg EU meeting came as a shock not just to her but to the British media.  They had obsessed with stories, largely an invention of themselves, that foretold a story of the EU having problems with the Chequers plan but needing May as someone from the British side with whom they could negotiate.  The alternative was ultra-Tories like Johnson and Rees-Mogg.  Coming up to the Tory Party conference, the EU would see the need to help her deal with her fractious party so that a deal could eventually be struck.

Behind such invented calculations lay an implicit understanding that Britain was negotiating with the EU from a position of some strength, and a deal was equally vital for both.  Once again, unfortunately, the relationship with Europe was being refracted through disputes within the most successful political party in the world.  No one stopped to think what use Theresa May was to the EU with her unacceptable plan anyway.

The outcome was May giving a shell-shocked press conference at the end of the proceedings having suffered utter humiliation.  What had been said a hundred times before about the flawed plan was said again, and this time on social media with the EU Council President Donald Tusk offering cake to May on Instagram, but with no cherries.

British journalists cannot be accused of not being self-aware.  They are most aware of their position in the gossip chamber of Westminster with its paintings and busts of previous great British leaders who once stood astride a world empire.  They are aware that by being there they are part of this history.  As media creations themselves, they know that they are part of the show and that, after the important political personalities, the story is often about them, what they think and what they say. And what they think and what they say is a product of this environment, the environment of a great nation with a singular history.

So their views and their impressions are the great British public’s window into this world of high politics.,  When a sweaty Theresa May appeared in a cramped room in Salzburg desperately trying to recover any sort of composure in order to present some sort of reassuring message, the assorted British journalists reported what they saw in front of them – desperate humiliation.

This was easy because it’s not as if it was new – May has a habit of drowning on stage.  She coughed and spluttered for hours through her Party conference speech and stood as a rabbit in the headlights for weeks during the last general election, a very strong and very stable rabbit.

Both media and politicians were acutely aware of these unflattering optics, so May decided to have another go, and change them by making the same stupid speech again when she got home, this time in Downing Street, in front of wood panelling and two union flags.  A “stern word” was given, according to the Daily Express, and May warned the EU – she wanted RESPECT! – as she looked directly at the camera and gave everyone a “stern” look.

If only the words coming out of her mouth made any sense.

“At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals”, she said.  As if we had all forgotten that the reason we were only being told now that her plan was pants was because she had spent eighteen months trying to find one.  Not easy with the light shining in your eyes.

As if we had not also just heard her say in her speech, only seconds before, that in fact the EU had given her not one but two “counter proposals” and had, ad nauseam, explained to her that she could not cherry-pick the Single Market – the “detailed explanation” why her Chequers plan was unacceptable.

This nonsense after May had turned up at Salzburg having informed her EU hosts that this was the deal, take it or leave it.  She had met the Irish Taoiseach in the morning and told him that despite promising it for months, the British would not have a detailed backstop plan to prevent a hard border ready for an October meeting.

Instead, in her Downing Street speech, she said that “I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that in the event of no deal we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.”  A statement so jaw-dropingly at variance with reality one wonders if she had taken some mind-altering substance before saying it.

But this sort of duplicity was also hardly new. Her Brexit secretary had already said that their Withdrawal Agreement with the EU committed Britain to nothing.  Her environment secretary Michael Gove speculated just before Salzburg that “Yes, the Chequers approach is the right one for now . . . but there’s one critical thing, a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union.”  Why then could anyone in the EU believe that any agreement reached with these people would be honoured?

“In the meantime, we must and will continue the work of preparing ourselves for no deal” said May.  ‘So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”  Unfortunately, by saying that it’s now over to the EU, and that she will walk away from a bad deal, she really means that she won’t be going anywhere, or rather, with her strategy, she has nowhere to go.

Having threatened the EU with no deal, and then complaining that the EU were threatening Britain when starting to prepare for one, she faces the consequence that a no deal will only bring her utter discredit at a personal level and the UK a disaster at the economic and social level.  Her foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt aks the EU not to look at the “abyss’ of a no deal even while his leader is busy threatening it again.  Not since the sheriff in ‘Blazing Saddles’ threatened to blow his own head off has a threat seemed so bizarre, except this time it’s not funny.

Napoleon is often credited with saying that you can doing anything with bayonets except sit on them, although the quote has been attributed to Talleyrand, Bonaparte’s Foreign Minister, who said: “… My Lord, you can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them… “.  This appeared to mean that Napoleon had to make the decision to move forward with his campaign or die by failing to act.

Sooner rather than later someone will tell Theresa May that she can do lots of things by wrapping the butcher’s apron round herself, including making stupid speeches at Downing Street, but she will die a political death and take the UK into the ‘abyss’ if she thinks she can wrap it round herself and wait for the EU to come up with something to save her.

Her problem is that while you may be able to do lots of things with a flag there is not a lot useful you can do with Brexit.  May and her ultra-Brexit colleagues in the Tory Party have argued that Britain can make a success of Brexit.  So, unfortunately, does Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, but at least with them it is to be fervently hoped that 86% of the Labour Party’s members will save them from themselves, something the Tories will not do for May.

The EU says Brexit will weaken and damage the EU never mind the UK and no one will be a winner.  EU sources have also said that it’s not their business to make Brexit a success (even if that were possible) and it’s not in the EU’s interest to help the British become more competitive against the EU as a result of it.

The EU is of course correct.  It is much bigger and more powerful.  Trade with it is much more important to the UK than trade with the UK is for the EU. It has by far the bigger market, with a much more competitive productive base, and in those sectors it is not so competitive in, such as financial services, it is gaining by the relocation of companies from the City of London as the reality of Brexit bites.  Unlike Icarus, the hubristic Brexit project of a still greater Britain will never even get off the ground.

Britain can leave the EU, and can do so in a manner that may, or will, receive the cooperation of the EU, but only if the means by which it is done does not threaten the integrity of the EU and its Single Market. Despite it not being their problem, the EU has an interest in these steps being taken – the British can stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) or it can negotiate a free trade deal like that of Canada.

The latter will not make up for the market access lost by Brexit and will confirm the stupidity of Brexit.  Canada has its own regional free trade agreement in NAFTA so the agreement with the EU is an extension of its capacity to trade.  The British however, will be replacing one big trading arrangement with a much smaller one.

Britain could also negotiate access to the EU Single Market through the EEA, but this will mean subordination to EU rules, which the British can attempt to influence but cannot help determine.  The EEA also involves negotiations on what the EU will accept or reject so the problem is displaced into a more orderly framework but the fundamental issues of difference are not thereby resolved, and nor are all the problems created by the Tories’ duplicitous approach.

Theresa May will either have to capitulate or drive into the wall of a no deal.  In the first case she may be removed by the Tory Party before she can get away with it, and in the second case it would be better for her if she was.

The Brexiteers could replace her and either go for no deal themselves or do their own volte-face and go for the Canada type free trade deal, although in this case they are more likely to fall out with each other, as would certainly be the case when it became clear to them that this wouldn’t solve the question of the Irish border and further retreat was required.  Taking the blame for the disaster that a no deal would entail has so far prevented them from wielding the knife on May. The whole shower are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

All this would not be the case if Brexit made any sort of sense but of course it doesn’t.

So what about our side?

It is not the job of socialists to cheer Emmanuel Macron when he calls the Brexiteers liars, even when they are, or to wave EU flags, as if the EU was a force for good.

It is our job to oppose Brexit because doing this lies on the route to our alternative – the unity of Europe’s workers – not its capitalist states.  It is not possible to achieve this unity while accentuating national differences, by erecting national borders, and seeking solutions through nationalist initiatives.  ‘National sovereignty’, however understood, is not our goal.

The rise of xenophobia in Britain facilitated by Brexit will not be effectively countered by portraying its supporters as simply fascists that should be opposed, while having nothing to say about the Brexit they promote.  Or even worse, actually supporting their Brexit policy as some on the left stupidly do.

The socialist alternative is not about destroying workers’ living standards, wrecking the place and pretending we can start from scratch, in some misguided ground-zero approach unpolluted by foreign interference.  The Brexit disaster provides socialists with the opportunity to deliver an important blow against great British nationalism and it should be taken.

The disaster of Brexit should be condemned for what it is.  Its architects should be pilloried.  The alternative should be spelled out, which isn’t a good Brexit, because that doesn’t exist, but a defeat of the Tory Government and a reversal of the Brexit decision.  Not as the end of the struggle over Europe but as the starting point of a fight to unite Europe’s workers.

We should state clearly that the problem has not been too much European unity, but too little, and the wrong sort of what there has been.

Brexit – countdown to disaster?

It seems like an age since the Chequers Agreement, which failed even to result in an agreement inside the Tory party. When first revealed, Theresa May was hailed as having achieved a great victory in uniting the warring Tory ranks around a softer Brexit, and it was possible to see how this might have been seen to be the case.

The two major features of the May’s White paper were agreement on common rules for trade in goods but not in services, and a customs arrangement that would see the UK collect European Union tariffs on imported goods and hand over the money to the EU.

As an initial negotiating position it was not impossible to see agreement on common rules become acceptance of the Single Market, and the customs arrangement become a continuation in all but name of the EU customs union.  On top of this, there was acceptance of a role for the European Court of Justice and some words on particular freedom of movement for EU citizens.

Of course, it still involved cherry picking – there aren’t separate markets in goods and in services, and it would be difficult to disentangle them.  There is one Single Market, the clue’s in the name, and that’s the whole point of it.  Would you buy an expensive piece of equipment from Britain if the British firm couldn’t offer a long term service agreement?  What if it didn’t work properly – would the UK company be able to service it?

The White Paper acknowledged there was going to be no passporting rights given to the City of London as it had become obvious that the EU was already picking the bones of this morsel, with weekly reports of banks and other financial firms moving to Paris, Amsterdam and Dublin.  That boat was already sailing and it wasn’t going to be stopped

That services are much more important to the UK than industry just demonstrates how fucked the British position is.  But at least it showed some Brexit consistency: if you weren’t going to go it alone on services what would be the point?

On the plus side, it was widely reported that Michel Barnier didn’t dismiss the British White Paper out of hand.  Instead he just said it would not be the basis for the negotiations.  In other words, the EU would pick the bits it could agree or develop and ignore the rubbish that was never going to fly.

For there to be a deal now, his approach would have to be accepted by the British Government, and no one thinks it can.  If anyone thought Theresa May was secretly inching towards a soft Brexit the revolt of the idiot supporters of Rees-Mogg has put that to bed. The only hope of such a deal rests on a soft Brexit parliamentary majority made up of non-ultra Brexit Tories and the Labour party plus most of the others.  But such an outcome would be the end of the Tory Government and open warfare in the party.

And this speculation ignores the question of Ireland.  Either what border controls that are necessary will be at the Irish Sea or there will be no deal that would ensure no ‘hard’ border inside the island. In the former case the DUP would probably stop supporting Theresa May on the grounds that she would be finished anyway and seek out a new Tory leader to cling to.

Even if such soft Brexit deal came to pass, it would be so glaringly obvious that there was no point in being outside the EU that the transitional period gained would only see the current process of disintegration continue.

A second reason to believe that there cannot be a deal is the British habit of threatening to break agreements they have already made, while some stupidly claim that the Chequers deal is the ‘final offer’ © Andrea Leadsom.

Three issues were to be agreed before substantive discussions on the future relationship between the EU and the British were to start – on EU and UK citizenship rights, on the ‘divorce bill’ and on the Irish border.

Some sort of agreement was agreed on each, with citizenship rights and the ‘divorce bill’ the cleanest, while there was the text of a protocol functioning as a  backstop position on the Irish border if no other agreement could be reached.

Assorted Tories however, continue to claim that there can be a no deal scenario (while denouncing the EU for preparing for it!) on the grounds that no deal would not be the worst outcome.  And for Brexit ultras, this is indeed the case.

In such circumstances there would be no agreement on the rights of millions of EU citizens in Britain and none on the rights of UK citizens in the EU.  As for the agreement on the bill owed by the UK relating to existing commitments at the point of departure, the new Brexit minister Dominic Raab, has already threatened not to pay it if there is no deal, and he’s only been in the job a few weeks. As for the agreed backstop, which would be the default position if no other arrangement was agreed, it has now been described as totally unacceptable by May.  In its place is a proposal to avoid a border that could best be understood as one of the six impossible things to believe before breakfast.

The proposed UK deal would allow the British government to accept or reject European legislation, which would blow up the Single Market if the EU accepted, as the ultra Brexiteers would not be slow in picking something to reject.  If the EU has not immediately shot it down it is because it too will suffer from no deal, although by not nearly as much.  Better to postpone than accelerate.

Meanwhile, it is becoming clearer every day to anyone who cares to notice, and who is prepared to accept what is more and more obvious, that no deal would be a disaster, and not just for British capitalism but for British workers as well, who do, after all, have to work within it.

The volume of imports and exports would fall as queues at and before ports cause huge delays; disruption to trade will cost jobs as some goods will not have the necessary regulatory approvals to go anywhere; the decline in economic growth will reduce state receipts, so reducing any scope for increasing public expenditure; there would be no agreement in place allowing British flights over EU countries or that would allow British planes to land in EU airports, and no deal to allow flights to the US; while more and more companies will wake up to the reality of Brexit and decide to get out so they can register in the EU.  Only in some weird fantasy is this a step forward for working class people.

Upon exit, the UK will then be able to negotiate deals to address some of these issues, but this may not be done quickly or all at once.  The British will have to hope that the approach of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ does not follow upon a no deal outcome.

Negotiations will begin with the UK as a competitor to the EU, which will not be inclined to indulge a state that has just split from it and which will be compelled to draw closer to other blocs that also compete with it.  It will be able to negotiate trade deals with the consistently stable genius that is Trump; and the Chinese and Indians, who will have quite forgotten what bastards the British were during the days of Empire, will just ignore British vulnerability.  The British will also be seeking deals with Canada and Japan, who could not really be expected to offer the same deals, never mind better ones, than those just agreed (after years) with the EU.

Given this dawning reality for some, we are now getting more messages that really, Brexit will not show its benefits for 50 years; while the spivs supporting it continue to shift their hedge funds out of the UK.  We can be sure that investors in these funds are certainly not being told to wait 50 years.  When even a Tory can mock the mendacity of fellow Conservatives you know that the shit hitting the fan is real and coming your way.

That a no deal would be disastrous will not be possible to dismiss as nonsense when it happens, so to continue to sell it will involve ratcheting up nationalist, xenophobic and racist rhetoric.  This process has already started, started before the referendum itself, was part of the campaign, and received an enormous boost from the result.

Now that it has helped produce large street demonstrations by the far right, some on the British left want to replay the Ant-Nazi League from the 1970s.  Like the general who wants to fight the last war, these groups want to fight a war before the last one.  This includes groups who supported Brexit and thereby provided their own assistance to the rise of the far right, limiting their guilt only by their small size and irrelevance of their arguments.

The polarisation of politics around Brexit has, so far, been greater on the right than on the left.  The rally around a hard Brexit resulting from the incoherence of the attempt at a soft one, leaves the Labour Party with a policy on Brexit that is more or less the same as Mrs May’s, if even more deluded, because it believes something progressive can come out of it.

The Labour Party can also be said to support Brexit because it has said that it’s not going to stop it, which is all that matters.  Like the Tories it also wants to re-negotiate the rules of a club it is leaving.  In other words its proposals couldn’t be acceptable to the EU either.  If meant seriously, its negotiating position would also have to be abandoned or also result in a no deal disaster.

In other words the Labour Party has no practical alternative to the Tories, except in the case that it were to abandon Brexit.  If it doesn’t, it will be attempting to challenge the Tories by opposing a no deal scenario while its own policy would achieve the same outcome.  Many remainers supporting Labour will not be conned by such an approach and would find it easier to understand a policy based on reforming the rules of a club that you’re actually a member of.

If it stuck to its present policy Labour would therefore be supporting Brexit when the only way to guarantee that it would be achieved would be through no deal, the perspective of the Rees-Moggs and Farages and their radicalising supporters.  The Labour Party would be disarmed and useless in stopping this lurch to the right.  The newly ‘sovereign’ polity would quickly come under the tutelage of the US and accelerate the  project of becoming a de-regulated dream of the maddest free-marketeer.

A theoretical soft Brexit is membership of the European Economic Area through being part of the European Free Trade Association, but there is now no constituency for this.  The Tories have ruled it out and the Labour Party position excludes it.  It still means Brexit but does not satisfy its core supporters, while those who want to remain will hardly fight for it.

While the EEA is a sort of “have cake and eat it”, Britain is not Norway and is not Norway+ either, Britain wants much more.

Membership of EFTA is, in any case, only the first step to making agreements on the precise trading arrangements with the EU and the same potential conflicts leading to a hard Brexit could not be expected to disappear in these negotiations.  The British Government has shown itself to be such an unreliable negotiating partner that the EU will hardly look at this option with anything other than suspicion, and so would the other EFTA members if they had any sense.

According to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, just 12 per cent of the British public think the Chequers plan would be good for Britain, while 43 per cent disagree. Sixteen per cent think Theresa May is handling negotiations well, compared to 34 per cent who believe Boris Johnson would do a better job!  Around 38 per cent would vote for a new party on the right that was committed to Brexit and 24 per cent would be prepared to support an explicitly far-right anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.  It is no comfort to the left that the opinion poll also records that one in three voters would be prepared to back a new anti-Brexit centrist party.

It is not unreasonable to have some suspicion about the accuracy of the poll but totally unreasonable to believe it is completely wrong.  It is inconceivable that dramatic events such as Brexit, or worse, a no deal exit, will not radically shake up political forces. The view that Corbyn can continue to lead many remain voters while offering nothing of substance as an alternative to a hard Brexit is delusional.

The opinion poll is a warning of the dangers threatening, and exposes the naivety of the view that a ‘progressive nationalism’ can compete with the rabid xenophobic variety.  Corbyn holds out the promise of a soft Brexit that cannot be delivered unless it exposes Brexit as a failure in the very process of it being negotiated.  In such circumstances no one will be happy and everyone will know who to blame.

The only principled policy, and the only one consistent with self-interest, is opposition to Brexit. It is after all, hardly the case that Brexit will not provide more and more ammunition for a campaign against it.  As it becomes more and more identified with the hard right, it will become more and more impossible to pretend it means anything else.

A clear campaign on an internationalist basis would go far to challenge the lies and scapegoating of the far right and Tory ultras, and would go far in demonstrating that nationalism is a road to disaster.

Brexit – the dogs that barked and those that didn’t

The Open Britain Campaign has listed seven promises that the Tory Government has broken in its welcome to the new draft of the Agreement for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. These are:

  1.  A transition period will be about ‘implementing’ the future relationship, not negotiating it
  2.  The UK will not pay money to the EU after March 2019
  3.  The UK will not have to abide by EU rules during transition
  4.  The UK will ‘take back control’ of fisheries policy
  5.  Free movement will end in March 2019
  6.  The UK will have new trade deals ready to come into force on 29 March 2019
  7.  The implementation period would last for two years and should not be time limited

These however are not even the biggest.  The most significant is the idea that Britain would take back control, beginning in the negotiations, at the commencement of which the importance of the UK to the EU economy would see the EU rush to agree a comprehensive deal that would suit the UK.  Now, one explanation how trade arrangements would work after Brexit includes open borders without any checks – about as far from taking control as you can imagine.

And this is not a fringe option to be considered as a fall back in the event of a no-deal.   For the only way to avoid a hard border inside Ireland and avoid a sea border between the island of Ireland and Britain is just such an arrangement.

The problems with this are not limited to those quoted in the last link to a BBC report – that even if the British did not have checks the EU would; and that the British would be compelled to let all goods flow without checks in order to be in compliance with WTO requirements that there could be no discrimination in favour of goods from or to the EU.

Already the part-time negotiator David Davis has stated that “we agree on the need to inckude legal text detailing the ‘backstop’ solution for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement is acceptable to both sides.  But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland, and therefore we will engage on the detail on all scenarios set out in the joint report.”

The problem is that the British Government proposals, as set out in the last May speech have already been rejected – there can be no mutual recognition of UK and EU standards, such that all trade can proceed in the frictionless way that now currently takes place.  Any mutual recognition that the EU would agree to would be so limited as to make a border structure inevitable and significant.

There is no ‘technical’ solution that gets round the fact that the UK wants out of the Single Market (and Customs Union); mutual recognition as a general substitute for either is cherry picking on an industrial scale and ruled out, already by the EU, many times.

That this is the rationale for the Tory claim that they can avoid both a hard border inside Ireland and at the Irish Sea proves that the EU insertion of the “third option” – of full regulatory alignment of rules between the Northern and Southern Irish states – will come to pass.

Unless the British renege on their agreement.  Not unheard of, it might be said.  I came across the following on one web site – “North’s first rule of politics comes to mind: never trust a Tory. The second rule is: always obey the first.”  As in this little ditty – “Never trust a Tory, they’ll betray you when it matters / They will scramble to the top and then they’ll kick away the ladder, hinny / Never trust a Tory, or a Tory in disguise, You can see it when you look them in the eye”.  This is why EU figures are also stating that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The British Government has hailed the draft Withdrawal agreement as a great step forward because it says it allows it a transitional period within which they can negotiate their own trade deals.  This is not even a case of kicking the can down the road, as in the sense that the cliff-edge of leave is simply postponed, because the reality of leaving will still kick in before that, as it is already doing, and the failure to agree better trade deals than have been, or can be, achieved by the EU will become clearer.  It is generally agreed that no substantive deals can be negotiated within two years, and the Tories haven’t even got that long.

The prospect of Northern Ireland within the regulatory framework of the EU would be a bitter pill for the DUP and many unionists in general to swallow.  They have not barked opposition because they are possibly even more deluded that the Tory Brexiteers, although also more paranoid, so more likely to smell betrayal.

The Tory Brexiteers meanwhile are running out of justification, fabricated or not, for leaving the EU.  They also aren’t barking very loudly, and now simply want out, willing to accept more and more acts of capitulation until they get it.  As if they could then turn round when they’re out and implement their ultimate agenda of a deregulated dystopia on the edge of Europe.  Neither they nor the DUP have really appreciated that, in or out, the UK will remain under the shadow of the EU and subject to its more powerful economic interests, to a greater or lesser extent.

Just as Mays’ list of special arrangements she wants from the EU in a final deal beg the question, why is the UK leaving?, so will the period of transition make more obvious the rotten prospects that exit promises.

Even the deal on offer from the EU is far from any panacea.  The inclusion of Northern Ireland within the EU regulatory framework will mean an EU/UK border at the Irish sea, and more trade from the Irish State goes over it than across the land border inside the island.  The draft deal does not therefore solve the problems created by Brexit for Dublin.  Again, unless the British state capitulates further, and proves that a Tory plan for no border controls will actually work (which can only arise if they agree to membership of the Single Market and Customs Union) there is going to be a hard border somewhere.

For unionism in Northern Ireland the prospect of membership of the EU trading arrangements while the rest of the UK is excluded, is not in principle totally unacceptable, as they are quite happy to do things differently on many issues, such as abortion rights for women and gay marriage.  The real problem with the EU deal is that the Northern State will become more and more different from the rest of the UK as the EU develops.  This is not a static solution but a dynamic one in which their artificial majority is no longer potentially always a veto on any issue they decide to make a question of their sectarian identity.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement states that “authorities of the United Kingdom shall not act as leading authority for risk assessments, examinations, approvals and authorisations procedures provided for in Union law made applicable by this Protocol.”  So not only will the UK (as Northern Ireland) have to accept and implement EU law, in all those North-South bodies, it is the Southern authority that shall take the lead and the Northern authority will have to follow.

Of course, if one is a simple-minded Irish nationalist this is not a problem.  But this assumes that what is good for the Southern State is good for the population of Northern Ireland (and for the population of Southern Ireland as well for that matter).

So, for example, in the single electricity market, mentioned in Article six of the agreement, it could well be that the population of Northern Ireland will just have to accept the leadership of the Southern State, which dominates the electricity industry through its state-owned companies.  In the South this has led to ordinary domestic electricity customers paying higher charges than business, which involves yet another clear subsidy to multinationals and an effective tax on working people for the benefit of capital as a whole.

That this will cause aggravation amongst unionists will hardly come as a surprise to anyone.  However, a lot of the declaration of concern about a hard border endangering the peace process misses the point.  Where this peace process the success it is claimed by the same people fretting about its future there would be little concern about changed customs and trading arrangements.  What makes the border, and what happens at it, important is not so much the symbolic arrangements that may apply there, but the fact that behind it the peace process is failing, as the lack of an agreed Executive at Stormont makes abundantly clear.  Additional strain on the process is therefore widely considered unwelcome.

Maybe this is why Article 13 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement on ‘Safeguards’ is included, which states that “if the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures.”  In other words, if civil unrest erupts again the British State will be called upon to assert its control, perhaps in the customary way it has done so in the past.

As we have noted, the Tories have celebrated the latest EU document as a success even though they have retreated on issue after issue.  Even the hard Brexiteers have been relatively quiet, complaining mostly about the fishing industry, or about ‘vassal’ status during the transition (how ironic),yet not so quiet as that other principled opposition – the supporters of Lexit on the left.

These people discounted the reactionary Brexit campaign in their support for leaving the EU, and have discounted all the reactionary political developments we have witnessed since in order to confirm their position.  So why, if getting out of the EU is so important that it over-rides all this, are they not now condemning the sell-out Tories for prolonging UK membership, or denouncing their capitulation to condition after condition of EU membership that the Tories want to continue after the transition period?

The reason for this is their entirely light-minded and totally unreflective attitude to politics that has substituted protest for alternative and national reformism for working class politics.  These supporters of Lexit could learn a lot from their failure to get this right but it seems they have no desire to do so.

This, however, is much less important than the attitude of the leadership of the Labour Party, which it would appear thinks the reactionary consequences of Brexit, including under-cutting the basis of its social-democratic programme, are of limited consequence.  The most I have heard argued is that the Party should call for a vote on the eventual deal.  But this is meaningless outside fighting for an alternative and a principled campaign against what is clearly a reactionary decision with reactionary consequences.  On this, some dogs should be barking!