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!

Maybot’s latest speech – the Devil isn’t in the detail

Let’s start at the very end of Theresa May’s speech, the bit where she says “So let’s get on with it.”

The EU negotiators could have been forgiven if they rolled their eyes in derision – they’ve been waiting for the British Government to decide what it wants for well over a year.  And despite an earlier ‘agreement’ that needed ‘only’ legal drafting, it has failed to make any drafting of its own available. Indeed, the level of expectation created over the past 20 months is such that none was ever anticipated.

If Brexit was such a brilliant idea, the British would have been pushing the door to get out; the EU would have been rushing to convince them to stay in, and the negotiations would have been driven by British position papers – putting the EU on the spot on just exactly what it intended to do to mitigate the damage to it from UK withdrawal.  But this whole idea is fanciful.

The dilatory and confused approach of the British faithfully reflects their predicament.  The UK has decided on a course that weakens it economically and politically and risks the default position of no deal that is the worst possible outcome.  It is in a time-limited process in which this default position is constantly staring it in the face.

The EU has driven the process while looking as if it has been trying to save the British from themselves.  It has therefore done what the British were tasked to do so but didn’t, and come up with a solution to the question of avoiding a hard border inside Ireland.

Given all this, it shows how fatuous and vacuous the BBC is that its main political reporter claims that we can now ‘forget about all the cake jokes.’  A little bit of detail on the irreconcilable – the claims to both “want as frictionless a border as possible between us and the EU” and a cast-iron commitment that “we are leaving the single market”-  is supposed to efface the glaring contradictions of this position, through some mealy-mouthed admission that “no-one will get everything they want.”

We are supposed to be impressed by this detail and change of tone, and by such messages as “we will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out”.  This from the Maybot who declared that Jean-Claude Juncker would find her “a bloody difficult woman” in the “tough” negotiations, and who month after month repeated that she was prepared to walk away with “no deal rather than a bad deal.”

Such is the shallowness and ignorance of the journalism at the BBC that smug and dismissive reporters can tell us that all this is to be forgotten on foot of a supposed new-found seriousness and coherence to the British position.

But the speech revealed nothing of this at all.  What it did do, was not put the cake back in the cupboard but show us the ingredients to demonstrate just how ridiculous the idea of having it and eating it is, by going through case after case in which this was being demanded.

So, she wants the UK to have access to the EU’s internal energy market; wants British hauliers unrestricted access to the EU; access to the digital, science and innovation markets; continued membership of various EU bodies such as the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency; and mutual recognition of qualifications.

She wants “measures to ensure the requirements for moving goods across borders are as simple as possible”, and while she doesn’t want passporting of financial services into the EU by British companies she wants to have the ability to “access each others’ markets.”  This to be achieved with an agreement that is without precedent, one with “a collaborative, objective framework that is reciprocal, mutually agreed, and permanent and therefore reliable for businesses”.  Oh, and she also wants the UK to be able make its own rules for the finance industry.

She rejects the charge that this is cherry-pickig, or rather admits that it is, but says that “if this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking.”  And she’s right.  It’s just that she seems oblivious to the fact that, given the balance of power and the circumstances noted above, it is the EU by and large that will be picking the cherries.  The EU has made this perfectly clear already by repeating ad nauseam that it will not accept the British approach.

The British wish list is supposed to be achieved by tariff arrangements through which goods entering the UK and bound for the EU will see UK customs levy EU tariffs on these goods and then hand over the money.  It will require a comprehensive system of mutual recognition within which the UK will make a strong commitment that its “regulatory standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s”.

This commitment would mean that UK and EU regulatory standards would remain substantially similar in the future.  “Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes”.  The UK wants that, as now, products “only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country” to show that they meet the required regulatory standards.

Since the EU has fined the UK for not effectively implementing EU trade arrangements while it has still been inside the EU it seems strange that there would be no problem imposing the rules when it isn’t.

As for mutual recognition; the whole point of EU development of a single market is not recognition but harmonisation.  Even since Brexit was announced the UK has been signing up to harmonised rules i.e. the same rules – as in identical rules.  Not the same as in similar, not the same as in equal, and not the same as in the same outcome.

What Maybot is asking for is not only that the UK leave the single market while keeping its benefits, she is asking that the EU goes back in time to when mutual recognition was enough, and before it decided a single set of standards was the way to go.  It is inconceivable that the EU would seek to protect itself from Brexit contagion by giving near frictionless access to the EU while undermining the basis of its current and future development.

All this is having your cake and eat it, set out as a shopping list, that Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC now thinks is an old joke.  And it’s a joke alright, but rather like listening to a best man’s speech at a wedding where he goes OTT slagging off the groom. It leads to the audience starting to wonder – what the hell is she marrying him for?  In this case, if all this is so necessary to leaving the EU why the hell are you leaving?

Among the supposed reasons is the claim by the Brexiteers that the EU is creating a super-state, which is supposedly not what the British signed up for.  But it’s rather like what I said about some Scottish nationalists claims for independence.

These were that Scotland was an oppressed country, while in reality achieving separation was more likely to make Scotland an ‘oppressed’ country than remaining part of the UK.  If the Brexiteers think that the British can remain sovereign, independent and totally autonomous, while the rest of Europe unites politically, the planet they live on is further away than anyone previously thought.

On one thing Kuenssberg is correct, if only because, like the rest of the media, she sees politics as a game played at Westminster.  This was a speech aimed more at the rest of the Tory Party than the EU.  Negotiations have been going on for months but we are to believe that only now is the British position being put forward, and not in the negotiations themselves but in yet another hyped-up speech.  And with proposals that Maybot knows will not be accepted.

Kuenssberg is also correct in a more significant way.  The triumphalist tone is gone even if the stupidity hasn’t.  The recognition of British weakness shines through even though it isn’t admitted.  And the direction of travel has become clearer even if it’s not the one that is being touted.  The message coming out from the speech is that Britain needs the EU, and for Brexit to seem tolerably sensible needs the EU to fall over backwards to accommodate British needs.  The EU will decline to fall over backwards or forwards, and Brexit will more and more be seen to make no sense.

The negotiations and the legal text that will be negotiated will make this clearer and clearer.  The ‘detail’ that has eventually been extracted from the Tories simply defines in more granularity the contradictions of their position, while making explicit the impossible grounds on which they are expected to be resolved.

In this sense, it exposes Brexit and the Brexiteers, which is why Rees-Mogg has declared that “this is not the time to nitpick”.  It leaves them more and more naked in espousing their ridiculous claims about British fortunes outside the EU and the benefits of no-deal.  Unfortunately, if such ‘detail’ is the expected content of the eventual outcome, no-deal is ironically a possibility.

However, if the speech indicates a different direction of travel, to recognition of the constraints on British options, the Maybot speech was not the first this week to signpost the new direction.  Jeremy Corbyn was forced to slightly dismount his Brexit horse, through which he has disingenuously pretended to represent working class Leavers and Remainers, by signaling that he wanted a customs union, in opposition to the Tory red-line that Britain was leaving it.  This, it was claimed, would prevent a hard border in the island of Ireland.

Again, the media was full of praise for this political stroke.  For these Westminster-obsessed ‘journalists’ the only game in town is the party-political personalities and games in this venerable institution – Corbyn had upstaged Maybot and put clear water between Labour and the Tories.  It didn’t matter that his policy was also nonsense; that it is simply not possible that Britain alone could negotiate a new progressive customs union, or that a customs union by itself could prevent a hard border in Ireland.

But like the Maybot speech, but more so, it indicates the direction of travel.  What matters now is the speed.

These shifts demonstrate that Brexit is ripping an enormous tear in the nationalist consensus that underlies British politics. Those that can navigate beyond its illusions will survive.  Those that don’t will shipwreck on the rocky coast of their beloved island, falling victim to the enchanting music and singing voices of its nationalist Sirens.  It’s an old story.

 

What the Brexit deal says about Ireland

When I first heard that the British Government had agreed that there would be “regulatory alignment” in trade across the Irish border I immediately though ‘perfidious Albion’ again – appearing to say one thing when meaning something else entirely; in fact almost its opposite.  When I then heard that this formulation replaced the Irish Government one of “no regulatory divergence”, I believed my suspicions were confirmed.

While appearing to accept harmonisation of regulatory regimes, “regulatory alignment” is perfecting consistent with parallel regimes, as in parallel lines that never meet and that never involve harmonisation.   Such an arrangement might even mean a UK line of “bargain basement” regulation far below that of the higher EU line of more stringent regulation.

So, my immediate question was whether the EU were going to buy it?  I thought that the Irish Government could hardly do so, even if it had most to gain from getting progress to an overall trade deal it could not let it be based on separate regimes that would require a ‘hard’ border to police the different goods and services that were the products of two regulatory regimes.  But it had always been wondered in Ireland how much and how far the EU would back the little Irish State that had been so easily bossed about during the collapse of its banking system, to the benefit of the larger member states.

But then the Irish border is not simply an Irish border, something the thickest of Brexiteers have had difficulty in understanding, but is an EU border, and the EU could not compromise its internal market by allowing the free circulation of any old “bargain basement” crap within that market.

My suspicions about British intent seemed confirmed the next day when the British Minister for cocking up the negotiations David Davis said that Teresa May had “made a very plain case for the sorts of divergence that we would see after we left . . . that there are areas in which we want to achieve the same outcomes, but by different regulatory methods”.

“Alignment is not harmonisation. It is not having exactly the same rules; it is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection and all that sort of thing. That is what we are aiming at”.  “I have explained to the House that regulatory alignment is not harmonisation. It is a question of ensuring similar outcomes in areas where we want to have trade relationships and free and frictionless trade. Anything we agree for Northern Ireland in that respect, if we get our free trade area, will apply to the whole country”.

In other words, the British had been continuing their policy of cherry-picking the EU Single Market, which the EU had rejected, and an approach accurately described as ‘having your cake and eat it’.

The DUP then came along and torpedoed the deal, making the British Prime Minister look like the disaster she patently is.

But now we have a real deal (?) agreed by all sides, where once again we see that “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union . . “ (para. 48) That word again.

But this deal has been signed off and Leo Varadkar has called it “bulletproof” with only “stylistic changes” from the earlier draft while newspapers have run with headlines proclaiming a “soft’ Brexit.  On the right, Nigel Farage has been declaring the deal a “capitulation”, although he’s been declaring a sell-out for a while now and, true to his little Englander outlook, he’s much more exercised about the so-called ‘divorce bill’ that the Irish question.  And when I say the Irish question, I mean the problem the Irish have when they vote one way and the British state decides you’re having something else.

Crucially, May has retained the support, for now, of the leading Brexiteers in the Tory Party, although it’s an open question how long that will last.  She has got it past the DUP, who are nevertheless unhappy with it.

So, what’s in the new deal?

Well, if you read it, the first thing that might strike you is that it’s not really a deal, at least not in the sense that it’s a locked down agreement.  The deal is a “joint report”; it “records the progress” made and that both parties have only “reached agreement in principle.”

In paragraph 5 it says:

“Under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the joint commitments set out below in this joint report shall be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement in full detail. This does not prejudge any adaptations that might be appropriate in case transitional arrangements were to be agreed in the second phase of the negotiations, and is without prejudice to discussions on the framework of the future relationship.”

So there is no final agreement.

In the section on Ireland and Northern Ireland paragraph 43 restates the British promise of no ‘hard border’ (presumably in Ireland), which, without the necessary deal or detail, means not very much; while it also promises to preserve the integrity of the UK market (para.45) – so no border on the island and no border at the Irish sea either, it would appear.  But unless the EU decides that its Single Market and Customs Union will not be protected, this cannot be the case – there has to be a border somewhere, if the UK is to leave the EU.

The next paragraph states that:

“The commitments and principles outlined in this joint report will not pre-determine the outcome of wider discussions on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom and are, as necessary, specific to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. They are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom.”

This appears to say that the deal, in so far as it actually is a deal, is for Ireland only, except a UK commitment made in the previous paragraph states that it applies to the UK market as a whole in the sense that the integrity of this internal market will be preserved.  There is evidently a problem here so how will this be addressed?

Paragraph 49 appears to provide some guidance:

“The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

Here we have the problem of avoiding he hard border restated and a promise that the British will propose a solution, one they have promised since the start and on which they have delivered nothing.

Except this time, the report states what happens if this failure continues and it is on this that the supporters of a ‘soft’ Brexit might seem to be right – that a soft Brexit is the result of the joint report.  Without a solution to avoid a hard border, agreed with the British, the single market and customs union will apply.  Of course, this application is qualified, limited by the terms after the word “which”, including the 1998 Belfast Agreement and implicitly the specific areas of economic cooperation mentioned in it, and it still only talks about alignment.

But the next paragraph appears to address this limitation:

In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.”

But this doesn’t remove the problem of continuing barriers on the Irish border but restates that there will be no barriers at the Irish sea – so we are back to where we were in terms of mutually incompatible promises of no real borders anywhere.  This paragraph simply adds that there will be no new barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain unless the NI Assembly decides there should be, except the next sentence rule out the North deciding the trade position of the rest of the UK.

More contradictions are thus included in this paragraph on top of those already existing.  Except this paragraph has effect only if there are no agreed solutions to the Irish border arrangements, and that gets us back to the text of the previous paragraph, and that the UK will “maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

Paragraph 49 restates the UK commitment to avoiding a hard border and describes that “any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching arrangements.”  But it then says that the UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. In other words, the way to avoid a border within Ireland and one between the island and Britain is to have no real border between the EU and the UK – a really ‘soft’ Brexit!

The short paragraph 51 is certainly compatible with such an approach – “Both Parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.”  Of course, this could also mean that the British would have to police the Irish border if Northern Ireland was to leave the Customs Union and Single Market ,and not simply leave it to the Irish as some have declared it would.

So, what we have is an agreement that is only a “joint report” which is not finally agreed, with contradictory drafting.   In other words, it’s a political agreement and it is only politically that it can be judged, although of course the words on the page are not unimportant, if only because they set out the terrain of differences and Jean-Claude Junker has made it clear that it is the starting point for the withdrawal agreement.

On this count the only way to make what’s in it intelligible and remotely consistent is to see the UK remaining within the Customs Union and Single Market.  But we also know that cannot be the case, at least not yet, because the Tory Party has obviously not agreed it.

From Theresa May’s point of view the can has been kicked down the road on Ireland, while agreeing to the ‘divorce’ bill.  Despite the nonsense mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” she appears to have woken up to the fact that no deal is the worst deal, but she can’t sell it to the Brexit fundamentalists.

She could not let the talks collapse at this stage because she would then have failed.  There would be no need for her and her Tory rebels could plan to get rid of her. The pace of withdrawal of business from the UK would accelerate and she would be to blame.  The accumulating contradictions of Brexit as a project would crystallise and her Government would collapse.

The EU has no reason to see the talks collapse now either.  They do not want ‘no deal’ and also want an agreement, if not as desperately as the British should, and more time allows, well, more time for the British to come to their senses, through whatever set of circumstances brings this about. – defeat for the Tory Brexiteers in parliament or a Corbyn Government.

From a political point of view therefore the fight against Brexit and this Tory Government goes on.  Its Brexit policy has been demonstrated to be indefensible and the contradictions that sit on the page of the ‘joint report’ will play themselves out in the living world.  The working class must fight its corner because it has a real stake in the outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”