In my last post on Brexit I argued that if the Labour Party seeks to implement Brexit, or facilitate it in any form, it will suffer severe consequences. These will result not only from the effects of Brexit but also from failure to offer leadership to those opposed to it. Last month’s demonstration in London of perhaps 700,000 people indicated the potential such a movement has.
Left supporters of Brexit damned its composition and the presence of Liberals, right wing Labour figures and the odd Tory, who were all in attendance. As I pointed out in a discussion on Facebook – had we witnessed 700,000 demonstrating for Brexit the Left supporters of Brexit would really have had something to complain about. There is zero chance that a demonstration in favour of Brexit of such size could be anything other than thoroughly reactionary and worryingly threatening to everything that the working class movement has stood for.
Yet we still read nonsense from the supporters of Lexit, who maintain their position by failing to engage with reality. At least Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party opposed Brexit. The supporters of Lexit have no such excuse.
The stupidity of their position is no more obvious than in relation to the sticking point of the Brexit negotiations – the claim that there can be Brexit and no hard border in Ireland. Theresa May has claimed that the UK can leave the EU and its Single Market and yet maintain the current frictionless arrangements. But this is impossible, and she is running out of time to either reverse her position on the Single Market or dump us into a no deal.
In the first eventuality there would be no strong reason to seek an exit from the EU in the first place, and in the second scenario there will be what’s called a ‘hard’ border. The supporters of Lexit in Ireland, People before Profit, have announced that they are “ready to oppose a hard border” and “will advocate mass civil disobedience against the imposition of a hard border . . .”
So just what form should or would this civil disobedience take? And how would it be more than just a token protest and actually be effective?
Will, for example, PbP seek to persuade lorry drivers to refuse to submit papers on the border that validate their imported or exported load? Will they picket workplaces of hauliers, ports, factories and warehouses telling the workers not to process export or import paperwork? Will this be done both North and South for those exporting and importing into the North?
Will PbP tell Environmental Health Officers and other border control officials to ignore any changes to regulations and continue to enforce current food and phytosanitary standards etc? Does their support for Lexit entail opposition to these EU standards or to new ones? Or is all this just so irrelevant to their thinking that they have ignored these issues?
What about all the loads that don’t get sent because the companies aren’t prepared for the bureaucracy required to trade across a hard border: the knowledge of regulations, how to implement them and demonstrate compliance with them? What form of civil disobedience will take place here? Or will they magic up a slogan – workers’ control of Single Market regulatory compliance? And since People before Profit are opposed to the EU, will this workers control involve refusal to process regulations under Single Market rules or refusal to implement changes?
But maybe it will ignore the everyday reality of what Brexit entails and just have a political campaign around the Single Market? But since only this can ensure a continuation of the current border arrangements, is People before Profit proposing to campaign in favour of the Single Market or against it?
Or perhaps they want their cake and eat it as well. Get out of the EU but keep all the benefits. Or simply ignore reality and persist with meaningless protest politics which are incapable of addressing the questions raised? For example, how will civil disobedience address the inflation caused by the devaluation of the currency? How will it make up for the fall in investment, or drop in tax receipts as a result of reduced growth, or the recession that will be brought about by the disruption to trade? Have they got proposals that will boost trade with India, China and the “third world”’ or is it not really their place to say?
Will they picket airports and tell pilots that, in the event of a no deal, they should take off and fly to Paris, Malaga and Faro even though they and their aircraft will not have been approved by the EU to fly over its airspace and land at its airports? Is it telling people not to worry and book their two weeks in the sun next year anyway because civil disobedience will sort it all out?
To ask these and a thousand other questions that arise from supporting Brexit show how detached from reality PbP is – protest politics against reality that shows reality more effective in protesting against its politics.
Once again, some on the Left appear incapable of learning that its ‘principled’ politics are no substitute for a real, concrete alternative, i.e. one that makes sense in the real world.
In previous posts I have argued that the objective of seeking to leave the EU and supporting Brexit is not a route to the unity of the working class. This argument is at the level of principle and programme. I have also argued that the practical effects of Brexit are contrary and hostile to the working class’s most immediate interests.
In this post it is clear that even if we start from the Lexiteers own demands, they have no idea how to make them effective; no idea how they could be made to work; and in fact, it is not at all obvious what it is they would be seeking to make effective. Outside immediate socialist revolution they make no sense whatever, and probably even less sense within one.
But that’s what you get if you vote for Brexit, which, by definition, means the erection of new borders, and then you complain that a new border might be created!
PbP want a way out of the contradiction they have walked into by appealing to the Fine Gael led Government – “If a deal is agreed between London and the EU that includes measures like a hard border, the Irish government must veto it. Should a ‘no-deal Brexit’ occur, then Varadkar should clearly state that his government will not implement any measures that would lead to hard border.”
But this just shows that PbP has failed to learn anything from its mistaken support for Brexit and is demanding that the Southern State also leave the EU! And even here, in this statement, there is not the slightest recognition that this is what it is doing, never mind an open argument why this would be a good thing to do.
Once again there is a failure to think things through, to think concretely about what exactly, in practice, its political positions mean, what in the real world are the implications. Because failure by the Southern State to implement the Single Market endangers that market and fundamental rules of the European Union,. There is not even the demand that the rules should be changed – just ignored! In everyday language this is, as they say, just asking for it.
PbP claims that “neither side in the Brexit debate has the interests of working class people at heart, and we refuse to be bullied into backing one or the other.” But that of course is exactly what People before Profit did. It voted for Brexit. And the vacuity of its attempts to deal with the consequences show that they really didn’t know what they were doing and that now, having bought it, they don’t know what to do with it.
But, as the Left is known for saying quite often, it is not the case that there is no alternative – there is. It may involve a shift in the political method of PbP but this should be eased by the fact that changing its mind will lead it away from its current exposed position.
Opposing Brexit entails no support for the EU, or its policies, and involves no renunciation of political principle. It recognises that the unity of the international working class rests on the international development of capitalism and that the creation of a socialist alternative will be based on this development and not on its retrogression. Socialism is a move forward to the future, not back to the past and a national road to socialism. The political tendency behind PbP used to know this.