Brexit – Parliament does the hokey-cokey
In a key statement to parliament on February 12th Theresa May gave her latest Brexit update. She started this statement by saying she wants to deliver a Brexit which
(1) Honours commitments made to the people of Northern Ireland
(2) Commands support of Parliament
(3) Can be negotiated with the EU
So as fraudulent as the rest of her general ‘Brexit means remain as far as possible’ handling of Brexit is, her new statement was equally slippery. In the first instance (1) contradicts (2) because honouring the commitments made to the people of Northern Ireland means upholding the Good Friday Agreement. In simple terms this seems to require the infamous backstop, as no backstop suggests a hard border and a hard border breaks the GFA. So if to honour Britain’s commitments to the people of Northern Ireland requires the backstop, but the backstop does not command the support of the government’s de facto partners, the DUP, let alone the support of parliament as a whole, then May is evidently waving smoke and mirrors in order to obscure the insoluble contradiction in which she is entangled.
Additionally (2) has been shown to be in antagonism to (3). In simple terms, May’s withdrawal deal, both her Plan A and her Plan B, given that they are both exactly the same, has been shown to be acceptable to the EU but has been proven not to command the support of parliament – not even near!
Then she briefly reported on her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, and again the antagonisms are evident. She announced yet again that she is seeking legal assurances to the temporary nature of the backstop, which requires a renegotiation of the withdrawal deal. However, as she admitted, Juncker maintains the long held EU position that withdrawal deal changes are off the table. The best May had to report was that she and Juncker will meet again to discuss the issue soon. But unless one side climbs down and drops their position (neither of whom are in any position to be able to do), there can be no resolution to these fundamentally contradictory propositions.
Her next task was to throw a bone to Labour and its union backers by declaring “There are a number of areas where the whole house should be able to come together. In particular I feel we have a shared determination across this house not to allow the UK leaving the EU to mean any lowering of standards in relation to workers’ rights, environmental protections or health and safety”. Well, this offer of a bit of a sweetener to induce her opponents to swallow the quasi-Brexit pill on offer might be welcome, but, as they say, there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. Who doesn’t know what happens to such promises when the bosses have got what they want!
She also suggested an intent to take to parliament the proposal that the UK follow suit every time the EU changes its rules. But since her idea of Brexit means ‘Remain, but without EU immigrants’, that suggestion should not surprise.
Moreover, as the PM herself noted, such endeavours to tie us to EU regulations is of no protection of workers’ rights. In fact in some respects, UK regulations (as poor as they are) actually go further than EU regulations. So further entrenchment of EU regulations, rather than protect workers’ rights, could politically facilitate the further erosion of standards.
However, May chose much more absurd language to make this point. “We don’t need to automatically follow the EU standards in order to lead the way, as we have done in the past under both Conservative and Labour governments. The UK has a proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights… Successive governments of all parties have put in place standards that exceed the minimum set by the EU. A Labour government gave British workers annual leave and paid maternity leave entitlements well above that required by the European Union. A Conservative led government went further than the EU by giving all employees the right to request flexible working and I was proud to be the Minister for Women and Equalities to introduce shared parental leave so that both parents are able to take on caring responsibilities for their child, something no EU regulation provides for.”
This was a ham fisted way to make an important point. While Britain certainly has no “proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights” (that was the Soviet Union), the EU is not the bastion of workers’ rights and, inside or outside the EU, any government can if it so wishes to well exceed EU provisions.
Following on from this statement the Prime Minister suffered a further parliamentary defeat, to add to December’s crushing vote on her withdrawal agreement. In a non binding vote MPs voted by 303 to 258 against her Brexit approach, with 66 of her own MPs abstaining from the vote. Being non-binding, this vote was a bone without meat. It was practically meaningless, serving as nothing other than an indication of where MPs stand on the issue, something already revealed by last month’s meaningful vote.
The result presented May with a political opportunity. It showed her that the genuine Tory Brexiteers of the ERG will simply not back her Brexit plan, even in a non-binding vote. On a strategic level, here was her chance to pivot towards Labour’s UK-wide customs union agenda. Such a position is not what the workers of this country either want, need or voted for. However, a politically expedient leader could have seized upon this moment. She could have built cross party consensus by making her soft Brexit even softer, thereby placating vast swathes of Labour MPs and completely isolating ERG Tory MPs to wilt in the political wilderness. This was a missed opportunity for the elected representatives of capital to perform their masters’ bidding.
Such a move was certainly being suggested by the Brussels bureaucrats. Those wishing for Brexit on paper, but for remaining in practice, have missed a window of opportunity here. This is excellent news which increases the likelihood of a no deal Brexit, but also keeps the so-called people’s vote agenda in a position of political prominence. Neither can yet be written off, but the likelihood of a soft Brexit deal whilst decreasing, is not yet dead in the water. It seems that May is betting the farm on the hope that when push comes to shove, ERG MPs will back her deal at the last minute, when faced with the options of a Brexit delay, or even the so-called people’s vote.
A few days later shots were fired at the PM from within the pro-EU Tory ranks. Justice Secretary David Gauke repeated the nonsensical calls to rule out a no deal Brexit. He gave her a deadline of 27 February to make this happen, threatening to resign. Dominic Grieve has suggested many more are ready to follow suit. February 27th coincides with the next phase of Brexit votes in parliament. Once again the Cooper amendment will be voted upon, in an attempt to delay Brexit. The Defence Secretary Tobias Ellwood is demanding a free vote on this.
Labour position updated
A week prior to this debacle, Jeremy Corbyn finally brought some semblance of clarity to the Labour position. Thrown out were the pie in the sky so-called 6 tests. These were replaced by 5 new positions.
1. A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, an agreement on commercial policy that includes a UK say on future EU trade deals
2. Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, with clear arrangements for dispute resolution.
3. Dynamic alignment on rights and protections so that UK standards keep pace with evolving standards across Europe as a minimum, allowing the UK to lead the way
4. Clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation
5. Unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European arrest warrant and vital shared databases (Guardian, 7 February 2019).
Whilst this brings clarity relative to the previous Labour position, such clarity, it must be stressed, is relative in this sense only. Real clarity emerged on February 18th, not with regards to Labour’s position, but with regards to that party’s essence when 7 MPs resigned from their party at this critical moment for their party, their leader and the country. They have chosen to strike at a time so as to cause maximum damage on these fronts. The MPs in question are Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey. These shamefully coordinated resignations in PR terms were a result of the ludicrous anti-semitism allegations and the Labour leadership’s handling of Brexit. Quite simply the anti-Semitism allegations have been mounting for near 2 years now, alongside the Party’s increasing divisions over Brexit. Yet they choose now, a month removed from Brexit day, to resign. Evidently then their intentions are not honourable, they cannot be treated as mere misguided fools, but as factionalist schemers and plotters acting in what they perceive to be in the immediate best interests of imperialism, even if it means threatening the destruction of the Labour Party, imperialism’s best vehicle in the working-class movement for diverting the latter away from proletarian revolution.
These Blairite elements took only a matter of hours to expose themselves. Angela Smith appeared on BBC’s Politics live to explain their oh-so-honourable intentions. Remarkably, she is so inept as a politician that while trying to spin her departure from the Labour Party as a result of racism and anti-Semitism within the party, she referred to people whose skin colour was neither black nor white as having “a funny tinge”.
What an immediate gift to Corbyn this was. This renegade group already looked doomed from the offset, and with this absolute blunder have fatally exposed themselves. Despite the best attempts of the Liberal sections of the bourgeois media to paint Corbyn and Brexit supporters alike as frothing racists, instead it is these duplicitous Blairite remainers who have exposed themselves in this regard. However, despite this racialist blunder appearing live on mainstream media, the latter have done their best to whitewash the incident. Later that evening on BBC’s Newsnight, the blunder was referred to in only one throwaway line, with the bulk of the coverage focusing on references to supposed Labour anti-Semitism (see article on this elsewhere in this issue of LALKAR).
The absurdity levels reached new heights the following morning when Lib Dem leader Vince Cable appeared on Good Morning Britain. He declared of the Independent Group that “Their hatred of racism is very clear”. This absurdity uttered without any reference to Angela Smith’s epic blunder. Neither of the presenters even raised the issue of Smith’s comments. Such is the state of our ruling class and their media that criticising a racist state: Israel, makes one racist. However making racist comments means your “hatred of racism is very clear”.
The political and intellectual silly season continues. It is the art of the big lie, often associated with Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels. It is worth noting his actual words on the matter: “The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous” (‘Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik [lie factory],’ Die Zeit ohne Beispiel, Zentralverlag der NSDAP, Munich, 12 January 1941, pp. 364-369).
Another relevant propaganda technique highlighted by the vile Nazi minister was to accuse your enemy of that of which you are most guilty. It has been a technique used as a shield throughout history from Churchill to Goebbels, from Khrushchev to the Zionist movement, the Independent Group, and our lying media. The anti-racists are racists and the racists are anti-racists.
Though Corbyn has largely compromised with his Parliamentary Party and most of his Momentum supporters by adopting a ‘Please give us a much softer Brexit’ position, he is still surrounded by enemies. Owen Smith, who lost out to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, and who is one of the many remaining Blairite elements within the parliamentary Labour party tweeted following Corbyn’s announcement of Labour’s new Brexit policy, and prior to the formation of this Independent Group:
“Backing Brexit — even on these terms — would still shrink our economy, cost jobs and lose investment, indulge nativist nostalgia and isolationism… Remind me why we’d do that?”
Here is a reminder of the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn, whilst controlling the party apparatus, still remains in a minority within the parliamentary Labour Party. Even with the 7 departures, there are many more dark forces working against him within his own party. Smith was joined by many other MPs in openly condemning Corbyn’s position for its failure to explicitly mention a second referendum, these included David Lammy and Stephen Doughty. Many others have simply yet to air their disapproval.
Smith’s view in particular is far from original and simply echoes the views of a capitalist class desperately fighting to stay within the EU. Ironically their strategy is to scaremonger workers, making them afraid to continue to stand up against the wishes of the ruling sections of the capitalist class. An economic apocalypse is regularly threatened in their media. They were joined in this endeavour by the Bank of England’s Governor, Mark Carney. Carney, a Canadian and former Goldman Sachs employee, has already slowed down growth forecasts and in a highly revealing speech at the Barbican in London went on the attack against a no deal Brexit.
“It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy.
“At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all [He meant ‘for imperialism’].”
Brexit has created a “high level of uncertainty”, he said, and “companies are holding back on making big decisions”.
As such, he said it was “vital for the UK economy to secure a good withdrawal deal and a smooth transition.” (BBC News, 12 February 2019).
The thrust of Carney’s speech then was a focus on Brexit as a manifestation of a growing sentiment of anti-globalisation among the peoples of the world. In other words, he was stating the obvious: if you, the working class, damage our interests by forcing Brexit on us, then we shall see to it that you pay a heavy price. Evidently there is fear among the ruling class that the austerity-fuelled rage of the masses will threaten its interests or even its survival as a ruling class. The ruling class understands the potential power of the working class, better than the working class currently does itself. The scaremongering and propaganda will ramp up all the more as Brexit Day approaches on (hopefully) March 29th.