As the dust settles after Britain formally left the EU on the 31st January, the task for socialists remains the same: to work to raise working class consciousness, and to arm our movement and our class with the necessary weapons in the struggle ahead. What context Britain outside the EU provides, and where the likely terrain for the battle will be, are questions we must seek to answer, and ones in which the LeFT Campaign aims to play a part.
Brexit Day is only a prelude to at the very least 11 months of Tory-EU negotiations to agree a new trading arrangement.
It’s very likely that this will provoke further crisis in Britain’s ruling class, as the Tories try to negotiate with Brussels and Washington simultaneously.
Regarding the latter, the mooted ambition is a trade deal with the US, but that is difficult, and is unlikely to happen before the presidential election in November. There are already signs of US-UK tensions, exacerbated by the furore over Huawei’s role in Britain’s 5G network.
Johnson wants to be free to engage in state investment. That requires a ‘Canada-plus[i]’ deal with the EU.
This new vision, brought on by economic necessity and the wishes of a section of British capital, as well as by the political reality of how Johnson won his majority, is rather different from the delusional, harking back to empire vision beloved of Tory Brexiters in the European Research Group. This will potentially create further tensions in the UK’s first party of capital.
For its part, the EU doesn’t want to set up barriers to trade, or allow Britain to gain competitive advantage by using state aid for investment in key manufacturing sectors.
Pascal Lamy, former WTO Director General and EU Trade Commissioner, told the BBC this week that forthcoming negotiations between the EU and Britain will be the first in history where both parties began with frictionless trade and discuss what barriers to put up – and this is in the context of EU power brokers being historically opposed to such measures.
All this points to a set of contradictions that will provide an opportunity for the left, providing we fight Johnson with full knowledge of the context of the struggle, which is that we have a Tory government that is going to try and use its initial period to address, however inadequately, the concerns of the people who lent it their vote, while attacking trade unions and tacking further right on social issues and upping the ‘culture war’ that has so weakened political discourse and undermined class unity in recent years. In doing that it will embolden forces to its right, and worsen the racist hostile environment that it has done so much to foster.
Responding to that cannot mean arguing to keep alignment with the EU, as John McDonnell argued on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday 2 February. There are three principal problems with the position that he articulated:
- It would stymie the parliamentary left and any future Labour government, and give succour to the left’s enemies, and those responsible for the election loss.
- It fails to understand whatsoever the political context, and hopes for a future of rebuilding industry and prosperity in regions blighted by deindustrialisation and will help not one jot with rebuilding the left in the so-called ‘Red Wall’.
- It is not going to happen. The Tories have a large majority. As is obvious from the lack of pressure coming from the corporate media, the People’s Vote campaign and even the ghosts of New Labour, much of British capital is confident that it can cope with whatever happens in post-Brexit Britain, providing the City of London’s banking and financial interests are kept safe.
We in Leave – Fight – Transform, the LeFT Campaign need to continue to make the case for what can be achieved outside the EU and to fight to rebuild the left in our communities in all of Britain.
The LeFT campaign:
- Acknowledges that this will require a united left, one in which how people voted in 2016 does not define them. Remain and Leave are finished. This will require us to continue to make the correct analysis, both of the actual concrete reality of the EU, and of the tactics needed to rebuild an independent, fighting left.
- Will fight for workers’ rights in post-Brexit Britain. As part of this, we will continue to make the case that our rights are not dependent upon workers’ relationship with the EU, but on the strength of our movement.
- Will, in the context of a new and unpredictable terrain, fight for full social and political rights for migrant workers in Britain, demand an end to the discriminatory treatment of non-EU migrants to Britain and continue to call for an end to Fortress Europe. This is the path to international working class unity
- Will build solidarity with the working class movement across other EU member states, in particular with socialists looking to develop a case for exiting.
- Will develop a series of meetings and material for education for use both here and internationally: in the unions; in the workplace; in colleges and universities.
The EU has been hugely weakened by the loss of a tenth of its population and a sixth of its GDP, along with one of its most powerful military and diplomatic powers. What couldn’t be done has been done: a major country has broken with the largest trading bloc in history.
If we look to the debates taking place in the US, Bernie Sanders’ opposition to NAFTA has begun a conversation that it has been impossible to have in the UK (or anywhere in the EU) for generations. Now we can begin to have that debate, and to think about what the path to a transformed Britain and Europe looks like. It won’t be easy.
There are right wing governments throughout the bloc, and enemies everywhere. But the terrain is now open.
[i] The so-called Canada-EU trade agreement (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement of 2017) abolished 98% of tariffs on goods traded between Canada and the EU. The rest will go by 2024. The EU and Canada agreed to open public contracts to each other’s contractors and co-operate on technical standards, safety and quality checks for mutual recognition of professional qualifications. CETA is not a customs union or single market so parties are free to do trade deals with other countries. CETA does not remove border controls, but encourages use of advanced electronic checking to speed customs clearance. CETA does not cover trade in financial services, which remain under WTO rules.