Brexit Scrabble: Photo: Jeff Djevdet Brexit Scrabble: Photo: Jeff Djevdet

As the next phase of Brexit kicks in, Brian Heron discusses what the arguments are and what underpins them

Brexit (phase 2) is already creating a lot of agony, most of all for Britain’s political institutions. Prime Minister May rails against the EU’s latest document which, she claims, could undermine the sovereignty of Britain! Indeed, how to ‘solve’ Britain’s poisoned part of Northern Ireland has been a century long saw. But May’s Churchillian hyperbole only results in underlining the real point. The dilemma here is that the Brexit sound and fury currently vented by the Tory Party, Blair etc., just serves to mask the most critical questions for the rest of the British people. And that is the problem that has arisen since Britain’s EU referendum. It has stood in as a proxy for the deep changes that are actually required to deal with the UK’s failing society.

Following the February 26 speech that Labour leader Corbyn made (which focused on the need for a Customs Union with the EU) the mainstream British media interpreted Labour leader Corbyn’s remarks about the EU’s role in Britain’s future as a political manoeuvre to break up the Tories. (See, for example, ‘BBC Reality Check, Labour’s Position’.) It may contribute to that end. But Corbyn’s comments had a much wider and more refreshing purpose. He said:

The EU is not the root of all our problems and leaving it will not solve all our problems. Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom

Corbyn is not suggesting abstention from the EU argument. He has now begun to raise the issue in Parliament. And his specific recommendation in favour of a Customs Union with the EU makes no concessions to actual or potential EU regulation which might hinder or prevent key nationalisations or UK government led investments. In other words Corbyn is trying to deal with the EU from the point of view of the needs of a projected British economy; one which serves the people as a whole. Meanwhile Tory Britain rots on every front.

Right at the heart of Tory decay is PM May’s alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. The privileges and money now showered by Britain’s government on one of the most backward, self-seeking, corrupt and unforgiving political formations in Europe is nothing at all to do with Brexit. It has everything to do with Tory (and ruling class) desperation to prevent an early General Election and a victory for a Corbyn-led Labour government. 

Equally the Tory failures to maintain the NHS, to provide housing, to shore up welfare, to raise wages have nothing to do with Brexit as such. They are long term political/economic decisions about who should bear the burden of modern social welfare and whose living standards need to be defended and promoted, in the context of globalisation.

These simple truths are constantly covered up and muddled up by the public discussion of Brexit.

What then is the argument about Brexit?

In the 2016 referendum it was picked up in mainstream politics by the right in British society. It started from the impact of the UKIP platform, which argued that Britain lost a lot of money which could be spent on social needs because of the British payments to the EU and that hundreds of thousands of EU workers poured into Britain using services, taking jobs and cutting wages of the British residents. These ideas were predominant in the referendum campaign. Additionally they were initially reinforced by a deep sense of the failure of Britain’s long-standing political leadership.

The argument about Brexit today still contains some of its previous racism and jingoism. Certainly the British far right have expanded and racist attacks remain much higher than prior to the referendum. But UKIP has collapsed. The Tory right have failed to shackle the momentum of UKIP and its 4 million voters. Their perspective for the creation of the largest tax haven on earth is currently a damp squib and their enthusiasm for a future under the tutelage of the US has been squelched by Trump. Indeed it is Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party that has created an alternative vision of an anti-establishment mainstream political force already predominant among younger voters. The more the Corbyn leadership identifies Britain’s relationship to the EU in terms of the new model economy required in Britain – as he has begun in his identification of the parasitic role of the City of London – so the real meaning of the EU emerges.

Although an undertow of racist strains remain in the population and the far right use it when they can, the major arguments about Brexit in Britain are now moving towards the negative impact of capitalist globalisation and how to resist it. In that context the EU finds its natural place as a European instrument designed to promote globalisation and the interests of European based corporations and centres of wealth, in a contest with the US and Asia. And the Tories find themselves, like Blair, part of a worn out, backward looking and unsavoury British political establishment.

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