theresa may Prime Minister, Theresa May. Photo: Annika Haas (EU2017EE)

May and her party are completely incapable of delivering a viable deal, writes Chris Nineham

The tensions at the heart of Brexit, held in check for so many weeks, look set to burst into the open. It is hard to see how Theresa May’s deal can hold. The much trailed cabinet revolt may not have materialised yet. But that only shows the cowardice of cabinet dissenters on both sides of the argument.

They all know that the deal on the table stands very little chance of getting through parliament. All the opposition parties are indicating they will vote against. There are scores of pro-Brexit Tories likely to oppose, and some Tory Remainers who may be unhappy enough to vote against. Meanwhile, May’s Democratic Unionist allies can hardly back the deal as it appears to tie the North of Ireland into a closer relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK. There are Labour MPs who are looking to back May, ostensibly to avoid a no deal, but their numbers are limited.

There will however be enormous pressure from the deal’s supporters to insist that this is the best deal that can be won and that voting it down would lead to chaos. This pressure is likely to be exerted too by wider elements of the British establishment as the deal May has brought back from Europe is much closer to the status quo than anything she has previously promoted. As a pay off for staying in a customs union, the deal appears to contain commitments to a level playing field with other EU countries on a number of key areas.

This involves what the Financial Times calls ‘some of the most severe restrictions placed on any country outside the single market’ including the UK being subject to the EU’s competition and state-aid rules and following European Court of Justice rulings in these areas.

The problem of the Irish border has focused a lot of media attention. For the unionists, any differential between Ireland and the rest of the UK is tantamount to breaking up the union and therefore unacceptable. The fact that May is dependent on the support of the DUP in parliament makes this an especially acute problem. But the source of the crisis runs deeper still.

Her central problem is that large sections of the party, including a big majority of the members want to see a hard Brexit and will find this deal far too close to continued membership of the EU. Most Remainers won’t be pleased because it involves being outside of the Single Market and while it means staying inside EU regulatory frameworks, the UK will cease to have any input into how those might change.

Corbyn’s Labour Party is absolutely right to oppose this deal on a whole number of grounds, not least because the level playing field clauses would massively restrict a Labour government’s ability to intervene in the economy, and because the deal would end freedom of movement. Corbyn was right too to say that a vote on the deal should be seen as a vote of confidence in Theresa May. This Brexit shambles shows quite clearly that May and her party are completely incapable of delivering a viable deal.

Those calling for a second referendum as a response to the crisis are missing the fact that this is an opportunity for getting rid of the Tories just as their austerity programme is causing so much misery. Far from bringing the country together, calling a second referendum would cause massive bitterness amongst Leave voters and judging by all the polls would do nothing to resolve the issue.

The best outcome would be a general election. Labour could then campaign for a deal that would allow for radical change in Britain and lead to real benefits for working people. They could in other words follow up on the original demand for a People’s Brexit. This is a strategy that can pull together all those who want an end to this appalling, shambolic government and see the country taken in another direction altogether. 

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.