Theresa May. Photo: Flickr/EU2017EE Estonian Presidency Theresa May. Photo: Flickr/EU2017EE Estonian Presidency

May is toast… unless a second referendum throws her a lifeline, argues John Rees

The Salzburg shakedown of the May government by the EU mafia should serve as a wake up call to all sides in the Brexit debate.

For the hard-right Tory Brexiteers it should, but won’t be, the final nail in the coffin of the idea that there is any easily accessible free market nirvana waiting on the other side of Brexit. This bunch of deregulated boneheads are victims of their own ideology. They simply do not understand that modern capitalism is a state-regulated, internationally policed, system of corporate governance, not the Adam Smith never-never land of the ‘best deal for your money’ in the global marketplace of which they dream.

For the ‘soft Brexit’ vision of May, this was a brutal lesson in power politics. The EU states are out to administer a punishment beating so that the Brexit contagion doesn’t spread. They don’t care about democracy, they don’t care about fuelling the far right, they don’t care about Ireland. British politics are now just collateral damage for them.

May’s response has been to demand ‘respect’. She won’t get it, either from the EU or the Remain elite in the UK whose real head of state is the pocket Louis XVI, Emmanuel Macron.

The EU bosses have clearly given up on May and are now banking, figuratively and literally, on her being driven from office. Macron’s public call for a second referendum at the Salzburg summit, surely a more drastic attempt to interfere in UK politics than anything Vladimir Putin has attempted, clearly shows their hand.

The EU now reckon either a new weakened Tory leader or a Labour government will be easier to deal with than the hapless May left powerless by her own divided party.

The EU plutocracy’s hopes of being able to get a Labour administration to back a second referendum are not wholly misplaced. A majority of Labour MPs are for Remain. Keir Starmer – the lawyer in charge of the Brexit brief for Labour – can barely contain his pro-Remain agenda. And the TUC has just endorsed a second referendum, even though it would prefer a general election.

Jeremy Corbyn has refused to go along with this and is demanding a general election. Unite and some other unions have backed him up. They should stand firm on this because a second referendum would be a disaster. Here’s why:

1 It would convince millions of working class Leave voters that the unions and the LP are just part of the establishment set-up.

2 It would convince Leave voters that the unions and the LP don’t care about them.

3 It would trash the excellent progress that Corbyn has made in winning a third to a half of UKIP voters to Labour.

4 It would gift a very angry working class constituency directly to the far right of the Tories and to the Tommy Robinson movement.

5 It would act as a ramp for the Labour Party right to get rid of Corbyn.

6 It would, if the referendum were won by Remain, reboot the Tory government and postpone a general election. If it were won by Leave the Tory right would control the Tory party and a general election would be delayed.

There is only one possible way out of the Brexit impasse, and it’s not even mainly about Brexit. It is to elect a Corbyn government which breaks with neoliberalism in both its EU and its Atlanticist versions and which begins a programme of state-led investment that can start to overcome the damage done to the society by a generation of free-market vandalism.

That project will be more possible outside the EU. But it will in all and every eventuality be impossible without the extra-parliamentary mobilisation of the working class movement. And that too will be easier to achieve if the divisions of the Brexit debate are not reignited, and the far right strengthened, by a second referendum.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.