With Article 50 triggered and Britain now formally starting the process of leaving the EU, the gloves have come off. According to Theresa May, this is “the moment for the country to come together”. But the country has never been so divided.
Scotland is demanding a second independence referendum; Northern Ireland’s crisis looks like ending in the re-imposition of Direct Rule from London; and the Welsh have been alienated with talk there of an independence referendum. Britain is in danger of breaking apart.
Ironically, the Tory Party – the party of Unionism - could well be presiding over the death of the 300-year old United Kingdom, as well as Britain’s withdrawal from Europe. Rather than a future of “global Britain”, we are turning into Little Britain.
The dis-United Kingdom
The whole Brexit gamble is about to blow up in the Tory government’s face.
“No deal is better than a bad deal”, said Mrs May. Encouraged by this, Tory Party little Englanders are baying for a “granite Brexit”. May is a willing prisoner to the Tory Right at Westminste and beyond, but any backsliding by the Prime Minister would surely lead to a rebellion inside the party, placing her in a very uncomfortable position. It could even lead to the breakup of the Tory Party itself.
Leon Trotsky once said the British ruling class planned out their future in decades and centuries. Today’s establishment representatives cannot see further than the middle of next week.
Their actions have brought Britain to the brink of disaster. Their crass blindness is a reflection of the degeneration and decline of British capitalism. A third-rate power produces third-rate political leaders for the ruling elite.
Tories in Wonderland
Tory nostalgia for a return to the days of Empire is the height of insanity. Similarly, former Tory leader Lord Howard’s recent sabre-rattling over Gibraltar and the enthusiastic suggestion of a “new Falklands war” is another clear indication of how the jingoistic representatives of the Establishment are living on another planet.
The idea of forging a “global Britain”, making trade deals with the world, is a complete delusion. Unfortunately for them, Britain has no Empire and Britannia no longer rules the waves. The idea of a trade deal with New Zealand and the Commonwealth as a new alternative to Europe, meanwhile, is laughable.
"Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and emerge in a Wonderland where suddenly countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we've never been able to achieve,” stated former Tory Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, dripping with sarcasm. "Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access!"
Staring into an abyss, the Brexit secretary promises a “smooth and orderly exit”. Instead, it will be an orderly exit over a cliff. “Things are about to get very messy”, states one commentator, which is an understatement to say the least.
“If the two-year Article 50 process invoked by the prime minister does not break down in acrimony, it will conclude in 2019 with Britain a markedly diminished nation”, writes Philip Stephens in the Financial Times. “The terms of the relationship with its own continent will have been set by others; and power in today’s world does not belong to those striking out on their own.” (30/3/17)
The risk of a train-crash Brexit has had a sobering effect on some. Even with goodwill on all sides, however, negotiators can easily choke on the details. It has therefore been aptly described as “mission impossible”. Britain can demand, but Europe will decide.
“EU leaders are preparing an unyielding opening stance in Brexit talks, explicitly stating that Britain must accept the bloc’s existing laws, courts, and budget fees if it seeks a gradual transition out of the single market”, states the Financial Times, after seeing the draft European Council guidelines.
“The EU27 will nevertheless prepare for an unmanaged exit with no agreement”, concludes the FT. Clearly, each side is preparing for a scuppered deal.
Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, is not making idle threats when he speaks of grounded aircraft, disruption of nuclear energy and long queues at the ports.
Crisis of capitalism
While Germany might catch a chill with no deal, Britain would be laid low with pneumonia. Manfred Weber, head of the largest group in the EU parliament, warned that Britain would face a “very costly” exit bill. “People will feel this in their daily life. There will be a direct impact.”
Of course, the working class will as always be asked to pay this bill. But either way - in or out of Europe - under capitalism, workers will have faced increasing austerity, cuts and attacks on living standards. As in Greece, Spain and Italy, working people in Britain are already suffering from a race to the bottom. In the last decade, real wages in the UK have declined more than in any other decade since Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 1813!
The crisis of capitalism means a crisis for the working class and young people. A bleak future is become even bleaker.
Working life, with its zero-hour contracts, performance-related pay and excruciating pressures resembles those associated with the “dark Satanic mills” of the past. On a capitalist basis, the vision of the future is a return to Victorian times, with everything that implies for the working class. Marx’s “theory of increasing misery” was laughed at not so long ago. Now it has become a reality in 21st century Britain.
The truth is that the working class cannot afford to pay for the crisis of capitalism, as the rich become richer and the poor poorer.
Fight for a socialist Europe!
Of course, the Tories will try to make a bonfire out of the EU regulations, including those covering workers’ rights. Labour must oppose this every inch of the way. However, Labour is hamstrung by the continuing civil war taking place within its ranks.
The Blairites are still working day-in, day-out to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. They are now openly supporting Gerard Coyne, the right-wing candidate, in his attempt to remove Len McCluskey in the election for Unite general secretary. If the right wing are able to defeat McCluskey and end Unite’s support for Corbyn, then this would dramatically alter the balance of forces in the Labour Party. This conspiracy to isolate and remove Corbyn also includes Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the party, who is continually intriguing against him.
If Corbyn is to survive, he needs to take the war to the Blairite careerists, starting with the Parliamentary Labour Party, with a call for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection of all Labour MPs by the rank and file. Corbyn has no other choice if he is to continue as leader.
This struggle must go hand in hand with that to arm the party with a revolutionary socialist programme. All attempts by previous Labour governments to run capitalism better than the Tories have ended in disaster. Labour must offer not crumbs, but a real fighting programme that will transform the lives of working people. With the capitalist system in terminal crisis, Labour must demand that everyone is guaranteed a decent full-time job, a £20 an hour minimum wage, a 30 hour week, early retirement on decent pensions, the building of a million houses a year, new schools and hospitals.
This programme can only be achieved by breaking the grip of big business and taking over the 150 monopolies that dominate the economy, to be run under workers’ control and management, and the drawing up of a democratic plan of production, using the resources for the benefit of all. Utilising new technologies, such a plan would lead to a huge increase in wealth and generate the means for a massive rise in living standards, transforming British society and workers’ lives.
Working people are crying out for fundamental change. In the next few years, everything is going to be turned upside down. A revolutionary appeal to workers in Europe to establish a Socialist United States of Europe would be met with a tremendous response. That is the only clear way forward!