LONDON — Defying millions of working people who voted for Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May is pursuing a “deal” — a 585-page opaque document — that will keep the U.K.’s capitalist rulers aligned with the protectionist bloc known as the European Union for as long as possible.
The vote for Brexit in June 2016 was a protest, overwhelmingly by millions of workers, against the U.K. rulers’ grinding assaults on living standards and job security, their seemingly endless wars abroad and attacks on rights at home.
It was also a reaction against the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, with its stifling regulations and red tape, and against the illusion of a transnational European state emerging from the bloc of the 28 EU member nations’ rival capitalist governments. In reality, the EU functions as a way for Germany’s capitalist class — the strongest in Europe — and to a lesser degree Paris to siphon wealth from the weaker powers in the bloc.
“The U.K. should get out of the EU now,” Communist League leader Jonathan Silberman told the Militant. “The EU is a bosses club and den of thieves. It works to strengthen the more powerful ruling classes against their capitalist rivals, against working people at home and against workers and farmers in countries oppressed by imperialism.
“The EU helps obscures the real class realities here and in Europe,” he said. “It is an obstacle to working-class solidarity — at home and abroad.
“A U.K. out of the EU would be good for workers here and internationally, strengthening our ability to fight against the bosses who exploit us,” Silberman said, “and to chart a course to take political power out of their hands.”
The U.K.’s membership in the EU is set to end March 29, 2019. May’s agreement pays lip service to the widespread working-class sentiment to leave, while keeping many aspects of EU membership in a “transition period” that could go on indefinitely.
The U.K. would effectively remain part of the EU single market and customs union until EU officials agree it can withdraw. London would continue to observe a myriad of EU regulations and face obstacles securing trade agreements with non-EU governments.
London must decide before June 2020 whether to extend the transition period, under May’s deal, or to re-enter a permanent customs union. May is seeking to avoid different economic and political relations between Northern Ireland and the EU from the rest of the U.K., preventing a “hard border” with the Irish Republic. Britain’s capitalist rulers fear a further loosening of their grip on Ireland — their former and longest-held colony — and even an eventual breakup of the United Kingdom. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, whose Members of Parliament May relies on for a parliamentary majority, opposed the deal.
Tensions, divisions in U.K. ruling parties
The debate over Brexit and May’s plan have thrown into sharp relief the tensions and divisions within the capitalist class here and between and within its parties. Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationalists and different wings of the Conservative Party oppose the “deal.” Following a Nov. 14 cabinet meeting, seven government and senior Conservative Party officials resigned, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. He said that under the agreement the U.K. would be “trapped” forever in the EU.
Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary, and rival to May for leadership in the party, said that her proposed deal would leave Britain “a vassal state” to the EU.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group of 60 Conservative MPs, called for Members of Parliament to submit letters of no confidence in May, to force a new leadership election. But after a week, reportedly only half of the needed 48 “no confidence letters” had been submitted.
Meanwhile, calls for an entirely new vote on Brexit, what has been dubbed a “People’s Vote,” has strong backing from pro-EU middle-class layers, as well as politicians spread throughout all capitalist parties who want to completely overturn the result of the 2016 vote.
Some prominent capitalist spokespeople have come to May’s support. Carolyn Fairbairn, secretary of the Confederation of British Industry, the main bosses’ organization, said that the prime minister’s proposal marked “hard-won progress.” Mark Carney, director of the Bank of England, backed the deal.
Major pro-Conservative papers support it. The deal is “best for Britain,” said the Daily Express. “Give it a chance,” echoed the Daily Mail. The Sunday Times Nov. 25 asked whether anyone really had “anything better” than the “unsatisfactory deal.”
Both the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon favor staying in the EU. Sturgeon said the SNP should work with Conservative MPs to secure their own “soft Brexit” deal through Parliament if May’s deal doesn’t win a majority.
May slogs on
May pressed ahead, meeting EU leaders Nov. 25 at a “summit” in Brussels, where they signed off on the agreement. The next step is a vote in the U.K. Parliament, in early December.
“I expect a yes vote and this is the deal on the table,” Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said. “I don’t think there’s anything more.”
Winning the vote is “looking challenging but a lot can change over the next two weeks,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.
The dominant ruling classes in Germany and France will cut the U.K. rulers no slack. They are seeking to keep the EU from being ripped apart at its seams while at the same time facing problems within their own borders. They fear Italy’s new government will move to break with the EU as well, and are working to stop Rome from adopting a budget that moves in that direction.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she will be leaving politics as her party has nose-dived electorally. French President Emmanuel Macron faces plummeting ratings also, after he attacked the unions and now faces mass protests of “yellow vests” in the streets.
Workers and farmers in the U.K. are looking for ways to fight effectively against the blows they face from the growing crisis of capitalist rule.
“The working class struggle for emancipation will be fought out and won on the terrain of the capitalist nation state,” Communist League leader Silberman said. “We need to advance upon a revolutionary course of struggle and break from the capitalist rulers and their parties to fight to establish a workers and farmers government.”