MANCHESTER, England — A crisis over how to handle the result of the 2016 referendum, when millions of working people voted for the U.K. to leave the European Union, is wracking the two main capitalist parties — Conservative and Labour. The leaders of both parties have shifted their positions and both parties are bleeding members. Many have intensified scaremongering about the perils of a “no-deal” split with the EU — with predictions of food shortages — and there are increasing calls to overturn the vote and hold a new referendum.
The U.K. rulers are divided as they confront the more rapid economic and political decline of British imperialism compared to its rivals. For working people, a U.K. out of the EU would be good — it would allow them to focus on their main enemy, their own capitalist ruling class and the British government.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn now says his party is open to a new referendum to revote on Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May says she’s now open to seeking a postponement of the March 29 deadline to let “negotiations” with capitalist leaders on the Continent and maneuvers in British politics drag on — while the U.K. remains in the EU.
Leading Members of Parliament from both parties resigned over the last two weeks, forming the Independent Group, calling for a new referendum. A number of the former Labour MPs also cited the anti-Semitism rife in the party and its leadership as a reason they resigned.
All those who push for a revote believe they should force recalcitrant workers to vote again until they do what these “smarter” politicians want.
“I want out. We’ll have a lot of s— to go through but we’ll come out the other side,” Charmaine Patton, 37, told The Times. Patton works at a bagel-making plant in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
Angered at sentiment like this, European Council President Donald Tusk talked Feb. 6 of a “special place in hell” for people who “promoted Brexit” without a plan. His comments reflect the contempt and fear of ruling-class politicians for the millions of working people, like Patton, who voted to leave the EU.
The capitalist powers that head the EU want to slow down the coming apart of the bloc as conflicts among its rival powers sharpen. They want to make it harder for the U.K. to leave and dissuade other nations at odds with the EU’s dominant powers from doing the same.
The EU was set up as a protectionist bloc to rival the U.S. capitalists, with dreams of it becoming a European-wide state. It has been a tool for the German and French rulers to enrich themselves by sucking profits from weaker capitalist countries. Working people everywhere pay the price.
Some bosses have spoken out against the possibility of a “no-deal Brexit.” Ford Motor Co. issued a statement Feb. 13 saying a “no-deal” would be “catastrophic for the UK auto industry.”
Workers face capitalist crisis
There is no letup in the grinding capitalist crisis — years of attacks on living standards, endless wars and contempt by capitalist politicians, British and European — that led millions of working people to vote to leave the EU.
Some 844,000 workers here were on so-called “zero hours contracts” at the beginning of 2019, where the bosses don’t guarantee any set hours. “Self-employment” has increased, where workers have no minimum wage, and workers’ average earnings are still below what they were before the 2008 crisis.
May’s Conservative government is trying to squeeze out a deal that would commit the U.K. to most aspects of EU membership in a “transition period” that would go on indefinitely.
Another feature of the “deal” the government is pressing for is to avoid border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, allowing free movement of goods across the island. This would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until they both agree to end it. Mixed in with this is the British capitalist rulers’ fear of further loosening of their grip on Ireland, their former colony, and the eventual coming apart of the United Kingdom.
“Millions of working people voted for the U.K. to get out of the EU in the 2016 referendum, not for a “deal that meant staying in,” said Hugo Wils, Communist League candidate for Manchester City Council in Baguley ward. “We’re in favor of getting out now. It’s the only way to bring about better conditions of struggle for workers and other exploited producers against the capitalists and their government in the U.K.”