LONDON — It’s been more than three years since millions of working people helped form the majority that voted for the U.K. to get out of the European Union. But an alliance of capitalist parties is stepping up efforts to continue to prevent this from ever happening.
A cross-party coalition, organized against the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, enacted legislation that will force another extension for Brexit — currently set to expire Oct. 31. Its aim is to secure a “Brexit-in-name-only” deal with Brussels that would keep the U.K.’s relations with the trade bloc alive and gain time for a second referendum, in hopes of reversing the 2016 vote.
Johnson’s government has pushed through a five-day extension of a routine temporary suspension of Parliament in an effort to stifle opposition. The anti-Johnson bloc has mobilized thousands in the streets — middle-class opponents of leaving the EU — branding the move a “coup d’état.” The government’s opponents also challenged the suspension in courts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The opposition is also preparing a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in the Johnson government.
Johnson has pledged that the U.K. will separate from the EU on Oct. 31 “do or die.” He has expelled 21 Conservative Members of Parliament for opposing his plans, bolstering his control over the party. His government has also lost its majority in Parliament, making a general election more likely. Labour and the other opposition parties are maneuvering to postpone any new election, fearing Johnson will win a clear majority.
“We will do everything necessary to stop a disastrous no deal” exit of the U.K. from the EU, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said. He is collaborating with former Conservative Party leaders, including former Chancellor Philip Hammond, as well as the Liberal Democrat, Scottish National and Green Parties. Also backing Corbyn are the Communist Party of Britain and the British centrist Socialist Workers Party. These forces say they’re acting in defense of “our democracy.”
“Their goal is to prevent the U.K. from leaving the EU,” said Caroline Bellamy, announcing her campaign as the Communist League’s parliamentary candidate in Manchester. “They want to block the vote of millions of working people and others in the 2016 referendum. As for ‘our’ democracy, there is no ‘we’ that unites working people and the propertied rulers.”
“Getting the U.K. out of the EU would put workers in a better position to fight for their class interests against their main enemy — the capitalist rulers at home,” Bellamy said.
Concerned about what’s brewing among working people — who have been hammered by years of cuts to their living standards, by job insecurity and a broader capitalist social crisis in the U.K.— Johnson claims his government will carry through the 2016 referendum as well as ending the austerity programs imposed by previous governments. He also began a raft of new government spending Sept 4.
In fact, Johnson wants to reach a deal with Brussels. He has held meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in pursuit of this. The bulk of his cabinet voted to remain in the EU and joined with Johnson in favor of the agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Prime Minister Theresa May, that was rejected by Parliament.
This would include a “transition period” that keeps the U.K. in the EU single market and customs union for at least two more years. Negotiations with the EU’s 27 member states on a longer-term agreement would continue.
Johnson proposes just one change to May’s agreement — removing what is called the “Irish backstop.” This would give Brussels decision-making over the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland should the “transition period” end. “The border between the North and South of Ireland, imposed by London, is a matter for the Irish to resolve,” explained CL candidate Bellamy. “Britain should get out of Ireland — just as the U.K. should leave the EU — now!”
EU rules were written to make it as hard as possible for any member nation to get out of the protectionist trading bloc. And the rival capitalist rulers in Berlin and Paris who dominate the EU want to make an example of London — to deter any other government from trying to leave. In the same way they have punished the capitalist rulers — and the workers and farmers — in Greece and Italy when they protested against EU-imposed austerity measures.
As conflicts sharpen between the rival powers that make up the bloc, the EU is tearing apart at the seams. The utopia of a “European superstate” can be seen for the fantasy it always was.
What’s at stake in the conflicts between Conservative, Labour and other capitalist parties in the U.K. is how to shore up the British rulers’ place in the world in face of their relative decline against their rivals, as capitalist world disorder deepens.
During the recent G-7 meeting in Biarritz, France, Johnson met U.S. President Donald Trump, who backs his position on Brexit. Trump proposed a “very big” trade agreement between the governments of the U.S. and U.K., to replace the U.K. rulers’ special relations with the EU.
What the U.S. rulers are offering is a bloc against their rivals, from European competitors to China, Russia and Iran.
“Many workers hope the ‘Brexit crisis’ will be over and done with,” said Bellamy. She pointed to the yearslong assaults by the bosses on workers and farmers, explaining, “Working people should not look to the capitalist rulers, their government and political parties. We need our own independent working-class political course — one aimed at forging working-class unity in struggle against the bosses, advancing solidarity and overcoming the divisions the rulers sow among us. This is a course to increase class consciousness and working-class self-confidence that can advance building a movement to fight for a workers and farmers government.”