By Alex Callinicos
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The Tories are in crisis over the EU – don’t rescue them, exploit their crises

This article is over 6 years, 2 months old
Issue 2501
The special relationship is only special so long as Britain stays in EU
The “special relationship” is only special so long as Britain stays in EU

It’s been pleasant to watch the awkwardness of the right wing Leave campaigners over Barack Obama’s intervention in the Brexit debate.

The Tories among them especially like to portray themselves as the true friends of the United States in Britain. Their alternative to the European Union is the “Anglosphere”—a bloc of free market English-speaking states centred on Washington.

And now their love object has rejected them brutally.

Aside from Boris Johnson’s odious references to Obama’s Kenyan heritage, Liam Fox, Nigel Farage and Co are naively outraged that Obama is interfering in British politics. And that the US is demanding of Britain restrictions on its sovereignty that it would never accept for itself.

Do they think this is the first time this has happened? Plenty of people in Latin America and the Middle East could tell them different.

But Obama’s intervention also has a message for those on the left who are thinking of voting Remain. They tend to argue that the referendum is an obscure dispute within the British ruling class of no larger significance.

It’s true that David Cameron called the vote on Brexit in a futile attempt to quiet the divisions within his own party. But that doesn’t mean that Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) isn’t of significance to the leading capitalist states. Obama’s support for the Remain camp comes after a series of other similar interventions.


Heads of the International Monetary Fund and Nato, American business interests in Britain and other corporate forces all demand that Britain stays in the EU. The governments of Germany, China and Australia, among others, demand the same.

This confirms that the EU is one of the key strategic projects of the Western imperialist powers since the Second World War. These include first and foremost the US, but also France, Germany and, more slowly and reluctantly, Britain.

That project is now under unprecedented pressure, chiefly as a result of the euro disaster, but now reinforced by the refugee crisis.

Britain’s withdrawal would throw the EU into yet more turmoil and cause further damage to its credibility. So the world’s ruling classes are rallying to support Cameron.

Even the Chinese government opposes Brexit. This is partly no doubt for economic reasons, but probably also because of Beijing’s longstanding, mistaken hope that the EU can act as a counterweight to the US.

Obama’s intervention stops anyone pretending any longer that they haven’t noticed where global capitalist interests are lining up. The Emperor himself has told them in words of one syllable that Brexit will harm his empire.

The other argument used by left Remain supporters is that a Leave vote would have damaging domestic political effects by strengthening the right. But the opposite has proved the case. The Tories swore that they had learned the lessons of their divisions over Europe in the 1990s and would have a restrained and friendly debate this time.

In fact, and quite predictably, the logic of a close-fought referendum has led to increasing polarisation. The Brexit debate has turned into the opening round of the intra-party Tory struggle over the succession to Cameron.

This is one reason why the debate has become so embittered. Michael Gove, Johnson and the rest have made polemical attacks on the government that will haunt them if they serve in the post-referendum cabinet.

The inner-party struggle has also forced the government into a series of retreats in fear of backbench revolts. The first came with the budget, and George Osborne’s abandonment of welfare cuts after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation as work and pensions secretary. Now it looks as if the government is retreating on Osborne’s headline budget announcement, the transformation of all state schools into academies.

So a government that won a parliamentary majority less than a year ago is in increasing trouble. The emergence therefore of a united Lexit—left exit—campaign is very timely. It’s needed against both a damaged EU and a failing government. Rather than—as Labour is doing—come to their rescue, we should exploit their crises.

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