MPs cleared the way for Tory prime minister Theresa May to trigger formally leaving the European Union (EU) on Monday.
The Tories’ “Brexit Bill” passed unamended after weeks of parliamentary splits and wrangling between MPs and the Lords. May can now tell EU leaders that Britain is beginning the Article 50 process of the Treaty of Lisbon, starting two years of negotiations.
With May expected to do so at the end of March, the Brexit process is firmly a reality.
May has already set out her vision for a nationalist, racist Brexit. We have to fight for a socialist, anti-racist one (see below).
At the debate MPs rejected by 335 to 281 an amendment that would have guaranteed the rights of EU migrants in Britain. Shamefully six Labour MPs, including left winger Kelvin Hopkins, supported the Tories.
The Lords then backed the MPs’ decision. We can’t rely on politicians to defend migrants—it will take a fight from below.
But it was important that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “We will continue to demand that they are given the right to remain.”
He must resist calls to ape the right, and fight to defend freedom of movement for new migrant workers.
But the debate also highlighted the dangers of not putting forward a socialist, anti-racist vision for Brexit.
Another amendment to give parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal lost by 331 to 286. This is a last-ditch attempt by right wing liberal forces determined to hamper Britain leaving the EU.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron attacked Corbyn for giving a “blank cheque to the Conservative Brexit government”.
The likes of Farron have opportunistically latched onto migrants’ rights in the hope that anti-racist feeling will cohere around a neoliberal defence of the single market.
Similarly a group of right wing Labour MPs demanded that Corbyn fight for full membership of the single market. They were led by Blairite Chuka Umunna, who favours harsher immigration controls.
The single market puts a free market straitjacket onto members. It is based on a race to the bottom and its rules bar nationalisation and other left wing polices a Corbyn-led Labour government could pursue.
The real division is not now between Leave and Remain, but those fighting to defend workers and migrants’ rights and those lining up to attack them.
After being torn for months between bigotry and the demands of big business, May came down hard on the side of attacking migrants. That doesn’t mean divisions among the Tories and bosses have gone away—we have to use them to shape the outcome ahead.
The European Union is not a progressive alternative
The Tories’ and US president Donald Trump’s racism and bigotry are obvious.
That’s why thousands will join the Stand Up To Racism demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff this Saturday.
But the European Union is no progressive alternative.
It is a bosses’ club responsible for financially squeezing the democratically-elected Syriza government in Greece. Its Fortress Europe policies have turned the Mediterranean into a mass grave of refugees.
This rotten nature was also underlined last week. First the European Court of Justice ruled the Belgian government could refuse a visa to a family of potential Syrian asylum seekers.
This was even if the family was at risk of torture.
Then the EU did nothing when Hungarian MPs voted to lock refugees in shipping containers while their cases are decided.
And on Monday the European Court of Justice ruled that employers were entitled to ban headscarves at work.
We have to oppose both the British government and the EU and not make how people voted on 23 June the main dividing line.
The left needs to fight hard for a Brexit that seizes the opportunities of leaving the neoliberal single market and the EU’s racist immigration laws.
The Labour Party and the trade union movement need to work to fight for a socialist and anti-racist Brexit.
Let's fight for a left Brexit
- Defend and extend the rights of migrants and refugees.
- Full and indefinite rights guaranteed now for all EU nationals. Let in all refugees, yes to freedom of movement, stop scapegoating.
- No reductions in workplace, social or equality rights.
- Guarantee all EU-funded social projects. End zero hours contracts. Scrap anti-union laws.
- No to the single market with its restrictions on nationalisation and no to any return of the TTIP deal or any other that favours the multinationals.
- Housing and health for all.
- Fully fund the NHS and stop selloffs, cuts and closures. Build one million new council homes and upgrade existing stock. Control rents and replace the council tax with a local income tax that hits the rich.
- Effective action on climate change, a ban on fracking and an agriculture policy focused on access to good-quality affordable food and environmental protection.
- For a radical independence battle.
- Brexit raises the issue of the unity of the British state. People in Scotland should have a choice on whether to stay part of it—unlinked from EU membership.
- For internationalism and solidarity with workers across the world. Full support for all struggles against austerity and racism.