Socialist Worker

Theresa May is in a bind over Brexit—struggle could bring her government down

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2583

Theresa May smiles for the camera during a meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk last month. But her she is squeezed by the demands of EU leaders on one side, and some of her own party on the other

Theresa May smiles for the camera during a meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk last month. But she is squeezed by the demands of EU leaders on one side, and some of her own party on the other (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


Theresa May is being further squeezed by incompatible pressures over Brexit. And one opinion poll has suggested that Labour is now 8 percentage points ahead of the Tories.

May will meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, in Brussels for further talks on Monday. She is expected to lay out what the government is offering on the price of a “divorce settlement”, the rights of EU nationals in Britain, and the Irish border issue.

May hopes this will smooth the path to agreement to open talks on a future trade deal at a European Union (EU) summit on 14 December.

Her task is to persuade the other 27 EU countries that her new offer on all three issues is acceptable. If she can’t there will be no negotiations on a new free-trade deal or other matters that most of big business demands to be implemented.

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The Tories’ Brexit carry-on—a guide to the EU Withdrawal Bill
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May is therefore ready to make concessions to the bullying of EU leaders. Last week May put at least £35 billion forward as what Britain could pay to cover its previously-agreed commitments when it leaves the EU.

The political editor of the anti-Brexit Financial Times enthused, “The prime minister’s financial offer is the latest sign that Britain’s ‘negotiation’ with the EU resembles more closely a series of capitulations as months of tough talk in London turn into surrender to political reality.”

But others sense betrayal. Nick Macpherson, former head of the UK Treasury, tweeted, “This is not a negotiation. It is a drive-by shooting.”

More importantly for May, a group of Tory former cabinet ministers are among the signatories to a letter setting out new red lines for any deal.

Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Nigel Lawson and John Redwood signed the “Leave Means Leave” letter.

They have said, for example, that it would be unacceptable for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to have any say in British legal decisions during the planned two-year transition after Brexit.

Unfortunately for them, EU leaders demand the opposite.

They say that if Britain wants to keep its membership of the single market and the customs union during the transition—as it says it does—it will have to accept ECJ jurisdiction. And Tory Brexit secretary David Davis has accepted that.

Amid this carnage at the top, it’s more important than ever that the left puts forward its own demands for an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, internationalist Brexit.

The Leave Means Leave signatories also demand that freedom of movement for workers from the EU ends on 30 March 2019.

May will either have to confront the EU, and risk collapsing the talks, or take on the Leave Means Leave types. Neither promise her any stability.

And then there’s Ireland. At issue is whether when Britain leaves the EU there will be a “hard border” with checks, officials and searches between Northern Ireland and Ireland

For a Brexit from Ireland
For a Brexit from Ireland
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If May agrees special status for Northern Ireland to remain in a trading union with Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will dump support for her government. It will smell too much like their spectral fear of a united Ireland.

If the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, fails to win such special status and sees a border installed then his shaky coalition could collapse.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt made an effort to rally the troops behind May on Sunday. He said, “The choice we face now is not between this Brexit and that Brexit— if we don't back Theresa May we will have no Brexit, and she is doing an unbelievably challenging job amazingly well.”

That might keep him in the cabinet to continue his assault on the NHS and its workers. It won’t halt the criticisms.

Amid this carnage at the top, it’s more important than ever that the left puts forward its own demands for an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, internationalist Brexit.

We can drive the Tories out and break free from the competing demands of two sorts of racists and capitalists that dominate Tory debates.

Meanwhile an opinion poll from Survation, the firm that did best in predicting the last election, shows Labour on 45 percent and the Tories on 37 percent. It represents a surge of 15 percentage points for Labour and minus 10 for the Tories since May.

Cheering though this is, it will mean the Tories are even more grimly determined to hang on. The unions and Labour can’t just watch, they have to step up the struggle.

When public sector unions meet this week they could start by agreeing coordinated strike ballots to win a 5 percent rise for every public sector worker.


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