Socialist Worker

Tory rebels push May toward a Brexit crisis

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2609

May is under pressure over Brexit

May is under pressure over Brexit (Pic: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/Flickr)

Theresa May was due to face a crucial test over Brexit in parliament this week, and possibly to suffer a damaging defeat.

But given that May is such a virtuoso in delay and avoidance, it was hard to be sure what would take place.

Socialist Worker went to press before the vote was taken and it’s perfectly possible that by the time you read this May has survived to lurch on with a bit more damage. Or perhaps a juddering split will have forced the Tories into an even deeper crisis.

Or if Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip, decides he can’t be sure of winning the matter could even be postponed again.

This is the fevered and unpredictable state of British politics. May is skilled at surviving for a few days at a time, but only at the cost of storing up even greater problems for the future.

At stake for the moment is whether MPs will have a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal, rather than the take it or leave it vote that May had previously offered.

In other words, if next year the Tories’ final deal on Brexit is rejected then the cabinet would have to come up with a better one rather than leaving the European Union (EU) without any deal at all.

This would take control from the government and could make the entire process even less predictable.

Facing defeat on the issue last week, May made a last-minute retreat.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve heads up the Tories backing the “meaningful vote”. May solemnly pledged to back a new amendment that largely reflected his wishes.

Grieve was stupid enough to believe her.


Hearing that May might be about to give in to Grieve, Brexit secretary David Davis threatened to resign—again.

So May ratted on her promise to Grieve and offered only a meaningless compromise. That meant she avoided the problem—for a whole week.

On Monday the House of Lords, seeing what had happened to Grieve, voted for a new “meaningful vote” amendment by 354 votes to 235. The majority of 119 was even larger than the last time it was debated.

So the issue was due to come back to the Commons again this week, with the expectation there would be a vote on Wednesday which May might lose.

Behind all the manoeuvres lies the reality that May no longer expects to achieve a Brexit deal that will be good enough to guarantee a majority in parliament.

The European Union’s relentless pressure has narrowed the Tories’ options, and developments in the EU have also put pressure on EU leaders.

In Austria, Italy, Hungary and Poland there are now right wing governments that are critical of the EU. If it were easy or painless to leave then one or more might break from the euro monetary system or even the EU itself.

So, just as Greece in 2016 was brutally punished in order to send a message to other countries that might want to break from austerity, so Britain is being squeezed over Brexit now.

Labour also has its problems. Last week 75 backbenchers defied party instructions to abstain and voted for Britain to seek membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit. A further 15 voted against.

The EEA enforces on its members the disciplines of the bosses’ single market on countries outside the EU.

Six Labour MPs resigned from junior positions in the government so they could take a position rather than abstain.

It was the biggest Labour revolt so far over Brexit issues.

Whatever happens this week, it’s clearer than ever that the left needs to define its own position. It cannot be to line up with the EU by blocking Brexit.

Instead it has to be a fight for a Brexit that is in the interests of the working class.

We need to unite against austerity, defend and extend freedom of movement and fight for socialist internationalism.

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