Socialist Worker

What’s the deal with the Tories’ Brexit agreement?

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2631

Theresa May and the EU rulers agreement seeks to protect the rich and business

Theresa May and the EU rulers' agreement seeks to protect the rich and business (Pic: Flickr/Downing Street)


What is the European Union Withdrawal Agreement?

The Tory Brexit deal seeks to protect business and attack migrants.

The EU Withdrawal Agreement, published on Wednesday, says Britain will leave the EU in March 2019 with a 21-month transition period.

During the transition Britain and the EU will be part of a “single customs territory”. This means Britain would keep many EU free market rules.

What happens after the transition is vaguer.

The agreement includes the option of a one-off extension of the transition if Britain and the EU still haven’t reached a trade deal. It says this could last until “31 December 20xx”.

It makes clear that both the Tories and the EU hope to “build on the single customs territory”.

They want a future trade deal to include a “level playing field” in areas such as banking, transport and public services. This means keeping those sectors open to multinational profit-making by keepingcorporate taxes low and stopping governments from improving workplace rights or nationalising industries.

What does the agreement mean for migrants’ rights?

The deal is a serious attack on the rights of EU migrant workers.

Theresa May made clear that “freedom of movement will end once and for all” following the transition period.

Up to three million EU migrants in Britain will have to apply to stay in Britain.

Those who can prove they have lived in Britain for five years would be able to apply for settled status. Those who have lived in Britain for less than five years would have to apply for pre-settled status and then apply again for settled status.

And migrants will have to pay to apply for residency.

The EU does not guarantee freedom of movement even within its borders. Member states can restrict citizens’ movement or residence on vague grounds of “public policy, public security or public health”.

The withdrawal agreement would give the Tories the right to withdraw settled status on these grounds.

The agreement also says “economically inactive” people would have to show “evidence that they have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden”. And it calls on them to prove that they have comprehensive sickness insurance.

Pressure has already forced the Tories to pledge that “as a matter of domestic policy” migrants will not have to have insurance. What’s in the agreement isn’t a done deal and it’s possible to fight to defend migrants’ rights.

What would the deal mean for Northern Ireland? And why is there a row?

The Tories want to avoid a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.

The EU and Irish governments don’t want checkpoints, customs checks and other physical barriers.

But EU proposals to keep Northern Ireland inside its single market and customs unions after Brexit went too far for the Tories. And Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs, who Theresa May relies on in parliament, would never accept it.

So the Tory deal tries to put off the problem. It promises that the EU and Britain “shall use their best endeavours to conclude an agreement which supersedes this protocol in whole or in part” by December 2020.

This means little would change during the transition period.

A “backstop” would kick in if there is no new agreement. This would see Northern Ireland remain subject to EU single market rules.

While bosses in Northern Ireland would have unfettered access to the British market, there would be some restrictions on British goods going the other way.

The Tory right is incensed that the backstop threatens the “integrity of the UK” by risking a border between Britain and the island of Ireland.

And the DUP has made clear that it will vote against May’s deal.

Socialist Worker stands for a Brexit for Ireland and a referendum across the whole island on unification.

What’s the alternative?

The choices aren’t just a Tory no deal Brexit, remaining inside the neoliberal, racist EU or having a second referendum. These are all bad options.

One Tory planning document for a no deal Brexit made clear that control of “anticompetitive subsidies” would be used in “all sectors”. Another said the Tories would allow EU banks to operate in Britain without restrictions for at least three years.

Labour wants to maintain access to the single market and accepts that freedom of movement will end.

And most union leaders have fallen in behind business calls to stay in the single market because they say it will “protect jobs”. But the single market protects business interests, not workers.

The best response to the Tory deal is to take to the streets to drive out May and their whole regime. And as part of that the left should put forward an alternative vision of Brexit that says, “Yes to freedom of movement” and, “No to the single market”.


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