A crucial moment over Brexit is coming. Boris Johnson and top European Union (EU) officials have agreed a deal that would see Britain leave the bloc on 31 October.
The deal was expected to win the backing of 27 other EU member states at a European Council meeting on Thursday evening.
But there are still big obstacles to it winning a majority in the British parliament. And it is even more neoliberal than Theresa May’s proposed deal.
It still keeps the EU single market’s competition and state-aid rules for a long transition period after Britain leaves. But it also takes away the fig leaf of concern over workers’ rights, equality and environmental protection that was in May’s version.
It no longer guarantees that there will be a “level playing field” with EU regulations. It ends workers’ freedom of movement and will allow an even harsher regime of racist anti-migrant laws than at present.
The Tories hope this will clear the way to less regulation of business and lower taxes for the rich and corporations. The main trading agreement was with Donald Trump’s US.
The main shift that Johnson secured from the EU was over Northern Ireland. Under the new deal Northern Ireland would apply the EU’s customs and tariffs rules.
There would not be major customs checks or a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Instead all goods would be checked in Britain.
This creates a significant customs border between Northern Ireland and Britain.
Predictably the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party reacted with horror. They cannot stomach anything that suggests Northern Ireland is not part of the some state as England, Scotland and Wales.
They fear this is a gradual slide to a united Ireland.
The DUP’s ten MPs could be crucial to determining whether Johnson can pass a deal through the Commons at a special sitting on Saturday.
Some Tories may refuse to back the deal unless the DUP supports it.
In a statement on Thursday, the DUP said,“These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic wellbeing of Northern Ireland and the integrity of the Union.”
The party added it was“unable to support these proposals in parliament”.
In addition there are legal moves to say Johnson’s deal is unlawful because it creates a separate customs territory to Britain.
And the Brexit Party is already crying betrayal. Its leader Nigel Farage said, “The new deal is not Brexit”.
Johnson was boosted on Thursday afternoon. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission, was interpreted as ruling out an extension to the Brexit deadline if British MPs rejected the deal.
That would narrow the choice to Johnson’s deal or no deal.
But that message was immediately repudiated by other EU officials who said an extension is possible.
If the deal does not pass, Johnson will super-charge his fake “people versus the elites” rhetoric. He will hope to win an election by saying he stands for the 17.4 million Leave voters and all those who respect democracy.
The Labour Party has said it will vote against the deal. But it has also confirmed that it will at some point push an amendment in parliament to put the final deal to a second EU referendum.
“This sellout deal won’t bring the country together and should be rejected,” Corbyn said. “The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote.
Were such a move to pass it would mean no general election until well into next year.
The opportunity to call a general election and remove the Tories has been repeatedly spurned by Labour in favour of manoeuvres over Brexit alongside the Lib Dems and others.
Now it is categorically saying that people could have to suffer cuts, Universal Credit rollout, more racist pressure, inaction over climate change and much more for months more to allow another referendum.
This is a huge retreat from the policy it stood on at the 2017 election.
Instead of bending to the demands of big business, there needs to be an independent class position—no to Johnson’s deal, no to the EU.