Socialist Worker

Don’t back Tory Brexit deal—or line up with the European Union

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2736

Hands up for an attack on workers and migrants

Hands up for an attack on workers and migrants (Pic: Number 10 on Flickr)


Tory claims about an approaching glorious future after the trade deal with the European Union (EU) are nonsense.  

Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders in the press are trying to bolster such myths.

After the deal was announced the Daily Mail front page claimed, “Get ready for blast off, Britain”. It added, “UK gears up for business boom with Brexit deal done.”  Not to be outdone the Daily Express’s headline was  “Boris heralds our new ‘golden age’”.

There will be no prosperity on the basis of anything the Tories manage. Whatever the specific effects of the deal, the government has already shown that it wants to impose pay freezes and cuts. It will stand aside as unemployment surges. 

Its disastrous handling of coronavirus has hit poorer people hardest.

Rushed

The deal is set to be rushed through parliament on Wednesday, after just one day of debate. Johnson expects to win with a big majority  

Johnson was pushed into a deal by fears about the chaotic alternatives without a deal. And the power of the EU extracted numerous concessions from the British government.

The government did not get what it hoped to achieve for the bankers and the hedge fund firms. Even on fishing, which Johnson sought to make a totemic issue, the government backed off from what it claimed to be its “red lines”.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO)—an employers’ organisation—claimed any gains were marginal. NFFO chief executive, Barrie Deas, said there was a growing feeling of disappointment and frustration in the industry.

But ultimately Johnson was prioritising political over economic factors. He hopes to pose as a nationalist champion and that the issue of Europe, which has repeatedly split the Tories, can be laid to rest.

Britain’s relationship with the European Union caused deep problems for a string of Tory prime ministers. It undermined  Margaret Thatcher, bedevilled John Major, destroyed David Cameron and brought down Theresa May.

But it was opportunistically used by Johnson to win the last general election with the slogan “Get Brexit done”. He may still find the issue is far from finished with years of joint committees and “clarifying” negotiations to come.

If Britain diverges from the EU’s regulations it could face tariffs—payments to export certain goods.

Left

It matters how the left and trade unions now respond.

There must be no backing for a deal that eliminates workers’ freedom of movement. This assault on migrant workers has been scandalously ignored or even supported by far too many on the left. 

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The political choices behind hard Brexit
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The deal will also be used by the Tories and the employers to attack workers on the basis of “making Britain more competitive”.

Some Tories and bosses hanker for Britain as “Singapore on Thames” after the break form the EU. There are immediate plans for ten “freeports” with tax concessions to businesses and weaker labour laws. 

In the run-up to Christmas, for example, the Financial Times newspaper reported, “The Tories are drawing up plans to ‘turn London into a rival of Singapore’ over shipping registration.”

Altering the tax and regulation regime could be worth £3.7 billion to shipping bosses over three years.

But Labour is set to back Johnson’s deal. 

Party leader Keir Starmer announced on Christmas Eve that his party will “accept and vote for” the deal. It’s an extraordinary turnaround from the man who took the lead in seeking to overturn the Brexit vote.

He was happy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and demand a "people's vote". Now he hypocritically shifts. 

Statmer does it on the pro-boss basis of avoiding a no deal that will hit “business”. He also believes workers are overwhelmingly supportive of racist ideas about migration and must be lured back to Labour by being as pro-nationalist as the Tories.   

Starmer’s decision has faced some opposition.

On Tuesday a statement called for Labour not to fall into “the trap of rallying around this rotten deal”. It added that the deal is “designed to open the door to rampant economic deregulation—a loss of rights and protections for workers, the environment, food standards and many other areas of life”.

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Five articles on Brexit
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But it is supported by only three MPs. And it is the initiative of Another Europe is Possible, the group that helped to pressure Labour into adopting the disastrous policy of supporting a second referendum.

It brings together John McDonnell and the Blairite Lord Adonis.

It is opposition to the deal from the pro-EU side and based on the false premise that the EU is a  defender of working class interests.

For years the left failed to change the terms of the debate about the EU. It allowed the issue to be divorced from wider issues. 

Nobody should talk about a Brexit deal without saying that we now need a united fight against austerity, unemployment, racism, poverty and climate chaos.

This is urgent whatever the trade arrangements that bosses and their governments agree.

And socialists need to say that we don’t stand for the interests of financiers and corporations. We don’t believe that business must come first or that capitalism equals prosperity. 

Instead, we are for international workers’ unity.


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