By Charlie Kimber
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The Tories fear Brexit – we need to shape it

This article is over 7 years, 5 months old
Issue 2518
Prime minister Theresa May meets her German counterpart Angela Merkel
Prime minister Theresa May meets her German counterpart Angela Merkel (Pic: Crown Copyright)

The left must start to contest the debate about what will happen when Britain leaves the European Union (EU). At the moment the argument is dominated by competing right wing visions.

Brexit will raise fundamental questions about what sort of society we want to live in. Socialists, however they voted in the referendum, have to make their voice heard.

Some reports suggest that prime minister Theresa May is considering waiting until after the French elections next spring or the German elections next autumn before invoking Article 50.

This is what would begin two years of negotiations that will lead to a formal exit from the EU.

Other reports last week said that April 2017 is the latest May would want to trigger Article 50.

The Tories’ problem is that as soon as the negotiations start they will disappoint one or other crucial source of their support.

Most sections of big business want full access to the EU’s single market. This makes it easier for them to move capital around and compete against rivals. It’s particularly important to the bankers.

London is currently Europe’s major international financial centre with a central role in cross-border bank lending, hedge funds and foreign currency trading. It is by far the biggest centre in the world for trading the euro.

Financiers are obsessed with what is known as “passporting”, the ability to do business and sell services throughout Europe without obtaining permission in each individual country. Analysis from Ashurst global finance says this is “a central pillar of the EU financial services regime”.

But to secure this will very likely require agreeing some version of freedom of movement for workers.

That would mean not carrying through the restrictions on migrants’ rights promised by David Cameron or the extra restrictions on immigration that the Tories think are needed.


May’s choice is either to upset business or to upset those newspapers and voters who accept racist myths about immigration.

With Ukip in crisis, May will be very tempted to make a pitch for its supporters.

Whatever May decides, the calm of recent weeks for the Tories will soon dissipate.

Meanwhile some bosses and writers in newspapers such as the Guardian are buoyed by a faint hope that Brexit might not happen at all. At the very least they hope it won’t happen before a general election can give an opportunity to block it.

They hanker after the normal EU version of democracy where voters are forced to keep voting until they deliver the result that the pro-austerity elites want.

Politically this is backed by the Liberal Democrats—and Jeremy Corbyn’s opponent Owen Smith.

Smith thought there might be a way to peel off some of Corbyn’s support by identifying with those who want the Leave vote of 23 June overturned. This could be through a second referendum or by the Labour manifesto for the next general election pledging to keep Britain in the EU.

Corbyn has rightly said the vote has to be respected and implemented. Now he needs to get on the front foot and set out clearly the demands for the Brexit he wants.

Instead of seeking to reverse the Leave vote, trade unions, Corbyn supporters and other socialists should fight for our own version of Brexit. There are obvious basics—full rights for all EU nationals in Britain, defence of freedom of movement, and no reductions in workplace, social or equality rights.

But we should be bolder. Pressure to repeal the Trade Union Act should be part of the debate about Brexit.

We must defend the (disgracefully meagre) rights of refugees. But we should also seize the moment and demand letting in the people in the Calais “jungle” and press for open borders.

We want action on climate change, a ban on fracking and an agriculture policy focused on access to good-quality affordable food and environmental protection. There is also another chance to press for independence for Scotland.

We need to fight for a left wing Brexit.


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