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How can the left get its voice heard over Brexit?

This article is over 5 years, 5 months old
What machinations will May pull to get out of her crisis? And what should the left do to force her out? Tomáš Tengely-Evans says the key is a fight against racism and austerity
Issue 2636
Theresa May is under pressure due to deep splits in the Tory party over Brexit
Theresa May is under pressure due to deep splits in the Tory party over Brexit (Pic: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/Flickr)

What’s going on with May’s deal?

Tory prime minister Theresa May has been forced to put her Brexit deal to parliament.

MPs will vote on it next Tuesday, 15 January—and she will most likely lose.

May withdrew the Tory Brexit deal from parliament last December, knowing that defeat could spell her demise.

Many right wing Brexiteers and Remain-supporting Tories, as well as opposition parties, wanted to block the deal.

So she went around the European Union’s (EU) rulers over Christmas desperately asking for concessions.

But within days of May putting off the vote, the EU had ruled out making any serious changes to what was on offer.

The deal sets out how Britain will leave the EU on 29 March, with a two-year transition during which very little would change.

The deal was designed to appease big business, which is desperate to remain in the EU’s neoliberal single market. So it keeps free market rules on state aid that block left wing policies, such as wholesale nationalisation.

At the same time the deal would end freedom of movement for migrants.It was too much of a fudge for right wing Brexiteers.

And many couldn’t stomach ­proposals over Northern Ireland that could have led to some customs checks with Britain.

May claims she’s in the process of fixing their concerns.

But it’s unlikely to be enough to appease right wing Tory MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

What are the Tories saying about Brexit?

Tory MPs from across the Brexit divide are putting pressure on Theresa May.

Desperately she had scheduled a series of drinks receptions to try and win them over this week ahead of the vote.

Over 200 MPs, including many Tories, signed an open letter on Monday urging her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Caroline Spelman initiated it with Labour’s Jack Dromey.

The Remain-supporting Tory MP said May’s deal offered a “platform” that could “stabilise the economy and give reassurance” to big business.

Meanwhile former Brexit secretary Boris Johnson said a no-deal Brexit was the “closest to what people actually voted for” in the 2016 EU referendum.

He was backed up by reactionaries such as Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The row over May’s Brexit deal is part of a deep divide inside the Tory party, which is torn between big business and bigotry.

Their friends in the City of London and big business want to stay in the neoliberal EU because it protects their profits.

But the Tories are also desperate to chase right wing, racist votes by promising to clamp down on immigration.

And rebellious Tory MPs aren’t the only problem May is facing.

Without an overall majority of her own, she relies on the bigots of the DUP to prop up her weak government.

The DUP has said there is “no way” it would back the deal because of its proposals for Northern Ireland.

What’s the row in the Labour Party?

Pressure is also growing on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to shift the party’s position to unequivocally supporting a second referendum.

The party’s official position is that it will push for a general election and, if that fails, then consider all options which could include a referendum.

Calls for a so-called “People’s Vote” are led by Blairites who support the single market’s free market rules. Unfortunately, sections of the Labour left have also fallen in behind them and set up a Policy Commission this week.

Its backers include TSSA rail union general secretary Manuel Cortes, who wants to stop Britain leaving the EU.

Some left wingers fear Labour’s stagnant position in the polls is because of its position on Brexit.

In reality, Corbyn’s success in the 2017 general election saw him unite both Remain and Leave voters by putting forward class politics.

What can we do as socialists to shape the debate?

The mainstream options of “hard”, “soft” or no-deal Brexit are false choices for working class people.

So long as the Tories are in charge all these options will be based on neoliberal and racist policies that attack workers and migrants. The problem is that the trade unions and Labour Party are not mobilising, which leaves working class people as passive spectators.

We need a fightback in the streets, campuses and workplaces to bring down the Tories.

And we should link the fight against the Tories’ vision of Brexit to other class demands, such as defending the NHS and scrapping Universal Credit.

A good place to start will be the People’s Assembly demonstration in London this Saturday.

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