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How to make sense of the Tory crisis over Brexit

This article is over 4 years, 8 months old
Tomáš Tengely-Evans dissects the latest stage of the Tory crisis and looks at how the left should respond
Issue 2670
European Union supporters have joined the protests against Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament
European Union supporters have joined the protests against Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Why did Boris Johnson suspend parliament?

Boris Johnson has staked his leadership on Britain leaving the European Union (EU) with or without a deal on 31 October. But there isn’t a majority in favour of that in the House of Commons.

And Johnson faces an alliance of Labour, Lib Dem, Scottish and Welsh nationalist and Tory rebels MPs who want to stop a no-deal Brexit.

The queen approved Johnson’s plan to “prorogue”—suspend—parliament last week. He hopes this will give the opposition less time to push through legislation that could block a no-deal Brexit.

What is ‘proroguing’?

The government can suspend parliament no earlier than Monday of next week and no later than 12 September.

The suspension would have to end on 14 October. There would probably have been a parliamentary recess during the party conference season from Thursday of next week until 7 October.

So the parliamentary shutdown will amount to MPs losing four to six sitting days. The power to suspend parliament comes through a royal order of the Privy Council, made up of the queen, ministers and senior politicians.

In practice, ministers have exercised royal powers since the 19th century.

Does Johnson want an election?

Together with the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party, Johnson effectively has a parliamentary majority of one. But he has threatened to discipline Tory MPs who vote with the opposition.

They would be kicked out of the Tory parliamentary group and banned from re-standing at the next election. This would allow Johnson to push for an early general election on the theme of “people vs the politicians”.

The Old Etonian toff could try to present himself as an ­“anti-establishment” outsider.

What is Labour doing?

Labour is a part of a ­cross-party attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the party would introduce legislation—which would have to pass through the both the Commons and Lords by Monday.

Labour is right to oppose a no-deal Brexit. But lining up with ­­austerity-mongers and racists is no progressive alternative to Johnson.

If anything, it could strengthen Johnson’s attempt to present himself as “anti-establishment”.

The recent picture of Labour’s John McDonnell, Lib Dem Jo Swinson and former Tory Anna Soubry meeting to unite against no deal will make that easier.

The opposition don’t have long to get legislation through before parliament is suspended—but it could happen.

Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove last weekend refused to rule out ignoring any legislation passed.

What is the EU saying?

The position of the European Union (EU) rulers over Brexit deals has not changed.

While some EU member states may have softened, the EU Commission and the powerful German government have not.

The lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that there would be no change to the “backstop” for Northern Ireland.

The backstop is designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland if Britain and the EU don’t negotiate a trade deal within two years.

Should the left oppose no deal?

A Tory no-deal Brexit is a real threat to workers and migrants.

The Tories see the shock of a no-deal Brexit as an opportunity to push through more austerity and racism.

For instance, home secretary Priti Patel has said it would allow the government to end free movement for migrants overnight.

But almost all opposition to a no-deal Brexit is couched in terms of what’s good or bad for big business. And, unfortunately, this includes many of the Labour Party and the union leaders who’ve lined up with business.

Big business and their allies in parliament aren’t worried about the impact of no deal on ordinary people. They want austerity, privatisation and a race to the bottom in or outside of the EU.

Any version of Brexit—whether hard, soft, deal or no-deal—will be bad for workers so long as it’s based on Tory policies.

We need a Brexit that serves working class interests.

The best response to any attacks by the Tories or bosses is united action in the workplaces and on the streets, not lining up with bosses. 

As Johnson suspends parliament, protest to kick him out
As Johnson suspends parliament, protest to kick him out
  Read More

What is big business saying?

Big business is panicking.

The Financial Times (FT) ­newspaper and the Economist magazine last week both came out in favour of bringing down the Johnson government. The FT was even willing to contemplate Corbyn at the head of a caretaker government that would—at least temporarily—stop Brexit. This shows the depths of the British ruling class crisis—and the division between the Tories and capital over Brexit.

Some Labour politicians see this as an opportunity to win big business backing. But business is opposed to even the most moderate reforms.

On Monday the FT was outraged at Labour’s plan to give £300 billion of company shares to workers. What would be the reaction if a Labour government went for widespread public ownership?

Big business wants to stay within the EU’s single market because it protects its profits.

What’s the solution?

We need workers’ action to force out Johnson and the whole Tory regime of austerity and racism.

Labour and union ­leaders have said the suspension of parliament amounts to a “coup”—so they should match their rhetoric with action.

They must back the present protests, but should also push for mass strikes and protests to force out Johnson.

The working class is divided between Remain and Leave supporters.

Raising slogans of, “Tories out—general election now,” and, “No to austerity, no to racism,” can unite ordinary people in action.

Action over Johnson’s measures has to be linked to wider class battles.

Protests to block Brexit, which are not open to Leave voters, will not work.

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