Britain: political crisis intensifies as draft Brexit deal unveiled
The unveiling of the draft agreement on withdrawal from the EU has intensified the political crisis within the British ruling elite - provoking a rash of resignations from the Conservative government; threats to overthrow the premiership of Theresa May; and warnings of dire consequences should it fail to win support in Parliament.
The draft agreement - which largely conforms to the demands of the EU - reveals the relative weakness of the UK. Despite the threats of walking away without an agreement - the so-called “no deal” option - the British were forced to accept what was offered. Theresa May’s earlier claim that “a no deal was better than a bad deal” has now been completely reversed. And there is no doubt the draft agreement is a bad deal that puts the UK in a worse position. What it reveals is that the only choice there was (and continues to be) is not between a hard and soft Brexit but between Brexit and no Brexit.
For many arch Brexiteers the draft withdrawal agreement has dealt a bitter blow to their vision of how a post Brexit Britain would operate on the world stage. The truth is that their vision bore no correspondence to material reality.
In a global economy dominated by trade blocs and customs unions an “independent” Britain was always going to find itself in a relatively weak position. Many of the Brexiteers proposals on trade seemed to be based on the belief that the legacy of the British Empire would help the UK develop trading relations with former colonies. This ignored the fact that the days of colonialism and imperial privilege are long gone and that countries such as India are expanding economies and regional powers in their own right.
Where the Brexiteers believe they are on firmer ground is on the question of sovereignty and the claim that it will enable Britain to “take back control”. The reality is that Brexit, by weakening the economy and removing it from the political institutions of the EU, actually diminishes British sovereignty.
While the arguments of the arch Brexiteers may be delusional they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have an appeal to a section of the capitalist class that sees a benefit in doing away with regulations and human rights.
It is the nexus of finance capital and far right politics that has been the driving force of populist movements across the world. Their emergence in the period following the financial crash is evidence of the decay of capitalism and - as a consequence - the intensification of rivalries between different factions of the capitalist class.
The rise of right wing populism - and the aggressive nationalism and racism at its core - also points to a growing rivalry between capitalist states. Much of this is currently centred around trade disputes with the US using tariffs and the threat of tariffs to impose terms on its rivals. One of those rivals is the EU and the Trump administration clearly sees Brexit - and more generally the rise of right wing populist movements within Europe - as a means to weaken it.
While there may be divisions within the capitalist class what all the factions - liberal, conservative or populist - are united on is the overriding priority to maintain their rule and to counter any potential advance for the working class or for socialism. In a period of acute crisis the ruling class will opt for fascist and authoritarian solutions over the most modest of reforms.
As it stands the working class in Britain - and more broadly across Europe - have been bystanders to the factional struggles within the capitalist class and the various bourgeois parties aligned to them. On Brexit the alternatives presented all fall within the framework of continued capitalist domination.
The left (whether revolutionary or reformist) must oppose Brexit on the basis that it is wholly reactionary. It is reactionary in the political sense that it gives free rein to nationalism and racism but it is also reactionary in the economic sense in that it seeks to turn back the clock to a period when national economies and nation states were dominant. It flies in the face of the ongoing development of capitalism towards greater integration of markets and internationalisation of production. The delusion underpinning Brexit and the other forms of right wing populism is that these historical trends can be overturned.
Socialists shouldn’t concede anything to such reactionary delusions or retreat back to the perspective of the nation state. At the same time we should not hold any illusions in an EU which is irredeemably pro-capitalist and is irreformable. What the EU represents is a failing attempt by European states and capital to adapt to the development of capitalism. It is the contradiction between the economic trends and the attachment of the European ruling classes to their own nation states that is at the root of the crisis.
Socialists recognise that the tendencies inherent within capitalist development cannot be reversed. Indeed, the nature of these developments - particularly the expansion and integration of the working class - point towards more favourable conditions for the achievement of socialism. Of course this is not an automatic process - it is dependent on the creation of an international working class movement which has socialism as its explicit aim. This is undoubtedly a huge task and one whose realisation seems far off. The future of such a movement lies in the social and political struggles of today and the solidarity that is being built across national boundaries.
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