From Fine Gael to ICTU, a long line forms behind May
Is there really no alternative?
The end of November saw Europe accept a separation plan for Britain. As was the tone of the negotiations all along, the agreement is mostly a giant fudge, pushing the details of the final exit into the future. However the outline plan meets Theresa May’s main aims. Control of the borders, she hopes, will satisfy the racist impulse at the heart of the UKIP mobilisation. Membership of the customs union will satisfy the majority of business leaders. The delusional attempts to make Britain great again and restore the empire have come to naught.
Europe has achieved what it wanted. A minimal Brexit that limits damage to the European economy and establishes that countries cannot leave without their own economy and political influence suffering.
The whole process has been an education in power politics. Britain found that it had to concede to Europe. In the UK the Brexiteers and the DUP were reduced to a rump with no power to direct events and without any realistic alternative plan. Unionism is educated in which end is tail and which dog. However, despite unionist hysteria about the backstop agreement, there is not the slightest hint of British withdrawal from Ireland. What is contained in the separation plan is an understanding that a hard Brexit has now been ruled out and that therefore the backstop would not come into play. As the deal closed there was a final humiliation. Spain insisted that it would exercise a veto if Britain did not agree to future negotiation about Gibraltar before final separation. Britain gave way.
Yet all 27 countries had a veto. The other country with a territorial dispute with Britain is Ireland. Did Ireland use its veto? Did it demand that the British presence be discussed? That a timetable for withdrawal agreed? The reality was the opposite of this. Ireland demanded that Britain and Europe defend the defunct Good Friday agreement, already torn up by Britain. The call is not that there not be a border in Ireland, but that no one should notice it.
In a masterly display of political courage the Dail agreed to support the proposed agreement without a vote! The Ceann Comhairle deemed the motion passed on the grounds that fewer than 10 TDs expressed opposition. At the same time in the North business leaders, NGOs and the voluntary sector came out in fervent support of the Tory deal. A soft Brexit was the best of all possible worlds and should not be opposed.
The icing on the cake was a statement by Owen Reidy for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The deal was a poor one but it was better than the UK crashing out of Europe. In the absence of an alternative it should be considered. So capitalists and workers representatives, all sections of Irish society North and South with the exception of the Unionists accept a soft Brexit as the least worst option.
Yet there is much to oppose. The agreement concedes to a racist tide baying for the denial of human rights to asylum seekers. It removes many rights as European citizens from Irish citizens in the North. It is an agreement between two camps of robber barons; Britain who have denied an Irish democracy and Europe, who have squeezed and continue to squeeze blood from Irish workers.
ICTU’s quiet acceptance of the banker’s bail out, it's quiet acceptance of troika rule, it's quiet acceptance of “Fresh Start” austerity in the North are all of a piece with quiet acceptance of a soft Brexit. The overall strategy of the trade union leadership for the past decade has been to wait quietly as capitalism shakes itself to pieces in the hope that it will recover and slip a few shillings to the workers. Yet is exactly this position, shared by the trade union bureaucracy and social Democratic political organisations across Europe, that has led to the rise of the right and to movements like Brexit.
The tragedy of the Brexit debate, as with so many other right wing populist movements in the world, is that the left are in utter confusion. Corbyn mirrors Theresa May in that his main concern is to preserve unity in a divided Labour Party and to do so he’s willing to speak in tongues. The socialist groups either support Corbyn uncritically or advocate an imaginary left Brexit that, unlike the real Brexit, will defend the workers.
Irish politics simply mirrors British politics. Irish nationalism has supported Europe without condition and this is now become uncritical support for the Tory leadership. The unionists support the tory right and the Brexiteers.
Many left and republican groups support Irexit – no one is sure what this is, but it’s not a call for a united Ireland or a workers republic.
The nationalists support Europe because they’re bound up in an ongoing troika program of endless privatisation and the agony of homelessness which benefits the European Banks and enriches the local capitalist class. Unionists have given up on devolution as a requiring too many concessions. They think direct rule reduces nationalist influence and see their future in unity with the Tory Party and a Tory right wedded to the last vestiges of Empire in Ireland. They hope a hard political border will ensure a continued British presence.
But what of the workers?
Only the mad would suggest that Irish workers should support Europe. It is Europe that has forced Ireland to meet a vast section of the European banking debt, plunged us into austerity and continued to extract value through sovereign debt, mass privatisation and seizure of housing assets.
Support for the Good Friday Agreement will involve calling for a border poll and the restoration of Stormont. The argument that that agreement was a step towards an Irish democracy and away From sectarianism and colonialism has proved hollow. A border poll is at the whim of the British and is essentially undemocratic, deciding the future of Ireland on the basis of opinion in the North alone.
Without a context of repudiating the banking debt and the northern settlement and looking to workers unity across Europe a call for Irexit it is largely meaningless, simply a pale green copy of the ruling nationalist ideology. The interests of the workers are best expressed by calls for an end to the troika programme of debt repayment, privatisation, starvation of services and the invasion of vulture funds into housing. Their interests are best met by the dissolution of Stormont and the end of British rule in Ireland.
The call for united Ireland is a self-evident one in the current circumstances. It should be expressed through calls for a constituent assembly representing all 32 counties and for the organisation of workers around the call for a Workers Republic. These demands have to be linked the demand for a United Socialist States of Europe - a call which immediately turns our attention to the very real class struggles that are occurring today in Europe and that are ignored by all sides in the ongoing Brexit debate.