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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 January 2017

Tories torn in two on single market

German trade unionists marching against EU austerity in Brussels. Socialist internationalism means solidarity with workers and their organisations, not the bosses and their, photo Paul Mattsson

German trade unionists marching against EU austerity in Brussels. Socialist internationalism means solidarity with workers and their organisations, not the bosses and their, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Paul Callanan, London Socialist Party

Prime Minister Theresa May has made her long-awaited declaration of the government's objectives for EU exit negotiations. The speech, which had been trailed in advance as the most important speech of her leadership, was notable for its glaring contradictions and May's nervous delivery.

She said the referendum had been "divisive at times" but that Britain is "now coming together." In reality, what was outlined was actually an attempt to paper over the cracks in the Tory party and the capitalist class itself.

The Tories are split. Some want to see a 'hard Brexit' - leaving the single market as well as the EU. Others, including the majority of the capitalist class, would rather Britain didn't leave the EU, but would accept remaining in the bosses' single market.

In the event, May confirmed the negotiating stance that British capitalism would leave the single market. But at the same time, she said she would negotiate "the greatest possible access" to the single market, and "tariff-free trade" through a "comprehensive free trade agreement."

The idea that the governments of Europe will negotiate new trade deals favourable to Britain's capitalists is frankly laughable.


May's muddled and contradictory speech will have satisfied neither the hard nor soft Tory Brexiteers. The weakness of the government's hand has been illustrated by resorting to threats.

May said in her speech: "I must be clear. Britain wants to remain a good friend and neighbour to Europe. Yet I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path."

She went on to suggest EU access to investment opportunities and the City of London's financial services could be restricted. This follows Chancellor Philip Hammond's threat in the German press that Britain would be prepared to engage the EU in a trade war - escalating tariffs or quotas on imports.

The speech also offered insight into the government's nervousness over anger from the working class. May again talked 'left', calling for a "better deal for ordinary working people". She also claimed she will incorporate EU 'protections' into British law, saying "we will ensure that workers' rights are fully protected and maintained".

But May is leading a government which will, from April, implement more anti-worker trade union laws. Britain already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the world. And EU laws did nothing to stop it.

There is almost nothing in EU law that genuinely protects workers' rights. In fact, its treaties, directives and court judgements overwhelmingly do the opposite.

Neither the EU nor May's government is a defender of working class people.


May again took the opportunity to scapegoat migrants. She talked about downward pressure on wages; pressure on public services. But she failed to identify who was responsible for it: big business, aided and abetted by the government, and institutions like the EU, that have all presided over privatisation and cuts to public services.

The Socialist Party supported the vote to leave the EU on the basis that it is a pro-capitalist, pro-austerity institution, with no real route for reform. We called for a campaign for a socialist Brexit based on opposition to EU directives that opposed public ownership and enshrined privatisation.

May's "red, white and blue Brexit", as expected, is an attempt to offer more of the same.

She can be stopped - if we build a working class movement for a 'red Brexit', based on ending austerity, expanding public ownership, protecting migrant rights, and genuine solidarity with the working class across Europe.

What is the 'single market'?

Capitalists within Europe's single market, which Thatcher signed up to in 1986, can freely move certain goods, money, some 'services' (outsourcing), and workforces, between different member countries.

This gives bosses even more than the free trade area inside which they can buy and sell without tariffs.

Among other things, it also allows them to get around trade union agreements, and drive down wages and conditions across the whole area, boosting profits.

The majority of the capitalist class wants to stay in the single market for all these reasons.

The EU is also a customs union. This means tariffs on goods imported from outside it are the same for all member countries.

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In The Socialist 18 January 2017:

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