Editorial of the Socialist issue 985
May’s EU speech kicks the can down the road
Corbyn must seize opportunity and fight for pro-worker, internationalist Brexit
The closing line of Theresa May’s speech – “now let’s get on with it” – will have led to jeers of frustration from any workers listening. For 18 months the lies and distortions of different wings of the capitalist class over Brexit – played out in the civil war in the Tory Party – have created a fog of confusion, leaving millions of workers worried for the future but with no hope that the government will ever get on with anything, certainly not anything that is in the interests of the working class majority. Only 8% of voters believe the outlook for Brexit has got better in the last year.
In reality the goal of Theresa May’s speech was responding to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech days earlier, and above all aiming to quieten the civil war in the Tory Party.
Momentarily it appeared to have achieved that. The same thing happened after her last speech. Within weeks the fighting again reached fever pitch. This is yet another fudge; kicking the can no more than a few paltry metres further down the road.
The pro-Brexit wing of the Tory Party expressed their satisfaction because May reiterated that after Brexit Britain would not be a member of an EU customs union or of the single market. Instead she argued that Britain would be able to maintain a high level of access to the single market by agreeing to continue to follow many of its rules. In addition she acknowledged that in a number of manufacturing sectors Britain would have to pay for associate membership of EU agencies.
All of this was immediately dismissed by EU spokespeople as ‘not solving any of the problems’.
Pro-EU Tory grandee Michael Heseltine scorned the speech as “phrases, generalisations and platitudes” from a woman who had “a knife to her throat” held by the Tory right.
However, the pro-EU wing of the Tory Party, who represent the interests of the majority of the capitalist class, were, in the main, polite about May’s speech. Some, however, may still vote with Labour in parliament to support membership of a customs union if the threat of doing so doesn’t force May to retreat further, potentially allowing Jeremy Corbyn to inflict a damaging defeat on the government.
Such a defeat could lead to a collapse of the government and a general election; bringing a Jeremy Corbyn-led government to power. The majority of the capitalist class are desperate to force May to accept membership of a customs union, and if they can, the single market, but of course are also keen to avoid Jeremy Corbyn coming to power if possible.
One of their mouthpieces, the Financial Times, summed it up in an editorial where they declared: “Mr Corbyn and his hard left coterie pose a greater threat to the UK’s growth prospects than all but the worst possible Brexit outcomes,” yet, they concluded, “if Mrs May does not change tack, Tory MPs should work with Labour to make it happen.”
They hope that the anti-democratic Fixed Term Parliament Act (introduced by Cameron to shore up a previous weak Tory-led government) can be used to keep May in power even while parliamentary defeat forces her to shift on Brexit. This would be difficult for them to achieve, however. The government would be incredibly weak, even compared to the current situation.
Corbyn’s recent Brexit speech, however, has put him in a good position to fight for a Brexit in the interests of the working class, and potentially to force a general election. He remains under huge pressure from the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party to capitulate to the demands of big business and to argue for Brexit in name only, meaning continued acceptance of all the neoliberal, anti-working class, pro-privatisation rules and regulations that are included in the EU treaties.
His speech, however, pointed in a different direction – stating that he would not countenance a deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others. He said he would demand “protections, clarifications or exemptions where necessary in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules, and the posted workers directive.”
He now needs to build on this, going further in calling for clear socialist measures, and to shout his position from the roof tops. Unfortunately, the mistaken approach of seeking unity with the pro-capitalist Blairites means that it is they, and not Corbyn, who are making the majority of statements on Brexit. This urgently needs to change allowing Corbyn to more effectively reach millions of working class people – both those who voted leave and remain.
Corbyn should also make an appeal to working class and young people across Europe. The European Commission tries to present the EU as a united monolith. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is highly divided on national and, above all, class lines.
The Italian election results are the latest earthquake to shake it to its foundations, with the biggest gains being made by populist Eurosceptic parties – the Five Star Movement and the far-right League. The equivalent of Labour (led by Renzi – a Blair type figure) sank to below 20% of the vote. No wonder – Renzi presided over endless austerity. The economy has not yet even reached the level it was before the 2008 crash.
Renzi is not alone. Across the EU the parties that are linked to Labour are from the school of Blair not Corbyn, and are being punished electorally as a result.
In Germany the SPD has suffered its worst election results since World War Two, and is likely to suffer worse in the future – having just agreed to join a government with the CDU, the equivalent of the Tories.
Corbyn should use his international anti-austerity authority to oppose the pro-capitalist policies across the EU, from whichever party they come, and instead spearhead a campaign for anti-austerity, pro-working class policies continent wide in order to help establish a new collaboration of the peoples of Europe on a socialist basis.